Moments

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There is something so genuine about a little boy being outside, skinning his knees, sloshing in mud puddles, and engaging with nature.  I used to be that little boy.  Now I have one.

The week before Father’s Day, I woke Kemper up at midnight and we hopped in the car for a surprise trip up to Brevard, North Carolina, where my parents and sister were on vacation.  It was a spur of the minute surprise for Father’s Day for my dad, and when we walked into the cabin while he was eating his breakfast, it was clear that it had the intended effect.

I had worked a couple of long months (hence the dearth of posts), and I had mentally burned the candle at both ends until it was nearly extinguished.  I needed to check out for a couple of days, and so with Anna’s blessing, and This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby on audiobook (I’m on a Fitzgerald kick, what can I say), Kemp and I made the 7.5 hour trek to North Carolina in the dead of night.

Initially, my only thought was that it would be a great surprise for my dad.  Bringing along Kemper was secondary, and my own enjoyment of the trip was a distant tertiary consideration.  My dad was thrilled.  Kemper enjoyed himself.  But the effect the four days I spent with them in North Carolina had on me was more powerful than I could have ever anticipated.

I am, by most metrics, a very good son.  I call my mother often; I have lunch with my dad at least once a month; and we visit (though not as often as we, perhaps, should).  I thought the trip would be a nice surprise, and little more.  My dad had texted me when they arrived the week prior that he really wished that I would have been able to come up.  My mom echoed this sentiment to me on a phone call later that day.  This planted the seed, but I was too busy to even think about pulling myself away from my desk.

I cannot say precisely what it was that made me realize that surprising my dad was more important than two days of billables.  I do not remember the tipping point.  It may have been at 1:00 AM, sitting at my desk at work, having not been able to fall asleep that night because I was thinking about all that needed to be done.  Perhaps.  At some point I had an epiphanic realization that my life over the last two months had been, quite literally, all work and no play.

Fitzgerald always inspires me to imagine that there is more to the world that what I have done so far—whether this is writing the next Gatsby, or simply stepping outside my comfort zone to see what comes of it.  Shipping up to North Carolina on a whim was completely out of character for me, who needs to plan his major life choices with spreadsheets and agony.  I have not made a better personal decision in a very long time.

We are going to California, Anna, the kids, and I, in July before my in-laws sell their house in Carmel-by-the-Sea.  I am selling all of my earthly possessions including my trusty Nikon D7100 to buy a new camera so that I can take the best photos of what might be my last trip out there for quite a while.  (The D7100’s still for sale, if you’re interested!)  I have planned out an itinerary to maximize my photographic opportunities.  I am resolute about capturing every sunset while we are there.

The trip to North Carolina helped to readjust my perspective on life.  It is short.  Work is an important part of my life at this point, but providing for my family means more than just a paycheck and a bonus.  I saw that in Kemper as we took the hike along the Davidson River, where he stopped and sat for a minute on a fallen elm tree just looking over the river flowing before him.  For a moment, he understood what it took me 30+ years to understand.  (In fairness, it will have escaped him as quickly as the twigs that he threw in the quickly flowing current…)

Life is about moments, and moments are about what you make of them.

I’m going to try my very best not to forget that.  Maybe I will keep Fitzgerald on repeat to remind me.

Ode

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Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.
Isaiah 57:2

I have met many men who could quote the Bible and many men who preached for a living.  Yet, I have never met a man more learned in the Bible and its teachings than Anna’s great-uncle Michael, who passed away yesterday.  Michael was a lay preacher, and he dedicated his life in an uncommon way to God.  Michael was Anna’s grandfather’s brother, and he was predeceased by his wife auntie Pat.  David, or Ardy as Anna and her sisters called him, was wise beyond measure, and was a strong student of religion.  As successful as he was with his mill, his business, and his family, even David would admit that he could not hold a candle to Michael’s vast ecclesiastical knowledge.

I regret not seeing Michael the last time I was in England.  I hadn’t seen him since David’s death nine years ago, where he spoke so eloquently about death and the afterlife.  His death leaves a void in our family—I say “our” because Anna’s British family has adopted me as one of their own.  It also leaves a void in the community, because a gift and a dedication like Michael’s is almost unheard of these days.  Very few laypeople dedicated their lives to the study of God’s words like Michael did, and even fewer such people exist today.

We will go to church this weekend, and I will think fondly of Michael finally being home.  His belief was absolute, and I know that he did not mourn his passing but instead embraced it with the knowledge that his “light and momentary troubles” in this life achieved for him “an eternal glory that far outweighed them all.”  Corinthians 4:17.

