In our office there’s an old wooden desk facing the window. The desk is tall, airy, with a deep surface and enough room to pile books, accommodate a large succulent and a computer. It‘s basic in design, larger than most desks, and could almost pass for a dining table in a small space. The wood is full of blacks and browns, indents, marks, all of which only add to its history, story and sturdiness. There’s a single letter drawer, with hand crafted joints. The desk is from New Jersey; my Dad salvaged it from the basement of Princeton Seminary. He guesses it was used as a student writing desk in the middle 19th century. True to its aura, it looks most at home in low lamplight or in layers of candlelight facing a grey morning.
My writing desk.
I often type at my computer, but the computer glow and the sleekness of the laptop keys seem out of place against the rich handmade elements of the desk. The surface feels in best use under a paper and pencil.
I often hand write at the desk – notes, calendars, forms – but recently I have found a calming flow in hand captioning my photos. The part of me that loves the handcrafted desk has also come to love my own handwriting beneath the faces of my husband Tyler, Nora, my almost 4-year-old, Everett 1 1/2 and Tahoe, our lab, too.
Hand captioning and album making is new for me.
I made each album using my phone – I selected the photos and previewed the digital album before it was printed, but it wasn’t until I saw the printed pages that I really took the time to experience each photo, focus on the content, and write about each moment.
The albums are seasonal, and the contents tell about physical seasons, but also seasons that are unique and personal to our family. Summer 2015, a season of health for Nora, is full of bright green grass, sand, her little red swing, bright-colored nesting bowls full of water, just me and my beautiful girl splashing in palm sized rainbow pools. Each photo sparks so much joy, seeing her outside and exploring her world. Summer 2016, or the season we became a family of 4, is full of beautiful photos from Everett’s newborn weeks. The little details on each page brought me back to the overwhelming joy of holding my sweet- 2- week old son.
Photos like these I found so easy to caption, joy scribbles everywhere and every which way.
Then there are the seasons with long lapses between photo dates. Or perhaps a smile on one page then the clinical blue and whites of the hospital on the next. As I went through to add my own captions I found myself facing challenges.
Everett’s 1st Easter (visiting his sister in the healing garden at Children’s Hospital).
Celebrating our 5 year anniversary (at Children’s Hospital) .
Happy 4th of July and Nora 4 days post-surgery (at Children’s Hospital), how cute that her IV board, tape and blood are red white and blue
Happy birthday to me! Nothing goes with birthday cake like an oxygen tank at discharge (from Children’s Hospital)
I didn’t use any of these captions — but I used sarcasm to make Tyler laugh — because in reality if we didn’t laugh we would probably be in the fetal position crying.
Truthfully, I was wrestling with the photos– the reality that these were not the “happy” and “healthy” moments I was hoping for in my family’s photo albums.
Seeing them in print meant facing the heartache and grief that my life, my daughter, my family was not the thriving and healthy family I pictured when we first began this journey of parenthood.
But as I caption my albums and heartache moments in my own writing, I have the chance to take these moments – the ones that nobody hopes for their family– and rewrite them as pillars of strength and perspective.
The result has been a renewed sense of gratitude, healing and happiness.
As I turn each page and focus on each photo I have the opportunity to point out the beauty in it.
The beauty of us being all together on Easter, and the miracle of us being allowed to take Nora outside in the sunshine and fresh air.
The joy in being married to my high school sweetheart, an amazing man and remarkable father.
The beautiful reality that we live in a country where we have access to incredible health care for our often very sick little girl.
The joy that I was able to celebrate another birthday, that I am healthy and I am happy.
These are the captions that have the power to shape my heart and bring me closer to healing. It doesn’t erase dashed hopes, or minimize suffering, but it shapes my perspective and highlights the miracles of our day-to-day life.
Our lives – mine and yours are raw and messy so our photo album can be too.
Regardless of your story, I hope you can take hold of your captions and let them sing with the strength and perspective you find along your journey. Like an old wooden desk from a basement in New Jersey, the messy indents and marks will only add to your family’s story and your family’s sturdiness.
Originally published in Redstone Review 2/14/2018 in Lyons, Colorado
Photo Credit: https://jessicarice.co/