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December 21, 2004

Enlarging Your World

What doesn't transmit light creates its own darkness

I can't stop thinking about those words. They alternately torment and enthrall me. I feel like I'm on the precipice of something really big, something very ... important. But only to me. Because as I get older and experience more of my life, I realize that I don't have any answers for anyone but myself.

So I'm not going to look for other people's answers, or other people's truths, anymore.

You're on your own.

Self-interest is the new black.

At the same time, I find myself caring less about my own desires and much, much more about my contribution to the world around me. What is my role? What is my purpose? There is no answer but this:

My life is my message.

What doesn't transmit light creates its own darkness

Life is made up of grand, sweeping gestures. Big, weight-bearing moments.

But it's also made up of small, seemingly inconsequential actions. Quiet, anonymous moments. And neither is more important than the other.

I looked around last Wednesday night and I thought, "Is this it?" And that's exactly right – this is it, this is all there is, this one life, this one haphazard collection of moments big and small, a predetermined handful of time that slips achingly through our fingers when we can choose ... we can choose ... what we are going to make of it.

I'm not religious. I don't find solace or comfort in the idea of eternal life, or the concept of heaven. I'm not judging people who do; I just know that kind of faith and belief in a higher power doesn't speak to me in any meaningful way.

I think if we live forever, it's in the hearts and minds of the people whose lives we have touched. Derek Going has been dead for seven years, but as long as I draw breath he will live in me. Because he changed my life in a way I will never forget. One person in a sea of people, struggling to stay afloat.

How brightly do we shine?

Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

Derek was my darkness for a very long time. I spent Thanksgiving with my father, and after dinner we talked. About life, the world, other assorted banalities. I don't remember how Derek came up in the conversation; I don't think I'd ever mentioned him to my father before. So I told the story, and I explained, through my tears, how it had taken me years to get to the point where I wasn't blaming myself for failing Derek so profoundly.

Maybe my father was just trying to show benevolence towards his youngest child; maybe he was just trying to ease my pain, years old, yet freshly felt in the hot tears running down my cheeks. The old wound that never quite healed. He said, "You might have felt like you failed him, but he obviously didn't feel that way. He had his aunt call you when he died to tell you how much you had meant to him. Maybe he believed you did your best, even if you don't believe that yourself."

And like a grubby-fisted child holding onto a balloon, in that moment, I let it go. I let go of the one thing in my life that I had always regretted; the one thing I had used for years to bully and shame myself into being a better person. That weight that I'd carried around for so long came at a huge price, emotionally. Nothing was ever good enough. Nothing. There was always a way to be better. Couldn't fail someone again, not the way I failed Derek. Not me. Don't fail.

CAN'T fail.

Try harder.

But sometimes it doesn't matter how hard you try.

What doesn't transmit light creates its own darkness

How brightly do we shine?

More often than not we are the instruments of our own destruction, and I refuse to be that anymore. Because this is all there is. My past is filled with the big moments that have changed me for the better; recently, it's been the small moments that have made the biggest impact. There are things that once mattered to me, very much, that no longer hold the same sway over my life, and how I see it. Over how I see myself.

So out with the old and in with the new, and I guess this is the proper time of the year for that. Herrick had it right – Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

I don't have any illusions about what I can and cannot do. What I am and am not willing to do. I think the big moments simply come to you, typically without warning, and you're measured by how you react to them. You use the small moments to prepare. They are your practice; the times when, fortunately, you get a seemingly unlimited number of do-overs.

That's the nice thing about life – there's always another chance. There's always another person, or another job, or another moment where you can choose who you want to be and declare it to the world. We can constantly reinvent ourselves, if we need or want to. What's to stop us? The way you were raised colors who you are, but it isn't who you are if you don't want it to be. The mistakes you made once upon a time don't have to follow you around the rest of your life, like ghosts, unless you want them to. The past has done just that – it has passed.

I know that now.

What doesn't transmit light creates its own darkness

I just got to thinking about that, and what it might mean, and I sort of realized that I've - in some ways - surrounded myself with things that ultimately mean very little to me. And they're not things that I would want people to measure me by. I have a shitload of makeup, and for what? I use maybe 25% of it on a frequent basis. But I've just accumulated all this STUFF ... for no really good reason. If I thought there was a good reason for it (i.e. it makes me happy) then that would be fine. But it doesn't *do* anything for me.

And then I balance that with the fact that today I mailed six DVDs to Army platoons over in Iraq and Afghanistan, because they'd posted on this website (anysoldier.com) that they have a lot of soldiers who don't get mail from anyone. DVDs were a highly requested item. In that small gesture, which cost me a grand total of $12 ($4 for padded envelopes and $8 for shipping - I sent DVDs from my own collection), I did something that made me feel really good about myself. THAT act had meaning. And it's THAT kind of thing that I would want to be judged by - not how much I have acquired in material possessions.

Anyway ... not to go all Deep and Philosophical on you ... it's just that a lot of things over the past two weeks (and also making that 101 in 1001 list) have made me start thinking about what kind of life I want to be living, and if I'm actually living it. And if I'm *not* living it, how can I start to do that?

-- From an e-mail to Teem (Dec. 20, 2004)

Be still.

Keep quiet.


What doesn't transmit light creates its own darkness

Posted by Highwaygirl on December 21, 2004 09:27 AM to the category Stuff About Me

te felicito, eres una persona que tiene una hermosa manera de pensar, que dios te de muchos aņos de buena vida y salud. me gustaron mucho tus fotos, eres una excelente fotografa congratulations

Posted by: david at December 30, 2004 11:06 PM

If only I understood Spanish...anyone able to translate?

Posted by: Highwaygirl at December 31, 2004 10:12 AM

I'll try:

i wish -- you're someone who has such a beautiful way of thinking -- that god grants you a long life of health and good living. i really like your photos, you are an excellent photographer congratulations

A fairly literal translation.

Posted by: H. M. at March 17, 2006 08:52 PM
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