Last Friday, December 14th I was at home lying on the couch with a stomach flu. I had been there for 2 days. It was my first week as a full-time photographer. I had taken the leap and left my side job. And here I was, a few days in, feeling miserable. When I’m sick, I’m like a walking, breathing raw nerve. Lying on that couch, all the fears and doubts and worries that I’ve been pushing down, ignoring, and silencing for… well, forever… were all bubbling up.
What have I done? What if I fail? What if I have to sell everything and move back in with my parents? A full-time photographer in this economy? Are you nuts? What if they don’t hire you? What if they do hire you and hate you and your photos? What if the house burned down? What if I have to suck it up and go back to waiting tables? Ugh… and I announced this so publicly on social media. Why didn’t I just keep my mouth shut and wait to see if this is even going to work? Rent. Insurance. Student loans. Cat food. Me food. Maybe I should call the restaurant and ask for my job back…. I should have more in savings just in case. And you just got another parking ticket. You can’t be doing that, Elizabeth. Maybe I should sell the car. Maybe I should buy a new car. What on Earth are you doing with your life? I guess I could always go back to teaching. Teaching is stable. Salary, benefits… Summers off. I could just go back to doing photography as a hobby. No pressure. Just fun. OOOOH that’s a good idea. Can’t fail at just fun. WHAT HAVE I DONE? I must be crazy.
Then my news alerts went off on my phone and my iPad. CNN, AP… they were all popping up at once. There had been a shooting in Newtown. An elementary school. Many dead. Unknown amounts of victims. Children.
Before this new life in DC, I was a teacher. My degree is in French Literature, Secondary Education & Entrepreneurship. My teaching career took me to France, to Australia and back to France again. Despite my training being in secondary ed., I’ve taught everyone from pre-school to college, but mainly primary kids.
I saw them all. All the little faces, their smiles, their eyes, their little arms reaching out for a hug hello or comfort when they were sad or hurt. I saw their parents dropping them off and picking them up. I saw my colleagues… the teachers and staff that made me laugh, encouraged me when it was rough and were my friends. I saw my family, my parents now and in photos when they were kids. I saw my cousins, those my age and the ones that are just growing up now. I saw the kids I grew up with. I saw my teachers. I saw us all as we are now, and I saw us when we were small. I saw my friends. I saw their kids, many who call me Aunt Liz. I saw my teachers from mothers’ day out all the way through college. I saw all the people I have met all over the world. I saw it ALL. At once. Like some rolodex of my life on super fast forward.
And I wept some more.
I thought of being back in my classrooms. Where would we hide? There are no back doors… we’d be like sitting ducks. In Paris, my classroom was on the 4th floor. In Deauville, the windows were too high, and I’m too short to lift the kids over. In Melbourne, the closet exit was to an interior courtyard. That wouldn’t be an escape. At Marymount, Louma had limited mobility… she wouldn’t be able to run. I’d have to carry her. I’d have to put myself over her. I thought of the fear, the dread of what was to come. The feeling of helplessness of not being able to calm the kids that were with me or know what was happening to my kids in other parts of the school.
I thought of how our family would be different… permanently changed if any one member wasn’t there. And the grief of the “What would they have become? Who would the have been?” questions.
I thought of how my life would never have been the same without every person I have known, loved, or learned from contributing to where it has been and where it is going. What if one have them had been taken? What if I had never known my friends?
I finished crying. And I got up off the damned pity party couch and went back to work.
I have lived a charmed life. I have been afforded some amazing opportunities. Between my parents busting their chops to put me in all the right schools and letting me go run around 40 countries with no real end game in mind, they let me become who I am. I have been lucky.
Someone asked me this week, “Aren’t you glad you’re not a teacher anymore?” And the answer is yes. Not because I hated teaching. I loved it. It was the hardest job I ever had (not to mention the least amount of money I’ve ever earned), but I wasn’t put on this Earth to be a teacher for longer than I was. I’m doing what I am supposed to do now… it just took me a little while to figure it out. I would never be a photographer without being a teacher first. I took photos all the time. In the classroom, in the courtyards, on field trips, of the performances and the parties. I took photos of where I was so lucky to have traveled so that my family and friends back home could see everything and, in some way, be there with me. I worked to make my photography better so that it translated my experiences to the 2D for others to understand and to feel. My first paid photo gig was through teaching. My first job as a photography assistant came from the parent of kids I nannied for extra cash. They go together. They can’t be separated.
I am so very blessed. (not a word I throw around) Today is the 2-year anniversary of my move to DC. It has been incredible. Thank you.
For the holidays this year, I want to give you all the expression of my deepest gratitude and love. I think that ‘Thank You” are two most powerful words on Earth. Thank you. Thank you for being in my life whether you’ve been there all along, just for a time and now are far away, or are just joining the party. Thank you for the experiences. Thank you for the laughs and the memories. Thank you for contributing to my story whether you realized it or not. Thank you for calling me out when I needed it or encouraging me when I couldn’t get through on my own. Thank you for letting me take my pictures. I know it’s all food and wine and parties and photo booths and boas and silly faces. I know it’s weddings and merriment and the happy moments. I know that there are rarely photos of the sad times. I like it that way.
I went back in my archives to find some photos of my kiddos and the people that I have met along the way. The people that I would mourn so deeply if they were taken away. I meant to post just a few. Several hours later, I had a huge folder of images. I couldn’t stop. I hadn’t looked back on my old life in quite some time. It did me a lot of good to smile, laugh and send out some love to people I may never see again, but will always remember.
Please take a second, a few minutes to look at some photos. You may be in there! (I wish there was more Australia… the disks are packed away somewhere…)
I might suggest some music… I’m partial to Explosions in the Sky
Watch some or all or none… it doesn’t change my feelings. Love for you all.