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Posts Tagged ‘life’

I think the lady meant Jesus, but in any case …

I heard her coming before I saw her. She made her way up the ramp with an awkward sliding gait, using a cane for additional support. I walked over to greet her. A small woman — a good wind could blow her down — but she exuded presence even when she wasn’t talking. Now when you enter the building where I was that day one of the first things you might see is the No Public Restroom sign, a not uncommon sight in the heart of Boston. And it was when she saw that sign that she made her declaration about God and peeing but she quickly moved on from that topic to talk about life more generally. And as the air around me became lightly perfumed by the scent of alcohol, I gently interjected to ask, “Ma’am, I see, but how can we help you today?” She seemed perplexed by the question so I added, “Would you like to sit in the sanctuary for a bit and maybe pray or something like that?” She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Of course!” Now when she went in, I did peer through the window to make sure that that was all that she was doing. She sat with head bowed and I let her be. Eventually she did come out and as I held the door for her — she was trying to coordinate handling several bags as well as her cane — she asked, “Now where’s the bathroom?”

After letting my colleague know I was going to be occupied for a while, I guided her to the restroom. It was a long walk because as she explained several times, she can’t walk fast anymore. As we came to the stairs, she held onto the railing for support. At one juncture, I took one of her bags. And all the while she talked to me, telling me of her daughters, her son out west who was buying a house where she might stay one day. As for today, she was waiting for a bus. “And I planned it just right,” she explained, “so that I have time to come here to pray and then go to the bathroom and then get to the bus stop. I got plenty of time. Cause you see I don’t like to be rushed.”

“Where are you going on the bus?” I asked. And when she said to the shelter, I asked which one and she said Pine Street Inn. I could only say, “I’ve only heard good things about Pine Street.” And she nodded.

Now by the time we make our way down the stairs, there is no railing for support and so I say, “If you need to, you can hold my arm.”

She leaned her whole self against my side and took my hand.

Resuming our slow walk toward the bathroom, she apologized, “I don’t walk fast anymore.” I said, “That’s okay.”

Eventually we made our ascent from the restroom, back up the stairs.

She said, “You’re a lot like my friend Sue. She doesn’t mind that I’m slow. She never rushes me. Sometimes she lets me stay at her place. I can take the bus there too. She’s got her own place you see. She’s the best friend I ever made at Pine Street.”

Finally back in the lobby she adjusts her bags and we agree after looking at the wall clock that she still has plenty of time to make it to the bus top for her journey to the shelter.

“What’s your name?” she asked. I told her and then I asked her name. With a big smile she said, “It’s Theresa. Like Mother Theresa. Maybe I’ll be a saint one day too.”

And then she was gone.

http://www.pinestreetinn.org/

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This morning I woke to … sound. Phone alarms going off on multiple floors inside the house. Outside, car horns honking, then the cursing that usually follows honked horns, the beep-beep-beep of delivery trucks backing up and so on and so forth. Life in the big city. By the time I made it to the kitchen table and sat with my first cup of coffee, I’d decided that today I was going to write about silence! Not silence as in the absence of all sound but as in the absence of mankind. I wanted the silences that I had just experienced along the Eastern Shore and in the mountains of Virginia. I scribbled some notes about birdsong and humming insects and water lapping at rocks. I was getting darned poetic. But even as I tried to wrap myself in that real yet also romanticized silence, I could not help but remember sounds I had experienced just two days ago, just one day after returning from my travels.

shorebirds

shore birds

The morning began calm enough. Home brewed coffee is always a good start. But then suddenly the air was filled with the sound of heart-wrenching sobbing. I rushed to the window to see a woman walking away from the neighboring police station. Every few steps she’d turn and look back, her hand sometimes pressed to her heart and sometimes over her mouth. After a while I turned away, not wanting to speculate about the source of her grief. Later that same day I walked into Harvard Square and there too was a woman crying. She sat huddled next to a storefront with a beat up cardboard sign. It said something like, Please help me eat today. She’d propped the sign against her knees. Her hands covered her face, muffling her cries. Her body shook just as hard as the woman I’d seen that morning.

egretimage

At one point the woman in the morning had thrown back her head, I think to ask God why?, at least that’s what I deduced from her creole. As she stood there for that short moment, the wind whipping her white dress about her dark skin, she brought to mind the Haitian man whom I’ve written about before, the man who regularly travels past the place where I live and who, even in the rain, will lift his face to the sky and sing joyously, perhaps to God as well, songs like Ave Maria.

shoreimage

eastern shore of virginia

The woman in the square was quite young, probably a teenager based on her ragged jeans and t-shirt. Red wavy hair spilled over her hands as she cried. Some people walking by placed money in her cup, but her tears did not stop, I think, until another teen sat down next to her with his sign.