I rarely quote from the Bible, mostly because I know so few verses, but also because my faith has been tested so much over the past ten years.  With faith restored, I do not feel as hypocritical drawing from the knowledge that has been set down by generations of believers.  And so I close with a quote, as Michael would have done.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8

Mirrored

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My wife was under the weather for the past few days, and I took off work on Thursday and Friday to take care of her and the kids.  I cannot describe the satisfaction (and often joy) that I had being the caretaker for a change.  I take care of the family in a panoply of ways, first and foremost making a living at my job, but I lend a hand when I get home, cooking and cleaning and putting the minion to bed; but there was something so satisfying about being the caregiver over the last four days.

I took Nora to her infant swimming lessons, which were hard to watch, and I played with her for most of the day until I picked Kemp up from school.  We played, we laughed, and being a clumsy little thing, she cried every so often when she took a particularly magnificent stumble.  (Note: The only bump she received this weekend was when Anna was watching her, and so I feel pretty good about that.)

All in all, I kept my family fed, clothed, and where they needed to be.  Kemper hit the ball on his first try at t-ball (thought he swung before he was supposed to, and I missed the video), and he seems to be enjoying it.  (If he could remember which hand his glove goes on, he could be an all star…)

This photograph was taken in Panthertown Creek, just outside of Cashiers, North Carolina, close to Brevard.  I gave Kemper my old digital camera, and he thoroughly enjoyed snapping pictures of leaves and sticks and other miscellany.  He especially enjoyed taking pictures of other people, including this one, in which he took a picture of me taking a picture of him.  Something about this photograph struck at my heartstrings, and it is even the background to my phone now.

I work very hard, long hours (I am posting this at 3:15 AM), but it is all worth it when I come home and Nora comes running up to me, arms wide open, and screaming “Dada, up please.”  When she buries her face in my neck, or gives me an unsolicited kiss, my heart melts, and I know that outside of its meaning to the clients, my work has meaning to my family.  Although I am not there as much as I would like, I provide, and I am there as much as I can be.  I was sad to see Anna at less than 100%, but I appreciated the opportunity to pick up the slack and play the role of both parents as Anna often does.  I am so fortunate to have the life I do, and these four days were a welcome reminder of that life.

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Brynn’s Leaves

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I would like to say that this was a candid shot, and that it only took one “take” to get it right.  I would like to say that, but I cannot.

I caught my niece Brynn throwing individual leaves in the air to watch them float back to the ground, and I asked her to do it again so that I could get a picture of it.  She grabbed a pile of leaves and threw them towards the camera, which, if Kemper had done it, I would have taken as a sign of protest, but Brynn does not have a mean bone in her body; so I just figured a bit of context would be in order.  I told her that I wanted to see her having fun throwing leaves into the air, and so this photograph was born.

Brynn is a sweet soul.  For Anna and me, she is easy-going and carefree.  I know that this is not always the case for Claire, but Brynn is her daughter, and no mother can be so lucky.  Claire is a phenomenal mother, and our relationship has grown substantially since the kids were born.  Brynn is only a year younger than Kemper, and so they have grown up together.  He is very sweet with her, just as she is with him and Nora.  She tries to mother Nora, which is fun to watch – as our little nugget weighs just about as much as Brynn.

Brynn has had some health and development issues, but despite these hurdles, she has not lost her love of life.  As a working parent, I am not sure how Claire manages to balance her exceptional responsibilities as a principal of a K-8 school with being a full-time, single mother.  I am in awe.  I would like to think that I could do it if anything were to happen to Anna, but I would lean so very heavily on Claire for guidance, because she has navigated the way so successfully.

I was never close to my cousins growing up.  They lived far away, and I regret not knowing them better.  I will always remember my cousin Charlie teaching me how to play chess, but I hate that I wasn’t closer with them.  I am so happy that Kemper and Nora will grow up with Brynn, and that the three of them will be as thick as thieves.  I am also grateful that Claire and I have passed our childhood squabbles into the relationship that we share now.  We lean on each other, which is a far cry from the button-pushers we were (well, mostly I was) growing up.

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Falling Behind

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As the lone photographer on nature walks (Kemper stayed behind), my place is in the back of the queue.  I used to feel as if I needed to walk with the pack, and would scurry to keep pace, missing many photographs to do so.  Soon, though, I stopped and thought how rare it was for me to be out in nature in North Carolina, and also how it was my vacation as well.  North Carolina used to mean fly fishing for my dad and me, and we still fish on occasion, but my attention has shifted to photography in the past three years or so.  He relishes the role as my “spotter,” and so we are still engaged together, even without fly rods in our hands.

We both used to loathe walks, but something about the woods of North Carolina evinced a change in us, and we willingly go on hikes through the fallen logs and chaparral of the dense undergrowth.  Anna tagged along on this hike, and she kept pace with me at some points and at others she walked ahead with my dad.  When I stopped to change lenses (from telephoto to macro ), they evidently had lost interest in waiting for me, and I quickly lost sight of them.  I caught up in about fifteen minutes, after finding a bunch of polypore mushrooms and an intriguing shelf mushroom.  They were happy to wait and chat as I ambled up the path back towards the car, and I was happy to watch my footfalls, lest I miss the photographs I once raced past to not be left behind.

