This is a photo about loss.
Almost every night near my town home, I see this woman quietly whispering to herself (or God?) at the site of a torn-down church. Every night, I want to ask her what the place meant to her. Is she a nun? Was it her place of worship as a young girl? What is it that keeps her coming here, night after night, after the bulldozers have quieted and more bricks and mounds of dirt have been carried away.
I’ve never asked her, of course. Somehow it seems rude and nosy and otherwise uncouth to interrupt her private space and thoughts. Plus, there’s a part of me that enjoys the mystery. Freeing my mind to create a narrative, whether it be happy or sad, is a rare thing these days.
So, that being said, perhaps this woman is perfectly happy. Perhaps she understands that progress comes with a cost to our personal histories and she’s fine with that. Perhaps she’s just saying goodbye and feels a sense of fulfillment or closure or peace. I hope so.
But I don’t. It goes without saying that I’m projecting my own feelings and thoughts of loss onto this vignette. My heart is heavy lately. 2012 has been a challenging year, punctuated this month with the loss of a colleague and friend, Skip Evans. Losing Skip was a big change and sometimes, well, change isn’t that great.
I feel this way when I drive around Madison or its outlying communities. Out near Verona, there used to be a sweet little country road down which I’d run or bike. It bisected huge cornfields but is now jam-packed with vinyl-sided homes, half of which are for sale. Madison’s Washington Avenue used to interesting, but now sports condos and (soon) more apartments that look cold and institutional. Everything is being cleaned up, spit-shined and modernized. The eyesores are being torn down. It’s out with the old, in with the new.
Why does everything have to be so beautiful and perfect? Why must everything have a perfect veneer? Put up a new building, put on some more makeup, god forbid you have a typo, exaggerate your accomplishments, don’t be too quirky, mind your manners, don’t cuss in public, avoid conflict at all costs. Don’t ruffle any feathers and, for goodness’ sakes, don’t let the past slow down progress!
I’ll tell you what. Perfection is overrated and we’d all do well to dwell on parts of our past. It is, after all, what makes us…us. The woman who I photographed is dwelling on her past and in observing her, I pay my respects to what those hunk of bricks have meant. I had no connection to that time and place but now I do. And I thank her for that.
It serves as a nice reminder that I don’t need to wipe my slate clean and unearth everything I know of to move forward in life.