I read an article this week titled, “Around the World in 9 Photos”. This featured a stunning collection of professional photographs from across the globe. Each picture had its own classical character and told its own epic story. I could “feel” each photo. That’s what always impresses me about good photos – how I can “feel” something I’ve never seen.
This made me think about my own “classic” and “epic” shots from the canvas of my life’s photo album. I don’t mean “classic” or “epic” in a grand, artistic sense, but rather in the vein that they continue to evoke a strong emotional response within me. While years, and even decades, have passed, some photos still bring me back to the exact moment captured on film. I can still feel the sting and the sweetness of the moment as if I’m there right now. As you will see they are not good pictures, but they are meaningful memories.
Here are a few:
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu. November 1976. As my high school football season wound down I was certain I would be playing college football, probably for Navy. With 4 minutes to go in my last game a tackler slammed into my outstretched leg, hitting me just above the right knee. I don’t remember pain but I can still feel the twinge in my gut reacting to the chicken-bone snapping sound in my knee. I screamed and writhed in fear on the AstroTurf. My junior year had started with a team victory and throwing the first touchdown pass during the first high school game played at Aloha Stadium. My senior year was ending in injury and loss. As the trainers helped me off the field, I knew something was terribly wrong with my knee. What I didn’t know was this would be the last time I would wear a football uniform.
Mount Fuji, Japan. August of ’78. I was on summer leave visiting my family then living in Japan. We embarked on the longstanding Japanese ritual of climbing Mt. Fuji. The journey to the peak started halfway up the nearly 12,400′ mountain, late in the evening. What I remember most about the overnight trek is the perpetual light show of shooting stars, swarming like fireflies, across the midnight sky. It was breathtakingly surreal. We each climbed with a wooden trekking stick, which would be ‘branded’ with a unique mark at each station along the climb. We arrived just before sunrise. I took off my shirt and held my marked-up trekking stick above my head. “Good morning, Japan!”
Flight Deck, USS Independence (CV-62). Summer of ’83. I earned my Surface Warfare Officer designation which was formally recognized at this flight deck ceremony. Achievement of this designation required qualification as Underway Office of the Deck, the watch officer directly responsible to the Commanding Officer for the safety and navigation of the ship. At age 24, I was assigned this responsibility which would included combat operations in Grenada and Beirut. An aircraft carrier is arguably the world most powerful war machine. I had responsibility for “80,000 tons of Twisted Steel and Sex Appeal” careening through the high seas with 90 aircraft and over 5,000 sailors embarked. This posting remains a definitive source of professional pride for me. Since then, I have never had more responsibility, nor made as little money, as I did on old Indy Gal.
Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, MD 1994. Before end zone seats were installed, there was “The Hill” – a great place for young families to congregate and young fans to play during Navy home games. The week before this photo was taken I had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The following Monday I would have chest biopsy confirming I was at Stage III-B, and chemotherapy would begin a week later. I was so tired and weak, but knew I wanted to be here. I remember thinking, “This could be the last Navy Football game I would ever see.” I was glad I could sit on the hill with Chris, 9 and Caity, 8. That evening my oncologist called to ask Leigh if I was breathing alright. We were in for a long haul with many twists and turns. I’m glad I’ve seen a lot of Navy games since.
Outside Leadville, CO, August 2000. To mark my impending 5 year anniversary of being declared, “in remission”, I celebrated by taking an Outward Bound course in the Colorado Rockies. On the second day we went rock climbing, learning climbing skills and techniques, and practicing ‘trust’; trusting our ‘beylayers’, trusting our footholds, and trusting ourselves. The climbs were set up so that as a climber reached the top, there was a hand-bell to ring, signaling a successful ascent. Late in the day enhanced trust and confidence spurred creativity and boundary breaking. This photo is of me, blindfolded, near the top of a 70′ rock face. As I climbed higher and higher, getting closer and closer to the top, I could hear the bell softly jingling above me. The parallels between rock climbing blindfolded and dancing with cancer did not escape me in this very moment. The adrenaline-fueled courage that got me to the top melted into tears of gratitude as I rang the bell in celebration of both what could be seen on the rock face, as well as what could be felt in my heart.
Mendenhall Glacier . Juneau Alaska. 2008 is was when we started to realize the depth of the economic downturn. We had planned our Alaskan Cruise nearly a year beforehand, and fretted about it up until the day we left. Clouded by the abysmal business conditions, I was convinced this would quite possibly be the last vacation we would ever be able to take. It is one thing to see pictures of ice-glaciers, it is entirely different taking an awe-inspiring helicopter tour and then resting down to hike around. Not unlike my experiences on Fuji and in the Rockies, ice climbing provided an intense sense of raw humility in the vastness of Mother Nature.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. February 2009. We joined friends at their timeshare in Cabo, at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula where the Sea of Cortez kisses the Pacific Ocean. Not far from town is a canyon where , strung across two sides, a glass bottomed gondola is used as the launch-point for bungee jumping. At 293’ above the cactus and rocks (and critters), one has a moment to contemplate the meaning of life. You simply haven’t lived until you’ve received a safety briefing from a Mexican teenager.
Seaside Beach Club. Westerly R.I. 9.10.11. Caity’s wedding. My first hug of Mrs. Peter Serra. As I look at this I am not sure if I’m smiling through my tears, or crying through my smile.
February, 2013. After a long day of snow-shoeing on our hilly golf course, Isaac, our 13 year-old Lab collapsed on our family room floor. He had shown signs of slowing down and aging prior to this incident, but on this night I thought we were losing him; I thought I was saying goodbye. He lasted through summer when it was finally time to let him rest without the pain. Isaac wasn’t like family, he is family.
I know I said only 9 photos, but I have to end with a giggle from the 70’s:
In a Winnebago heading South on I-95. May, 1978. What do Plebes do when they finish final exams? Boys will be boys! They rent a Winnebago and head to Myrtle Beach of course! Multi-tasking 70’s style!
Related blog entries:
On Football and knee surgeries: Knee Stuff
Caity and Pete’s Wedding: Daddy’s Princess
Chris and Lindsey’s Wedding: Wild Horses