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On Melancholy

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I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no melancholy.
-Baudelaire
I stumbled on an article yesterday, entitled “The Benefits of a Blue Period.”  In short, the article posited that periods of melancholy in our lives allow us to more greatly appreciate periods of happiness.  I read the article with great curiosity and enthusiasm, as I wholeheartedly agreed with the hypothesis.  One of my favorite professors at Wake Forest, Eric Wilson, wrote a book to this end entitled Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy.  It is a brilliant little book, and I have read my copy multiple times.
Professor Wilson taught me to love Blake, and Wordsworth, and Shelley, and especially Keats, who wrote a beautiful poem entitled Ode on Melancholy, where he observed that pleasure and melancholy are two sides of the same coin (Keats’ metaphors are, of course, far more elegant); one cannot fully appreciate the prior without having first experienced the latter.  A rose is beautiful because it must die, because it is, at its core, ephemeral, as life itself is.
I took this photograph of my son, Kemper, earlier this year at Big Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville, Florida.  It is not the most elegant composition, but it evoked the memory of sitting in Professor Wilson’s class, engrossed as he discussed the wild Blake, and the addled Shelley, and the elder statesman, Wordsworth.  In 2007, I visited Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home, and I personally bore witness to the Lake District’s daffodils he was so fond of as I wandered lonely as a cloud.  I would soon thereafter realize, however, that I had not yet experienced true loneliness and solitude.
I have found myself in the depths of melancholy, with a singleness of isolation and anguish.  I was no better (or worse) than Coleridge, whose consumption of laudanum sustained his melancholic madness (that brought us Kubla Khan) until his death at 61.  I often thought I would end up like Coleridge, though with the ignominious distinction of anonymity to all but those who loved me.  Yet I persisted with my own course of self-medication until I was thirty.
I cannot say that I, with a fit of passion and self-realization, quickly emerged from the chasm of melancholy where I had made my home for nearly a decade.  My ascent was gradual, albeit progressive.  At some point along the way, I cannot say when, I gained the perspective of the Romantics – I did not regret the melancholy of my twenties, nor did I wish to shut the door on it.  I had been humanized and humbled by the darkness; because of it, the light shone that much brighter.  I am indebted to Professor Wilson for planting the seed, which, though it lay fallow for years, eventually grew of solid stock.
A rose plucked from a garden is beautiful because it must die, as all beautiful things must, one day, come to an end.  A silk rose in a glass vase is a pale imitation because it possesses no vitality, it is a mere imitation.  I recognize that I am an imitation – not a mimic, but a feigned likeness of a whole human held out to the world – a world, which chooses, most often, to accept me for what I seem rather than peering behind the curtain to who I truly am.
Before I get to afar afield, let me bring us back to melancholy and to a close.  As I am grateful to Professor Wilson, I am grateful for my melancholic past, and, yes, even for the fits of melancholy that I will continue to experience throughout my life.  Emerging from the darkness, the light is all the more vivid.
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Walking On

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I was initially not pleased with how this photograph turned out.  The figures of my mom and Kemper are sharp, but the trees and leaves in the foreground are blurred, as I was fiddling with my settings to take earlier photographs with my wide angle lens and, candidly, I forgot to change them.  When I came back to it after a bit of contemplation, however, it grew on me.  The focus of this photograph is and should be my family, and the other blurred features, which seemed like a distraction at first, repose in a secondary position.

This is, I think, a good lesson learned once again from a photograph that has taken on a life of its own.  Family is, and should be, the focus.

I keep long hours in my job.  When I started, I would get in around 5:30 and leave after 7:00 in the evening.  I saw Nora and Kemper very little during the week, and it took a toll on me.  Nora was young enough that she changed daily, and getting home after she went to sleep meant that she had changed drastically in a week.  Kemper changed, too, but not as quickly.  Still, I missed being able to see them each day.

These days, I get into the office around 4:30 and leave around 5:30 or 6:00, and rarely do I miss either of them before they have to go to bed.  Nora runs to me now (or at least toddles quickly) and throws up her arms when she sees me.  I pick her up and she tells me about her day in her own language that she can only assume I understand.  I hesitate to put her down, even to give Kemp a hug, because this is our time.  When Anna feeds her and puts her to bed, Kemper and I have our time.  We have taken to lying in his bed and talking about both of our days, if for no other reason than to share that my days have their challenges as well.  He cherishes these “long talks.”  I do too.

My days are long, and I am worn out by the end.  I shoulder a lot of responsibilities in the hours that I am in the office, but as this picture attests, family is my focus – even if sometimes I lose sight of this for the blur that is the rest of my life.  Indeed, even when I forget to change the settings, the important things remain tack sharp.

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