Through Footless Halls Of Air

Too often I am tempted to marry a favorite poem, passage or quote to my images without ever really knowing anything about its origin or the heart from where it came.  Lately, I've made it a point to learn a little about the life of the person behind the writing.  To dig into the story of their life... what drove them, what they found inspiring, what moved them. Maybe because I would want someone to do the same for me... should they find themselves touched by something I've written.

John Gillespie Magee Jr. was the oldest of four boys, born in the 1920's to missionaries in China. He developed his love for poetry while attending school in Britain and was highly influenced by the war poet, Rupert Brooke, for whom he later wrote a sonnet in tribute. Magee fell in love with the daughter of the headmaster at his school and she was the inspiration for much of his work. Though his love was unrequited, they remained friends for the rest of his life.  He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940, trained on, and later flew.. the Spitfire.  It was during this time, that he wrote a sonnet I have always loved. He died tragically, at the young age of 19 in a mid air collision in which he struggled to open the canopy, and subsequently his parachute, before hitting the ground. He is most famous for this poem titled "High Flight," for which the first and last lines are inscribed on his gravestone at Holy Cross Cemetery in England.

Magee wrote "High Flight" on the back of a letter he sent to his parents.  Today, that original manuscript can be found in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. 

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things
you have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
high in the sunlit silence. Hovering there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
my eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
where never lark, or even eagle flew
and, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
- John Gillespie Magee Jr.

"You're an interesting species. An interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other...."

The Wings That Fly Us Home

There are some beautiful perks to living on a stretch of river that ensures many intimate encounters with wildlife.  In the five years we've been here, I've watched the geese fly back and forth in front of my windows and I make it a point to never take that for granted.  In about a month, they will bring their babies to our shoreline and for months after that, I will watch them grow until they are ready to fly away again. Ahhh, the rhythm.

This year, we've had another real treat and it is one I have not seen on this stretch of the river in all our years here.  We've got a pair of nesting bald eagles and a juvenile who have made our narrow stretch of river their hunting and playing grounds.  Every morning for about two weeks now, they've come like clockwork between the hours of 8 and 10am and sometimes again, around four in the afternoon.  It is a sight I never grow tired of.  It's been tough to get a clear shot, as they prefer the other side of the river from me, since the homes there are summer camps and are mostly unoccupied at this time of year.  They are so majestic, and I am really grateful for their visits and for the chance to document it from such a close perspective.  I'll keep trying, as long as they keep coming.  

I know that love is seeing all the infinite in one.

In the brotherhood of creatures, through the Father, through the Son.
The vision of your goodness will sustain me through the cold.
Take my hand now to remember when you find yourself alone: you are never alone.

And the spirit fills the darkness of the heavens. It fills the endless yearning of the soul.
It lives within a star too far to dream of. It lives within each part and is the whole:

it's the fire and the wings that fly us home, fly us home, fly us home.

Making The Most of the Daylight Hours

When my youngest son first came to me and said he wanted to play football, my heart landed in my throat.  I know football.  When I was in high school, I never missed a game.  I was the geeky one down on the field with the guys, clipboard and pencil in hand, recording stats and watching, rather close up, the brilliant plays and the tough hits these guys endured in the span of two or three hours.  They knew how to take.. and dish out, pain. That was pretty cool when I was a starry eyed  teenager at homecoming but it was a whole other ball game entirely, when it was my son who would be out on that field.

I felt a myriad of emotions when I stood on the sidelines of this game watching my sensitive, artistic little kid, get out there and not only hustle.. but actually jump right in the middle of the action and courageously block kids who were twice his size and looked like they could squash him like a bug. Once or twice I really wanted to yell a piece of my mind to that kid who plowed him over.. but I know better.  This is a rite of passage for him, and it's important for so many reasons for which I will not interfere.

Eric was born in the dead of winter, on an icy February night when the fog was so thick I wasn't entirely sure I'd make it to the hospital in time. I knew we were in trouble. He wasn't supposed to be born until April and I had the flu and was not in the best position to bring him into this world at that moment. I was sick, I was scared, and I was tremendously worried for his health.

It's times like that, when you realize what you're made of, that life is a series of plays and choices, and that you surely do have to give it everything you've got, if you're gonna make it into the end zone.  And so I did.  He came into this world weighing less than a bag of sugar and his first memories were of a plastic incubator, beeping hospital machines and a tube down his throat that made his first cries to the world, silent pleas from a mouth open wide, with no mama to hear them.  Of all my memories of those first weeks of his life, that one is most profound.  I am determined that my son will have a voice.