My hearing these women did not change their circumstances but their crying did affect me. I was humbled because no matter what aches or pains or grievances I may have, the sound of their tears reminds me how awfully lucky I have been in this world. It is too easy to shut out the cries of those around us. I do want, and maybe even need on occasion, that special quiet of wild places but I also want to remain aware of the aches, pains, and joys of the loved ones and of the strangers around me as I hope there are those who are aware of mine.

deertwo

white tailed deer in virginia

 

 

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The man knew why security and I escorted him to the door. He was drunk and that meant he could not stay on the premises especially not with the beer he held tight in its brown paper bag. “I want to make a change,” he said, voice cracking. “I want to stop.” He sounded sincere, as sincere as the friends and family I knew who struggled with alcohol. “I believe you,” was all that I could say, then added. “I wish you well.” He shook the security guard’s hand and then he turned to me. “Will you give me a hug?” What else could I do as he leaned down but to embrace him?

After my shift ended I wandered around the building and there he was. Close, so close, to another door where he could have received help. Instead, he stood there in the damp of the day and opened the bottle.

The child did not utter the words, give me a hug. She just walked up to me with no other expectation than what was to be. If she were to lean against me but of course I would wrap my arms around her. Had I not done that the whole of her short life?

Somehow the child felt heavier than the man. The weight of her promise waiting to be fulfilled versus all that he had lost perhaps. “I’m tired,” she said. “I know,” I replied. “You can lean here for a bit but no sleeping. I might have to tickle you so we can get you home.” There was a giggle but the weight remained in my arms a while longer. And that was alright.

In my dreams I sometimes try to hold people. It is the gift of paupers and probably no greater gift. I hope so.

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Lin A. Nulman is an Adjunct Professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College.  Her poetry has appeared in Black Water Review, Tanka Splendor, and the anthology Regrets Only: Contemporary Poets on the Theme of Regret, among others. Lin puts her heart and soul into teaching and while I’ve yet to take a formal class, I have felt a student. In her own unique ways, she has challenged me to both appreciate and expand upon the work that I do as writer and photographer. It’s with pleasure I share Lin’s words and images about her grandmother, a great influence in her life.

photo by Lin A. Nulman

“Oh, you see one tree, you’ve seen them all,” a woman once said to my grandmother, who had just remarked on a tree she found beautiful. Gram repeated the comment throughout my childhood as “the saddest thing I ever heard anyone say.” I think so, too, and I’m thankful for the gift of knowing why.

We took walks when I was a little girl, and even not so little, in our neighborhoods and on the beach. Often Gram would stop to look at something commonplace, such as weeds in a patch by the side of the road. Isn’t it amazing, she would say, how Nature creates so many shapes of leaves in just this one place?

photo by Lin A. Nulman

photo by Lin A. Nulman

Eventually I reached the age of impatience with what grown-ups noticed that wasn’t rare blue beach glass or a good climbing tree. But even when I felt impatient, I knew I could see what she was talking about. I don’t know if Gram believed in God, certainly not in a kindly God, but she did deeply believe in Nature, wonderful and endlessly giving. If you looked at it that way. And I do, and I have to, despite all the other ways my eyes still need to open. Her view was one of my starting places, creatively and spiritually.

photo by Lin A. Nulman

Recently a latent love for bohemian style has sprouted in me, thanks in part to author and blogger Justina Blakeney. I stay up too late turning pages of her new book and feeling out of breath. Justina defines bohemian style as the product of “a creative life and an active engagement in the search for alternative ideals of beauty…Our worldly collections are as eclectic as we are…Decorating is about feeling free, having fun, rejecting traditional notions about what goes with what…and getting a little bit wild.” [I’m quoting from her introduction to The New Bohemians: Cool & Collected Homes. UNputdownable.]

photo by Lin A. Nulman

photo by Lin A. Nulman

Even my 1906 copy of Putnam’s Handbook of Etiquette warns New York High Society about the habits of “Bohemia”, over there in Greenwich Village, beyond “the borders of wise convention”, definitely over the edge and unacceptably wild.

