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Shot Of The Day

The Photo Album of Your Life

So I’m looking at a photo album. It’s usually sitting on a friend’s coffee table or shelf. It may be a wedding or a birth. A bar mitzvah or a vacation. Or maybe just a collection of family life. And I start to get lost in the apparent perfection of the lives unfolding on these pages. Everybody is smiling. Full of gusto and energy. Happy to be alive. In a restaurant with a gorgeous spread of food before them. Standing on the edge of the Nile or some famous monument that exists only in my imagination. And the life painted on those pages strikes me as so idyllic. So vibrant. So magnificent. So perfect. I try to ignore the question that keeps forcing its way into my head — is that responsible journalism? I know we aren’t all journalists, but it’s the closest my brain can come to framing the issue. Is it responsible to present a sanitized picture of our lives, bleached of all its reality and imperfection? I know Suzie or Billy or whatever person that’s represented in these pictures so I know a morsel of the reality of their lives. The part that wouldn’t end up in the album. In a strange way, I feel some type of security in the fact that there is more to the story. But when I don’t know the person in the album or the book, I’m tempted to think that life is supposed to be like that all the time or is always like that for some people or should be like that for me. I sit at cocktail parties or social events and listen to the answer to the question “so what’s happening in your life?” and then hear the audio version of the photo album from each respondent as if the album had a speaker phone and has now morphed into a book on tape. I can’t help but wonder about the rest of the story. The part under the surface. The part where the separation that perfection can bring ceases and the connection that imperfection and reality forces finally occurs. At a recent legal convention, I spend days hearing about the photo album lives of the participants. I was at the front of the pack sharing my own victories and album-worthy-moments — completing my first marathon, our upcoming trip to Spain, by husband’s first book, Cameron’s octo-debate victory at Harvard, yadda, yadda, yadda. That was until I wandered into a lecture by Kelly Corrigan, a cancer survivor who was speaking about her book The Middle Place. The photo album of her life had a bald woman with chemo drugs coursing through her veins, honest pictures of fear and fights with her mother as well as births and weddings and vacations. It was a brilliant mixture of comedy and tragedy. In short, it was real. As she read a chapter from her book, she revealed the epiphany that there is a middle place between adult and childhood where your chronological age is irrelevant to the term “adult” — when you just want your mommy because you’ve heard the words — “I’m so sorry Kelly, you have cancer.” Nobody could hold back the tears as they listened. Finally, we were all undone. Our albums right there on the table of our faces. In the hours and days after that lecture something was a little different about the conversation at the conference. Someone would drop a hint. A small indicator that life outside the photo album existed for her as well. It wasn’t needy or blatant or even intentional. Mostly it was just a real part of her life that made it impossible to speak of her existence without an exacto knife carving out the parts that didn’t fit so neatly with the top of the table. Like a crack in a perfect ceramic vase, it started a leak — a trickle of water that turned into a deluge amongst women who were dying to speak one language without fear of judgment or rejection. It was a great conference! Which brings me back to my question — are we practicing responsible journalism with our lives? If we preserve and present only these idyllic moments to each other and the world, what impact does that have on us or others? I wonder if our human disease is largely related to this phenomenon — the sanitation of our existence. Most of what I love about this website, is the freedom to be real and honest and utterly undone. Yes, I love vacations and parties and conventions at fancy hotels. I love weddings and births and victories and trophies. But I savor and long for the cracked pot moments when a leak in the veneer reveals something that makes me feel connected to another human being on the battlefield of life. I think we all do. Don’t we?

Posted: 18 February 2010