Site Meter Peculiar Susceptibility: you can't take it with you

Sunday, March 16, 2008

you can't take it with you

I do not have great chronological mastery of my memories. They tend to flash before me like so many birds. Sometimes they sit still, wait long enough for me to take a good look, to take in the tawny spectrum of their feathers. Other times they undulate in the sky - their swarming dance not unlike the pull and recoil of algae in a tidal pool. Still other times they dart across my field of vision so fast they are the merest suggestion of a being.

bird impression

"A beautiful subject can be the object of rueful feelings, because it has aged or decayed or no longer exists. All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt." - Susan Sontag, On Photography

The photograph I've placed above was taken by a woman who was on her last visit to her dying mother. In the same batch, she has posted the last photograph she took of her mother. Her mother is in a hospital bed, in the photo, with tubes - oxygen and something intravenous. She looks frail and tired (as one would). The woman notes, in her caption, that her mother was at an excellent nursing home, where she was pampered.

About a month later, after her mother had died, the woman returned to Honolulu with her brother. They climbed to the top of the highest hill in the city, where their parents wished to scattered, and took this photograph of the site:

where their ashes will go

I think there was a pretty significant paradigmatic shift that came with the popularization of photography. It seems to me that we know better how to negotiate our experiences through this medium.

I remember three things mainly about my grandfather's funeral: (1) it was surprising to see my father, my uncle Freddy (from the other side of the family), and Bob Cook standing together; (2) the room smelled musty and I was concerned that I would sneeze inappropriately; and (3) my grandfather's hands were harder than I'd expected and cold. I don't know if I would feel differently now about his hands if I had photographed him, but my impulse is to guess that I would, to guess that the thing would grant me aesthetic distance.


• • •

Later on the day of my grandfather's funeral we sat on my aunt's porch and Bob Cook gave my little cousin Robby things to throw into the chiminea - scraps of paper, receipts, a soda can, a hard boiled egg.


betsy q. bramble said...

So what do you suppose it is when a long trail of birds crosses the sky above you, and you can see neither where the trail ends or begins? Is that a dream?

Meghan Maguire Dahn said...

Or what about a trail of so many elephants, tails in trunks, holding up urban traffic?

Wait did the trail of birds actually happen, my little Snow White?

betsy q. bramble said...

There was a day last week where Faith and I decided to sit out on the front steps when we got home from work. It was one of the first days of the daylight savings change, so we were eager to be outside even though it was still a bit too cold. We were talking and sipping on tea and I looked up and noticed a constant stream of black birds flying high over our heads. When I looked toward where they were flying from, I saw no end in sight. Eventually we went in because we were cold, but the birds were still coming.

Meghan Maguire Dahn said...

The world still holds avian surprises for us, Jillian!