The photo you see above was captured by my late sister Wendi circa 1990. Every time I see this picture, a lump forms in my stomach, and I long for the opportunity to see her again. This, I know, is impossible. Wendi died in 2007. It’s hard to believe she’s been gone that long . This is the time of year I think about her often. She was admitted to the hospital sometime in early April for problems related to her on-going battle with Crohn’s disease, and this time, she never made it out. In fact, I let a month pass before finding the time to go and see her, and by the time I got there, she was fast asleep and well on her way to the other side.
My brother Jerry decided to go see her right away. He was lucky. He got to talk to her. The only interaction I got was one way. My words whispered into her ears. And one bleak and severely weakened effort to open her eyes and look at me. The whites of her eyes colored yellow. Her last attempt to show me that she knew I was there. The nurses encouraged us to keep talking to her and insisted that she could hear us and that this would help her. So, that’s what I did, in spite of the futility I felt in this act. And yet somehow, all these years later, this photograph speaks to me, and tells me everything I need to know about her. The love and connection we shared, and the intimate way she knew me. The way she gave me strength in ways no one else could ever match. The way she allowed me to be myself. The way she helped shape who I am today.
We had a special relationship. I miss her deeply. Yet, somehow, this photo along with others she captured along the way sends me a timeless message about who I am. How could that be?
Pictures have a way of doing that. Think about it. All of the great photographs you’ve ever taken, and that you currently have in your possession are filled with a lot of intention. It might not seem like it at the time, but especially inside a photograph like this one, the composer sees something that maybe no one else can see. Not only that, but that observation leads to purposeful intention to make an attempt to capture something.
Even in today’s world, where our cameras are usually not more than an arm’s reach away at all times, there remains that presence and that decision to do something to freeze what you see, so that you can go back to it again and again and relive that moment. That’s what I hold so preciously in a photograph like this one, and others that seem to pop-up unexpectedly from time to time. That moment, where my sister saw something in me that probably no one else could see, and then capturing it so carefully. Now that she’s gone, the message is even more powerful. I love you, John. I celebrate you!
When I look at this particular photograph…me, sitting in my favorite backyard of all time. Knee propped up with ice nursing some soccer injury, the pool just a short step in front of me, sun tan gleaming, silly necklace and hat, and devouring that book – “Shoeless Joe” which they made into my favorite movie of all time, “Field of Dreams.” There is so much more going on in that photograph than the casual observer might see or know. A powerful and intimate statement about who I am at my core. The embodiment of a personality that today I like to call, Johnny Renaissance.
Most poignant are the emotions and the connection that photograph provides between myself and someone I loved so much and lost. When I study that photograph, I can feel Wendi‘s presence stirring in the ether. I hear her voice. Her amazing laugh. I see her face. I bring her in to the present in a way that is otherwise not possible. I listen to her message, and I feel inspired to go on.
PS Wendi loved trolls like the one in the photograph above. All of these things belonged to her. The troll. The patience rock she made for me sometime in the last couple years before she died. The deck of cards. The nintendo game. They keep me company on my workbench at home. The next best thing to actually having her there…:)