Every person’s position on the current political and social climate is valid based on their life experience. And yet, the extreme polarization of this time makes it challenging for us to really understand – and feel – where people’s frustrations and anger come from. But despite the intensity of this nexus point we are currently swirling in, in the end don’t we all want the same things? The best for our families, our community, our city, our country and our world.
As someone who has been working for my entire adult life on healing the deep rage within me, and finally, mercifully, feeling an easing coming over me, I say godspeed to those among you on the same trip, as well as those seemingly on a different trip. For me, the endgame is the same, peace. Maintaining my angry mask has just become too exhausting. The more I let go of judgment and dismissiveness, the better life becomes. Of course, I’ll be on this trip for the rest of my life, with setbacks along the way as a result of my level of unconsciousness at each given moment. Regardless, we’re all in this together. If we could just slow down enough and take a step back we’d see and feel that we actually have far more in common with each other than might be obvious.
Having been a photographer for decades, I’m frequently struck by the similarity between people from very different racial backgrounds, including physical features. Beneath all the veneer differences, race, language, religion, political affiliation and attire, everyone becomes even more similar once they stand before my camera. In that brief period of time between my subject looking into my camera and me taking the picture, there is a space. Though only a few seconds, they are stopping and allowing themselves to be seen – and that can feel like an eternity. I once had someone tell me they prefer going to the dentist than having their picture taken. I get it. It’s a moment of nebulous nakedness, especially as so many of us work hard to maintain the masks we present to the world. So many of us are beset with childhood and lineal trauma. Alas, not all of us are great at presenting a passable mask to the world.
Will the photographer see through my mask? Will he see my pain; my shame; my vulnerability? Will he see all the ways that I’m ugly, even though my
make-up is so perfect? Will he see through my confident facade? Will he judge me? Oh God, I’m so un-photogenic. Maybe best not to smile – it might reveal too much. Oh my terrible teeth; my big nose; my chubby cheeks; my wrinkles; my double chin; my thinning hair. Etc, etc…
Standing before my camera focuses the general trepidation that so many of us feel about ourselves and our world, which is exacerbated so brutally by our photoshopped media which leaves most of us feeling perpetually inadequate. My job in that moment is to connect with my subject; acknowledge them; cut through fog; make them feel safe as they open themselves up to me and my camera.
Years ago, I started making farting noises with my mouth when taking pictures of kids. I found it worked like a charm to elicit a real smile instead of a fake and tense smile. Once, I was taking pictures of a 12 year old boy. I had been taking his school pix for 6 years and we always played a cat and mouse game with me doing all I could within the one minute we’d spend together to draw out a smile – because after all of those years it was clear he wasn’t a happy boy. On this particular day he told me that he doesn’t like to smile. I felt his pain crashing through – and his need to be acknowledged and supported, instead of ignored – pretending that it’s all good and that he should smile just because.
One day, I tried the same thing with a particularly afraid adult. They were so taken by surprise that they smiled unconsciously. Click. That’s the real person, beneath the patterned feelings of fear and lack of self-worth. I’ve been using this technique ever since, with widespread success.
It’s a moment of exhilaration for me to capture a genuine smile that sometimes emanates from a far away place. This pure smile, and the joy behind it, has the same universal quality in every single human being, including those we apparently dislike. For me, it is tangible evidence of how little actually separates us and how all we want is to be acknowledged, appreciated, forgiven, held; to be seen in our best light.
Our way forward as a species rests on whether we feel our deep and overwhelming connection and similarity or focus on the many surface differences that serve to distract us from our essence.
So, let us take care of each other to the best of our abilities, especially those who incur our worst wrath. After all, those who most easily take us off our center are the most accurate mirrors of who we are in our deepest, darkest places. Ouch. Opportunity. Compassion. Evolution. Peace.
No matter the details of our own experiences we are all, at once, perpetrator and victim. Amongst our ranks are bullies and those victimized by bullies, at school and in adult life. Some of us are just hanging on, sometimes by a thread. Some of us are beginning to realize why we have allowed ourselves to be endlessly victimized, only then to take it out on others. Some of us realize that, all along, when we have insisted that our bullying is not as bad as our spouses, children and co-workers have suggested, that it has actually been worse. Some of us are beginning to feel, in a deeper way than ever before, the depth of the trauma we have endured – and how much desperate energy we have exerted to not feel it and to hide it from ourselves and the world.
With this opening, we begin to feel, likely for the first time since we were children, before that was crushed in us. We feel the pain of another, maybe a stranger, and want to walk over and hold that fragile and lovely person you have just met in your arms; just hold them so they feel acknowledged and safe. Maybe for the first time, they have willed the courage to reveal themselves – to themselves and the world. And… it’s okay because we are all right there with them; because we are them.