I have wanted this shot for a long time. Despite having the visual of this in my head for most of this year… I’ve learned I cannot entirely plan when they will be created. They come when they are ready. I am so thrilled this one was finally ready.
I’d been wanting to take a trip down to the coast for some time now for the series and finally could not ignore the calling any longer. So last week, I packed up all my gear and drove down to my hometown just a few hours south of here. Padre Island National Seashore is just a 20 minute drive from where I grew up and is somewhere I spent a great deal of my time as a child. The wilds of that beach ground me in ways no place else on earth does. I only had one morning to shoot, and what luck that a beautiful overcast sky rolled in just in time that morning. I shoot almost entirely under overcast skies or at dusk and dawn when the light is softest.
The weather made for a bit of an added challenge. About every ten minutes or so for the entire morning, an intermittent drizzle would start up. That’s not a terribly big issue normally – I have a poncho for my camera – but when you have to angle the camera upwards facing the grassy slope of a sand dune… well, the whole front of the lens is defenseless! At least I got in a good workout having to run up and down the slope every time it began to drizzle. Arg.
It was worth it for this shot though. It is so much more than what I first envisioned all those months ago. It represents a very new place and energy within this journey for me…
Tears come to me while trying to write about this image. She is the warrior in me. The part of me that has stared into the face of unfathomable pain and death and has not backed down. She wields the darkness around her – commands it, uses it, does not let it overtake her. She is the part of my that faces the unknown with bold determination.
Even on the very week of his death, when I was broken beyond anything I have ever felt or imagined… when I could not even feed myself… there was an ever-so small part of me standing up on this hill. I even recall telling a friend in those early days that “life can take everything it wants from me, but it will not ever stop me”. That part of me – so inexplicably determined – was declaring my right not only to survive, but to thrive. And ever so slowly… crawling through mud, climbing from pits, struggling beneath grief, she has grown strong. She has been waiting for this image for a long time.
I know this was the time for it to come because of a few major events of the week which fueled me with some serious strong energy. Something I haven’t shared within these blog posts is the other weekly obsession of my life: Crossfit. This intense sport focused on a combination of high intensity cardio, strength training and olympic style lifting has had me hooked from day one – which coincidentally enough, was just a week after I began this photo series.
So these two long-term committments have been with me week in, week out, all year… pushing me mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. And the weekend prior to this shoot, I competed in my first competition.
I never dreamed I’d be competing in a thing like this – or in anything athletic. I quit believing I was an athlete around the age of twelve. This year has changed that. And this past week at the competition, I got back in touch with that little athlete I was so many years ago. I found her, and discovered – to my complete joy – that I am still every bit the fierce competitor I was all those years ago. I just didn’t give her a chance to shine until now. When I walked out of that competition, I felt strong. Stronger than I have felt maybe ever in my life. And prouder than I’ve ever imagined to be of myself. I can say with certainty that the physical and mental journey of growth in Crossfit has fed into my work immensely… probably most notably in this week’s image.
I also gained a bit of a viral surge this past week via a few wonderful blog posts – which were shared by others blogs, on Facebook and Twitter. Then a few more blogs contacted me to share it, and just today I had another request! Comments have been flowing in from so many (thank you ALL!). The exposure has brought me to tears and broken my heart wide open in the most amazing way. I have poured so many endless solitary hours into it’s making, doubting if it will ever make much of an impact out there to anyone. Lonely hours. Frustrating hours. Deeply emotional hours. Tired hours (speaking of, it’s already 1am as I write this!). I have wanted nothing more than for it to have a great value to others going through the darkness of grief. To inspire them in some way. Give them hope, or at least an image to relate to.
Suddenly, with this surge of exposure, it feels like the tides rushing into me – each comment and share washing away me from all the solitary time spent. Allowing me a glimpse of where I dream it might go one day. It gives a bigger meaning to his death and my “after” life. The more people it reaches, the more deeply connected I feel to him – as if we are co-creating this thing together. I rather think we are. Still a team somehow, just in a very different way than ever before.
And remember how strong you are.
About the Series: Through 40 weekly photos and accompanying essays, 'Still, Life' captures a deeply emotional and psychological journey of what it means to grieve, to heal, and to live on.