photo by Lin A. Nulman

photo by Lin A. Nulman

Her book was in my mind recently on a walk through the Fens, one jewel in the Emerald Necklace of green spaces that loops through Boston. It has a wide area of community gardens, where dozens of people fulfill their own visions with flowers, trees, bushes, berries, vegetables, bamboo, grasses, and leafy plants. It is a wonderful place to open my grandmother’s eyes, to see the shades and shapes Nature creates in just one corner of a park, sometimes helped along by a little human artistry: a painted gate, a statue, a purple disco ball. On this walk, my looking as I was taught to look revealed Nature, to my joy, as The First and Ultimate Bohemian. Everything goes with everything, so feel free and always be a little bit wild.

photo by Lin A. Nulman

photo by Lin A. Nulman

I challenged myself to photograph the gardens in December, without most of the flowers to help, and still found colors and forms running madly, beautifully together, eye-catching contrasts of silhouette, especially as I lost the light, and small places full of texture and depth. Thanks, Gram.

photo by Lin A. Nulman

photo by Lin A. Nulman

Please look for my blog, The Creative Part-Timer, in early 2016.

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I chanced upon Kicha’s Black History website while researching an African American architect who lived during the late 1800s into early 1900s. I was finding lots of words providing context about the African American experience during this period but very few images until I came across her galleries.

Her unique collection is a moving reminder of the power of images to document the stories of people and places that might otherwise be forgotten.

I highly recommend taking time to peruse the site  and view the wide range of photos and their accompanying text. You can scroll through individual photos or browse different albums.

The photos were taken by different photographers.  They capture a beauty and dignity as well as diversity not always depicted in today’s historical narratives about the African American experience or in most popular media recreations of the time period.

While I don’t know the website creator’s story, I say bravo to what she has pulled together.  I think the site does something important by presenting pictures of an American experience that many may not know but may be important to rediscover and celebrate as we continue to define who we are in this melting pot of a nation.

View Kicha’s Black History galleries:  http://www.ipernity.com/home/285591

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Blues 1

Blue Rose in the Hall

Maybe it was fear that made the young men shout “Nooooo!” as I stood next to a For Sale sign in front of a house in a suburb outside of Boston.  Fear of change, fear of something different coming into their midst.  And maybe it was fear that made a woman look me up and down as I questioned her entrance into a building (part of my job at the time).  As she left the building she made sure to look at me in that same way and I had to think, “Well, if looks could kill, I’d be six feet under.” And maybe it was fear that made the waitress do some things during a meal, such that once I’d left the restaurant with my friend (whose favorite restaurant it was), she said, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t expect that to happen.”

Now if I were to say that all of those fairly recent events happened, in part, because all the other individuals were white and I am black … well, I think there are folks who might say, as is often said today, why does everything have to be attributed to race?  Because race does matter.  As does class, gender, and economics. It all matters.  But here’s why race stands out for me:  slavery. “Slavery ended,” someone said to me once. “Why keep bringing that up?”

Born in the 1970s USA, I have never been a slave.  I have never been shackled or forced to give up a child or beaten if I tried to put pen to paper or pick up a book.  I’ve never stood in a market while an overseer pointed out my attributes so that someone might buy me as a companion for their children or an extra servant in the kitchen.  Never needed to carry papers proving freedom (or ownership), nor been branded, or had to hope that my master would free our children in his will.

As former slaves did about 150 years ago, I’ve never been in a position of celebrating freedom and, on the other hand, having to deal with the realities of having little but the clothes on my back and waiting for forty acres and a mule.  Never had to deal with “separate but equal” or segregated schools (my older brothers did who were born in the 1950s and 1960s).  Never been in a position or location where I had the right to vote but other forces, those perhaps suffering from fear of change, were putting strategies into place to prevent me from voting (my parents dealt with that).

Nor have I had to watch a loved one (or even a stranger) brutally beaten, mutilated, hung from a tree or a telephone pole, and burned.  I’ve heard a few stories from older family, watched the documentaries and read quite a few articles.  When I read the stories of lynching, especially in old newspapers recently digitized, and see the images, I cry.  I cry for the people who died, the people who watched and tried to help, and even for the people who watched and did nothing.  I did wonder what the people who did nothing were thinking? And what about the people who sang and danced and even cut off parts for souvenirs or mailed those parts to white politicians trying to effect some change?

