- Aperture: f/6.3
- Focal Length: 18mm
- ISO: 400
- Shutter: 1/800 sec
- Camera: NIKON D1H
It’s ironic — I spent two days wandering the streets of Tuscaloosa, looking for a sliver of hope, only to find it hidden away downtown behind a brick wall. I walked my old haunts at Holy Spirit, sitting under the oak tree where I used to wait for my appointment with Carey, praying to the Blessed Virgin in the cool dampness of the sanctuary. I drove through the slums of Southside, remembering my years as a college student and all the photographs I had taken there. I passed by the fallow fields of north Tuscaloosa County, longing for my old days as an editor and all the stories I found to tell. Pablo (Rainking) had challenged me to photograph hope, but instead of hope, I found sadness. Instead of the future, I kept slamming head-first into the past.
Half-heartedly, I tossed my camera into the trunk of the car to renew the search as dawn broke Tuesday morning. As I blearily drove downtown, I muttered at my own ineptitude. I was exhausted. Sleep had eluded me last night, as it so often does these days. Truthfully, I haven’t felt well in months. My heart pounds erratically at the most inopportune moments, leaving me light-headed and nauseous. Searing pains shoot through my chest and down my spine, crushing me under the weight of their force. I wake up gasping for breath in the middle of the night, praying for mercy and begging for release. Nightmares stalk my subconscious and render sleep impossible. In the darkness, I stumble to my computer to blindly tap out my pathetic scribblings — faint vestiges of what was once my salvation. I was diagnosed with a heart murmur in June and given a beta-blocker and Xanax to combat the anxiety, neither of which works to do anything other than muddle my consciousness. EKGs were inconclusive and plans were put on hold for a $2,000 echocardiogram once I obtained health insurance, but it never happened. Health insurance is extremely expensive for the self-employed, next to impossible for the poor.
Then I saw the sign. The Good Samaritan Clinic. I had heard of it before, knew that it was a volunteer facility dedicated to caring for our city’s indigent. I felt so miserable, I have to confess that my first thought was for myself. Although I am nowhere near indigent, I would be lying if i said I was not struggling. I have earned approximately $150 this month. Last year, expenses left me with a profit of just over four very low digits. My bank account is negative; the refrigerator is empty unless you count a few cans of Slim-Fast and some ketchup. Dizziness washed over me and I thought, maybe it’s time to give in — maybe it’s time to give the fight to someone else for a while. And so I did.
I passed the income requirements with no problem; then began the waiting. And waiting. And waiting. As I sat on the brick patio outside the clinic, I watched the clouds fly overhead and listened to the chatter as one by one, people began sharing their stories. Sort of a Breakfast Club for the sick and the tired. Silently, I kept my stories to myself. With my iPod in my pocket and a David Sedaris book beneath my coat, I felt more than a little guilty. What right did I have to sit among these people, to worry about my petty problems? I can always escape into my head, get lost among my words and images, daydream my way to freedom. What escape is there for the 33-year-old mechanic, who has been vomiting blood for six days? Unable to read or write, he sits in a twisted knot on the cold bricks, waiting for his turn to tell his own story. What hope is there for the 42-year-old waitress who sorts faded pictures cheerily as she talks about living in her car? What future is there for the single mother with a gall bladder infection, shivering in her pain as the hours creep slowly by? These people will never lie in a warm bed at night, letting
With my iPod in my pocket and a David Sedaris book beneath my coat, I felt more than a little guilty. What right did I have to sit among these people, to worry about my petty problems? I can always escape into my head, get lost among my words and images, daydream my way to freedom. What escape is there for the 33-year-old mechanic, who has been vomiting blood for six days? Unable to read or write, he sits in a twisted knot on the cold bricks, waiting for his turn to tell his own story. What hope is there for the 42-year-old waitress who sorts faded pictures cheerily as she talks about living in her car? What future is there for the single mother with a gall bladder infection, shivering in her pain as the hours creep slowly by? These people will never lie in a warm bed at night, letting music wash over them and carry their soul to higher places. They will never see the symphony or the ballet, never know the pleasure of an idle Sunday afternoon spent driving through the countryside, listening to NPR. There are no books to awaken their spirits, no churches to bring them to their knees.
Hours pass as we each wait for our chance at redemption, crowding the door each time it opens, hoping to be one of the 15 who will be allowed inside to see the doctor. There is no squabbling, but no laughter either. After a while, even the hush of voices fades as each of us withdraws into our own private worlds. Then I see it. A shaft of golden sunlight slanting across a man and child. Periodically, he looks up to the heavens, and I wonder if he is praying. My first instinct is to grab my camera, but I am stopped — appalled at my own callousness. Again and again, my eye is drawn to them, the symmetry of the scene, the tenderness of his posture. With nothing better to do, I cast my own prayer to heaven that my actions be just and my intentions pure as I walk towards them. “Is your little girl very sick?” I ask. “Naw, she’s just alseep,” he replied, a slow smile spreading across his face. “She’s my niece.” “She looks so peaceful, so beautiful in the sunlight,” I answered. “Would you mind if I took your picture with her?” Shyly, almost nonchalantly, he consents.
With a touch of guilt, I lift my $5,000 camera — the one that I have yet to pay for — and start to snap frames. Slowly at first, then faster as the light begins to change. An approving murmur ripples through the small crowd. “I bet she’s going to end up in the paper,” someone whispers. “That sho’ nuff is a pretty picture,” someone else says. And then the doors open and it is time to go inside. Time for each of us to retrieve our own piece of salvation like hapless sinners clustering at a tent revival.
It is now 1 a.m., and I am once again typing in the darkness, typing through the darkness, waiting for the light of morning. I have had vials of blood taken and dozens of chest x-rays, all at no cost. An echocardiogram and a lung scan is scheduled for the future. The medications are not working any better than they usually do tonight, and I suspect that I will be coming back to greet this keyboard in just a few hours as sleeplessness once again drives me from my bed. But there is a lightness, a bit of a glare at the end of the tunnel and I can’t help but wonder if the others feel the same way tonight. In the eight hours that we spent together, I learned a lot. And somewhere along the way, I found my own little glimmer of hope.
Music of the day: What It’s Like by Everlasttagged Alabama, children, photojournalism, Tuscaloosa