His biggest problem was that he couldn't get enough oxygen into those little underdeveloped lungs and so day after day went by as he struggled for breath enough to make it to another sunset.  I can tell you.. I did too.  I sat for hour after hour in that rocking chair, touching my child through the plastic of his little bed, feeling so frustrated and screaming inside, while maintaining a placid and calm exterior. 

All of these things ran through my mind as I watched these kids play ball.  More than once, I got choked up as Eric was surrounded by boys quite a bit larger than he is, yet unafraid and so courageous in the face of his opponent.  Wow.. he started his life that way too. That little baby was so tenacious and determined to get well. Really... they all have a story. They come from all walks of life and from many different circumstances and they pull together as a team, to  make something pretty incredible happen.  He's learning life lessons out there, that I can't really teach him.  But I can let him go.  I can let him learn from this experience, the same way I learned at the beginning of his life.  The hard way, really is sometimes the most significant way, isn't it?

Shooting the game was pretty interesting for me.  I learned a lot in a short span of time.  I noticed after the first 20 minutes that I was so focused on the action, and the emotion of the game that I was cutting off all the players feet.  So I did what I always do.  I got down on the ground.  What a great analogy that has always been for me.  When you're not getting the whole picture, Roni... try getting down on your knees.  It worked when I needed to see things from a five year old perspective, it works in the middle of the night, when I need answers to questions I don't even quite know how to ask, and it worked at this football game.  I sat my rear end down in the end zone, and started shooting from a more humble position.  Funny how that always seems to work in my life.  I think it is a subtle reminder from above... that I am not always the queen.  (Ack!  Did I just say that out loud?)

We live in a small town in New York that some people might not find very exciting. Football is definitely something that brings the community together toward a common purpose and goal.  It fosters a sense of belonging, for which I am forever in pursuit.

For many of us, there is a thirst for something bigger and better out there. These kids have big dreams and stars in their eyes, just like I did back in the day.  I hope I can find a way to help Eric balance that feeling with a  good dose of reality.  Being a parent is the most challenging game of my life. There's no playbook for this.

In moments of stillness, I pause to think about these things.  Eric is going to live his life and follow his own passions and I look forward to watching what they turn out to be.  Is this one of them?  Maybe.  I think it's too soon to tell but football is important to him right now and that's all I need to know.  He often lives in the shadow of his older brother who does so many things well and for whom things just come naturally.  My youngest son works so hard when he's passionate about something.  It takes a lot of effort on his part, but he never gives up. And this game... happens to be something for which his older brother has no interest whatsoever.  He's giving it his all.  I can't even tell you how proud I am of that. 

In the end, the game was finished for one of his teammates.  None of us ever goes in thinking "It ends here because today I'm gonna take a hit that's gonna close this door in my life."  Truly, we can't live our lives that way, can we?  We live it out with passion and conviction, and we follow our hearts and our dreams because that is the essence of actually living.. instead of simply existing.  I'll nurture that in Eric as best I can, even as I worry about how that kid could just as easily have been my son.

Life is a gift.  The game is a gift.  My son... wow, is he ever a gift.  I don't even remember what life was like without him.  The lessons he is learning, and the ones I am learning by default are pretty important, I think and as I continue to document his life photographically, I intend to see it all with more than just my physical eye. As always, I am going to do my best to translate it, via some hefty glass and the black box that has become another appendage to me.  Maybe I'll even share those life lessons and my own personal journey along the way.

Everyone's journey is different and we each must walk our own path.  Each golden minute and diamond second is precious, and we should always take advantage of every one... The good, the bad, the challenging as much as the peaceful.  There's an important lesson in each experience.  I firmly believe that.  You hold as tight as you can, for as long as you can, until it's time to  let them go.  I really wish it didn't happen so fast but I'll tell you what. I'm so glad he's in the game and not on the sidelines.  Breathe deep #63.  You fought hard to get there and you've earned your moment in the sun .

How quickly the years go by.... Savor every one, folks.  Before you know it, the sun is setting and the field is dark. I, for one, intend to make the most of the daylight hours.

Live Into The Answer

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

I could give you no advice but this: to go into yourself and to explore the depths where your life wells forth."

- Rainer Maria Rilke