Selfie Love

I recently spent five days with my mother and my middle sister. Just the three of us, traipsing through northern New Mexico. We were all exhausted our first full day, so we slept in, ate and then took a walk around the resort where my mother had reserved a condo for us. As we were walking, I made them all pose with me for a “selfie,” that turned out quite ridiculous because my mother (bless her pointed little head) kept moving. She is all of 5’2″, I think, and my sister and I both used to stand 5’9″ (though middle age has shortened me considerably). So, when I was holding the camera out to try to take the selfie, I would say, “skooch down” to my sister so that she and I were on the same level as my mother. And sure enough, as soon as I said it, my sweet little mother skooched down, too. So, our first selfies included only parts of my mother’s head.

We got better at it as the week went on. We took at least one a day while we were together and posted them to social media, and I’ve never had so many comments and “likes” in my life. It became kind of a joke, taking those selfies. It seemed fairly ridiculous for a group of old white women to be so enamored with ourselves to be stopping in the middle of wherever to cram together and pose.

But I did it and I made my mom do it, as reluctant as she was at first. She is, by the way, where I learned to hate having the camera trained on me because she is the same way. We don’t like photos of ourselves. And that’s okay. We don’t have to like them, but I’m glad we did this.

It wasn’t just a means of remembering a wonderful time together. It became a sort of spiritual endeavor for me–a method for me to get over my fear of my likeness, especially with how big my likeness is these days.

Something shifted for me during the week, as we goofed for the camera and each other. I learned not just a skill, but an attitude. I’m not sure where it came from, but in the back of my head I kept seeing us pour through photos after my dad’s death, after my mother-in-law’s death, and I remembered that when someone you love is gone, there are no longer any bad photos of them. There may be too few photos, but never a bad one.

I’m healthy. My sister is mostly healthy. My mother is healthiest. And I don’t expect either one of us is going anywhere anytime soon, but I hear the clock and I see our future, and so I insisted on sticking my phone in our faces, because there just aren’t enough photos of the three of us being clowns together. There just aren’t enough photos, enough memories, enough …. there just isn’t enough of the love and acceptance I got that week (not to mention the bed to myself). And I decided to capture what I could and then I did another ridiculous thing: I shared them on Facebook and invited the world in to see us being silly. I returned home and went to an outdoor brewfest with my husband, and decided I needed to do the same thing with him. There just aren’t enough photos of the two of us, looking like we adore each other.

This may seem narcissistic. And it probably is. It is also completely out of my character to plaster my face around. And I’m glad I did it. I’m not perfect–in fact, my face was broken out horribly during that week in New Mexico. (As Tina Fey says, I have the chin of a teenager.) But if I waited to have pictures taken of me until I was perfect, well, there wouldn’t be any, would there?

But I did, like I said, get so many comments both online and in real life because of those silly selfies not because we looked good, but because we looked happy.

And you know what?  We were.

And I’m so very grateful we took the time out to be silly in public and even to share that with our circle.

So much depends …

One of my favorite books that I discovered when my children were in elementary school and I had to work the book fair, is Sharon Creech’s “Love that Dog.” It is a sweet story of how a teacher uses poetry to bring a boy out of grief and teach him to trust his own voice.

I love this book for so many reasons, but the two that stand out to me are:

  • it makes poetry and emotion accessible to children in ways that much of modern life does not currently.
  • it brought me back to the William Carlos Williams poem, The Red Wheelbarrow, which follows in all eight lines:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I remembered reading that poem in college and explicating it, but when I read it in the context of “Love that Dog,” it brought so much more to those 16 words and allowed me to spend much more time writing my own Red Wheelbarrow.

Since rediscovering The Red Wheelbarrow, I will admit, it has become something of a mantra for me. When I am in the depths of my despair, I try to remember all the things that depend upon me. I become the Red Wheelbarrow. My grandmother’s ceramic Christmas Tree becomes the Red Wheelbarrow upon which so much depends. The brownies. The sand-colored hair of a toddler in the park, even that becomes the red wheelbarrow.

So much depends upon …. fill it in because so much does depend on everything you touch in your life–or even the things that just hang out in the yard, in the rain, by the chickens.

I am also reminded of the Jack Pallance character in the movie City Slickers, and his advice to Billy Crystal. The secret is “one thing.” It doesn’t matter what the one thing is, it just matters that there is one thing.  I suppose another way of looking at the red wheelbarrow and Jack Pallance is to consider what is your mission statement for your life? What are the goals you hope to achieve, because if you put all your energy toward the wrong things, you’ll miss it.

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time lately on the wrong things and they have yet to help me get to that place I call home–the place where I am confident and comfortable and know that I am producing good work and good works. I left the wheelbarrow behind and forgot exactly how much depends on it.

I am so grateful for those 8 lines; 16 words that bring me pause and make me do the best work that I do in any given day: notice. Pay attention. Because when I pause and see what is really right in front of me, I always find I am overtaken by gratitude and humility.

What’s your red wheelbarrow?