For some, did the actions they witnessed mean nothing because the people to whom the deeds were done looked nothing like them?  Or was it just that they did not know what to do? Were some people truly scared or were they simply seeking pleasure in establishing control over another?  All of those incidents are part of the fabric of this country, as are the people, of all races and backgrounds, who fought to end slavery, the people who fought to end routine lynchings and the people who continue to fight for economic and voting rights for all people.

Yes, I do indeed bring up slavery and other injustices from the so-called past because of present-day incidents like in Ferguson.   Slavery is an institution, one of many, that this country has yet to deal with. I don’t care about politics or how people choose to identify themselves in this country as Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Libertarian and so on.   Political labels and tenets change over time.  But what about human behavior?  How has that changed over time?  Or has it?  Why do we treat people the way that we do?

You can “follow the money” in terms of why slavery was entrenched in this country for so long.  Economics, economics, economics.  In too many venues of late, I have read people saying stop talking about race and focus on the economic issues in a Ferguson.  Of course, economics is an issue and powerful factor leading to injustices happening in many communities.  But it comes down to a bit more than money to treat people as inferior or to hear their screams of pain and laugh or to make assumptions about their children’s ability to learn regardless of resources provided for education.  And it is about more than economics to see all those things taking place around you and to do nothing. To some extent, I feel little right to judge others because I do not always know what to do as I learn about the horrors around me, in this country and abroad.  I do know with regard to slavery and the seeds that were planted that continue to sprout, I do not want to forget.

I’ve been researching the past, including slave times, quite a bit of late for various projects as well as to better understand current events.  In the remembering, and rediscoveries, I don’t come to hate people who look different than me.  Not at all.  A part of me mourns.  I mourn the horrors, and I also celebrate the courage of so many different peoples, their hopes, their activism and their creativity in finding the beauty in this life.  And I celebrate such in the people who are active today.

As a final note in my Sunday ramblings, if you chose to read so far, … I came upon a 1920s newspaper article about a lynching. The reporter recounted that witnesses heard the dying man sing a song with his last breaths as the flames consumed him.  I looked up the song and came upon the following 1950s rendition by Sam Cooke.  A powerful piece.

 

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Spring will come! Meanwhile, here are a few projects that I’m working on.

1. New postcards coming to the Trinity Church Bookshop.  Most of my previous images have focused on details of the stained glass windows.  These new images highlight the wall paintings, murals and the interesting play of winter light across the unique architectural features of the building.

2. Moving forward with the InterludesInterludes is a collection of historical vignettes composed of words and images relating in someway to the life journey of Joseph A. Horne (1911-1987).  My research into his life began, in part, out of curiosity sparked by stories that he’d told his son and his son would later share with me.

Researching his life became a walk through history as I learned about orphan trains, immigration, the Depression, the Farm Security Administration, photography used at home and in war, and then there was the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives program.  What a delight to share with his son, “Hey, did you know your dad was one of the Monuments Men?”

In addition to my main chapters, there are “interlude extras.”  Please check out previous posts here:  interludes TOC.  Coming soon Mr. Horne’s correspondence in the 1940s and 1950s with photographic historian and collector, Dr. Erich Stenger, and the complexities of operating the Offenbach Archival Depot.

3. Collecting and Sharing “Lost” Stories. It’s not so much that most of the stories are lost.  I just think that some portions of these stories could be more widely known.

For instance, it’s not so much sharing the technical story of this stained glass window designed by Frederic Crowninshield in the 1880s (which was sadly dismantled in the 1950s).  What I’m looking forward to sharing is the story of the remarkable Bostonian for whom the window was created and whose legacy is still being felt today.

I’m also looking forward to sharing even a small portion of the story of an African American architect who started out designing stained glass in the late 1800s before moving on to design buildings, and even starting an architecture department, before his death in the late 1920s.  Researching this man’s life has opened my eyes to the role of African Americans in architecture.  It has also given me a new perspective on the complexities of life, within and across ethnicities, as America forever dances (and fences) with the idea of becoming a “melting pot.” Stay tuned.

4. More Food Photography.  Well, when you’re stuck in a “snow globe” after many successive snowstorms, and your favorite place to work at home is the warm kitchen, you can start to have a lot of fun photographing food.  We’ll see what the rest of this wintry culinary season has to hold for me and my camera.

chive sprouts

chive sprouts

Moro

Moro

That’s the scoop. Stay warm!

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