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QUINTESSENCE

Finding a Photograph

“She can’t see
herself apart from the rest of the world
or the world from what she must do…”
- “The Turtle,” Mary Oliver, Dream Work, 1986

I found a photograph of my daughter in this book of poetry this morning. I was searching for the poem, but the picture found me. It is a joyful photograph. She is about four, her blond hair in two curly braids, and she wears a big smile and a red sweater with two Scottie dogs on them, black and white. When did I put this between the pages of this book? It is almost seventeen years old, this photo. And then I think, smiling at her colorful sweater, of how she loved that sweater and the little red plaid skirt she wore to preschool. Of how we had a Scottie dog even then, or at least the picture of one, before it occurred to us to want one.

Perhaps predestination is always at work in our lives, like a Polaroid of ourselves that slowly seeps to color from the blank whiteness of childhood into an image of ourselves fully formed. The picture of our future selves there, yet hidden as time fills in the pattern, the colors, the smiles and the objects at our feet. I am both comforted and terrified of this thought. The comfort lies in the faith that my good will somehow find me, regardless of how I screw up, miss turns, run into walls. Life’s goodness has been preordained. The pattern of me, this me, here and now. Like Mary Oliver’s turtle in the line of her poem, I climb the same hill continually under the silver moonlight, practicing my faith in the future. I am the turtle. I am tied to my children, to the trees; even the birds above are tied to me, as the poet says, by an unbreakable string. I believe this. So it is a question of courage.

I set the photograph of my daughter on my desk. A gift from a book of poetry I gave to my husband the year before he passed away. I inscribed it, “My love, Keep this near for that moment of sunshine or sunset, and all the moments in between.” The date is May, 2002. Perhaps he put this photograph in the book. A bit of joy he treasured, contained in the fearless smile of our daughter in a fire engine red sweater, the belongingness of two years of age there in her smile. Her family. Hers. His. Home that travels in his briefcase, when home is far away. I look at the little girl in the Scottie dog sweater and my eyes brim, knowing a small exquisite truth. Home has just come home to me.
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