I am in the process of transferring some of my older writings here onto this blog. Trying to keep my 3 lives connected but separate. Sometimes you meet people you will never see again, but how they are placed stands out as a testiment to where you are in life. This was one of those times.
You never know what events or moments in your life will impact you the most. Often it isn’t until hours, days, or years later when the true meaning of what happened really sinks in. How can one really know the scope of space and time, in the current moment?
That was not true when I met Sophia. She stood above me on a ladder looking down and said “Ola! Can I help you honey.” She spoke clearly in English, though her Puerto Rican accent laced her voice, it sounded so soothing. She reminded me of my Titi Noemi, her skin smooth even as her lips puckered in the same way, though not as short.
I explained my mission for some props to use in my portrait photography and the day’s quest to find a handmade afghan, preferably with a bright colored “granny square pattern.”
She climbed down from the ladder “No honey I don’t have one. You do photography that is wonderful, PERFECT! What kind?” She grabbed my hand as though she was indeed my aunt and gave it a squeeze. I thought to myself “This woman is a pretty excited for not knowing me all but 2 minutes.”
I explained I did mostly portrait/candid photography, though I am always willing to take on anything to challenge myself. I handed her a card, I will admit I was a bit nervous; this role of selling myself is fairly new as I have just started building my business up.
“Oh good she said,” Looking at my card she said “Alisa, Common Moments, huh? That’s so nice…”
I started to give the 50 second name explanation but she cut me off “No I understand, Common Moments are wonderful. Oh, this is good; I go for chemo tomorrow and will be losing all my hair soon.” Ok this was getting pretty odd but this woman continued on, talking about her journey with cancer, heart disease and valve replacement, lung resection, and struggles to keep from building a tolerance to narcotics the doctors prescribed to manage her pain.
She explained about seeing beautiful portraits in the Radiology Lab, which I hadn’t seen but I could only guess would have to be Julie W. McCarthy’s images from her “The Hair Project.” And how this 2nd time around, she wanted to be beautiful like those women. She planned to wear earrings and scarves around her neck not her head, to show the world she accepted this part of who she was.
This woman, faced with weeks ahead of grueling days, continued to smile through her tears, as she told me how she can only accept she has cancer and is going to survive it and put it out there for all to see. This woman wanted others to see, “It can happen to you and those you love, you are not immune.”
I was captivated by her words, voice, and determination. The cars outside the door stopped making sound as the rushed by, there was not sound but her voice, it felt as though we had suspended time.
“You are so amazing, so brave” I say to her.
“No, Alisa this is just who I am, I need to accept it. We are not brave for waking up and being ourselves, that is all I am doing. I have to be doing this just as you wake up and do what it is you do.” She sighed and tapped my business card on her hand, realizing it was there she stuffed it into her pocket.
She continued, the air in the space between us was so thick of intimacy, “I don’t like pain Alisa. That is what I fear the most. I can’t stand it, but I worry I will need the pain pills to survive. I want that even less. I don’t want to be in pain.”
I could see tears in her eyes as she looked over my head out to the blue sky. “Perhaps this time you will be in a stronger place. You will have a different mind set going into this round.”
She looked at me and quietly says “You might be right Alisa.”
Just then another woman cut through the spell “Where is the other one?” she said, referencing the other store owner.
The cars start rushing in the road and you can hear the sound of people walking outside the shop. We both suck air in deeply, as though we had stopped breathing during this 40 minute span.
I smiled at her and knew it was time to depart. We embraced each other, as our bodies touched I could feel warmth healing and loving embrace hers, as I accepted the fear and pain she felt. She whispered “Thank you” in my ear before releasing our familiar embrace.
Filled with emotion I walked down the sunny sidewalk. Slow and resistant; my mind overflowing, racing for a place to stop. Amazed I could feel my life being placed into gear, like a stick shift in an old VW. I was dead on, the journey jolted a bit by the acceleration, but I knew for once, “this is your road.”
I never did find that afghan in the rest of my searching that day, but I know what I found must have been what I was truly searching for.