I heard sad news today. A loss that has me looking slowly through photographs, hardly breathing, willing it to be a misreport. News abounds, it would seem, from here on out. We meet our various fates. Maybe news always abounded, but when we are young, all we hear is our own—not much more than the odd bit of gossip or darker whispers of things that happen to other people, or eventually to us, but not within a reasonable number of years measured in dozens. That was me until it wasn't—the day I was wheeled, heavily dosed with morphine, to the NICU.
"Do you remember the first time you saw me?" Ben asked tonight.
I was terrified, I thought.
"How big was my head? Was it fuzzy?"
I held up a fist.
The first place I land, when I'm shooting a wedding, is with the bride in a robe or sweats or a plaid shirt. There are croissants and the people around her fuss. Eat something. Drink some juice. You'll hardly get anything once this all starts.
Someone new comes into the room, and everyone squeals and hugs, and the little cycle of feeding and adornment replays. The dress hangs there, waiting to make her. It's a costume for a play. Bridesmaids lift it down with reverence, giggling about blueberry juice and peanut butter. She disappears and comes out again in need of nimble hands for hooks and eyes, the last bit of her everyday self peeking out before the theatre begins.
He will emerge from around a corner and see his wife.
A bride and groom command whatever vista they decorate. This is why we love weddings.
We want archetypal proof of our potential to navigate the unnavigable human condition. The bride and groom know their way. We like this painting. Its composition pleases us.
"Let's frighten the dragons," I said to Pooh.
"That's right," said Pooh to Me.
"I'm not afraid," I said to Pooh,
And I held his paw and I shouted "Shoo!
Silly old dragons!" —and off they flew.
"I wasn't afraid," said Pooh, said he,
"I'm never afraid with you."
Even when we're young, before we can possibly understand our own fragility, we love to watch. A wedding is a brandishing of our collective best, some kind of a taunt. It's the most sparkling, most affirming taunt we've got to throw. The universe catches it and lets us play, even still.
We glow in their glow.
I run for twelve hours straight lugging that kit, kicking off my shoes, hunting patches of light, being invisible. But what knocks me flat, every time—what I could never take lightly or with the slightest bit of cynicism—is the visceral responsibility of recording something that will never happen again. Not between these two particular people on this particular day, with these witnesses. These lovers who somehow found one another in the midst of all this noise and worry and fear.
Our time here is finite, quantifiably so. The evidence is constant. We have the power of man's red flower! We have opposable thumbs and the wheel. We are the only animals who know our lives will end. But that's not enough to make us more kind, gentle, appreciative, and more presently helpful to others. We are engrossed in a neverending inventory of shoulds and should-haves.
If I knew my exact number of days or years—the precise granting of how many weekend cuddles with flannel sheets and a tangle of small legs and a pile of comic books—I would be awake. All the time. So would you.
You can't frighten the dragons. Even with a vow, with the bolster of a hand in yours. You just can't. Dragons define the human existence. We can befriend them, sort of, once we get used to the constancy of their hot breath and the unfairness of it touching us. We can hold on to our glow even after we have outgrown or lost or forgotten it. Doesn't matter that it lacks permanence. The glow, however fleeting, defines us just as much as all the rest.