The Camera

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Looking back at my “on this day” from 2012, I see that I’d made reference to finding a 35 mm camera that had film in it. The original post went something like this:

“Found an old 35mm camera with a half-used roll of film in it. I got it developed and it was nothing out of the ordinary, just people in the middle of living their lives, not knowing what was ahead of them good or bad….”

What I didn’t share at the time was that this was my dad’s old camera. A Pentax k1000 that I think he bought at Kmart back when Kmart had quality items. It was a popular camera and not the high end of the pricing spectrum.

When people still used film, it would not be uncommon to find a roll left in a camera. Generally, it would stay until another special event and people would often struggle to remember just what was on a given roll over time.

In this case, the beginning of the digital era and the accessibility of good quality digital cameras corresponded with my father’s declining condition of a Vietnam veteran with Agent Orange exposure. Those circumstances caused this roll of film to become trapped in that space between eras and advancement of technologies.

What strikes me now is how the pictures on that film captured my parents in their usual state. The commonality of my mom sitting at the dining room table at home or of my mom while they were on one of their frequent vacations.  I see my mom standing there in the butterfly sanctuary at Callaway Gardens, a place that remained special to them long after they left Fort Benning. I guess it always reminded them of a time when everything was new. And before my father’s innocence was stripped away in Vietnam.

It strikes me that though my father was seldom in any of our family pictures, his presence is always implied. For several years, he only appears on film as half a finger that he carelessly left touching the lens when he wasn’t paying attention. These are things you can correct easily in this digital era by taking another picture. In those days, you had to conserve your film.

My parents had no idea at that moment that things were about change drastically for them. My father would soon begin his 12 year decline due to Agent Orange exposure. My mother would do all she could do and sacrificed her own health to ensure some kind of quality of life for my father as first he could hardly get out of the chair, then lost his ability to walk, then to feed himself, then to speak, then to….

And, as for me, I had already been away from home for a long time. On a visit to see them, I grabbed up the camera from their home while they were staying at an assisted living for my dad’s final year.

I didn’t connect it at the time, but I was taking lots of pictures of abandoned buildings and was on the verge of becoming some kind of photographer myself.  I see now that perhaps this camera that I will never use was a kind of symbolic gift from my dad that set me along a certain path. He liked taking pics of my mom and sometimes close-ups of flowers in the yard. I like abandoned structures and have fascinations with the items people leave behind.

My father set me up to do my own thing, which is what he himself would have done. He didn’t live long enough to see what that “gift” has spawned. It’s gone from being a fun hobby to a thriving small business.

Back to the picture of my mom in the butterfly sanctuary. I always associate butterflies with transformation. They are often a sign for me when I’m going through a period of great change.

My father’s illness and death was, obviously, a hugely transformative process for all of us. I believe that transformations leave us in a better, more awakened state than before if we are willing to be in that teachable space. Although it achieved that end, this transformation was a bit more than we asked for.

And never let anyone fool you.

The process of awakening is not for the faint of heart.

My father’s illness and death changed me. It opened me up in such a way that I understand pain more. I am more in touch with my own pain. I am more empathetic. I can see more. And I can feel more. I can be of greater service. These are beautiful gifts.
It allows me to do the spiritual work that I do, and it has allowed me to see beauty in things that other people disregard.

I often ask people “just how much enlightenment, just how much transformation can you stand?”

Think before you answer that. Myself, I’m grateful for what my father taught me in life, in death and beyond.

But it’s profoundly saddening that it had to go down that way.

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