Thursday, July 15, 2010

Linda's Smile

She really frustrated me.

The 'artistic' wannabe me.

I was working in an ADP years and years ago. Linda was a woman with Down Syndrome who needed a fair bit of support. She was a short, squat woman, who always wore bright summer dresses. I remember finding her face remarkable. She was what was then considered to be elderly for someone with Down Syndrome and her face had developed fine crepe paper wrinkles. I loved looking at her when she was engrossed in a task. She focused and her face became a study in concentration, in involvement in life. She looked serious and wise.

I had seen some photographs taken of people with disabilities in a book that I'd purchased and I thought that I'd like to have a 'forever record' of Linda's face. I'm not a photographer, didn't own a camera then and don't know where ours is now. But I determined I'd get a good shot of Linda.

Around this time a huge study was going on regarding Down Syndrome and Alzheimer's. A big bus pulled up beside the ADP and Linda was hustled out for testing. I sat with her as she took the test. It was clearly a test of memory and as much as I willed, with all my might, for Linda to pass the test, it was clear that she struggled to remember what was where, which went with what. Her face, showed disappointment, she knew that the test meant something even though she was told it didn't. That face, I wanted to have a picture of that face.

A camera was purchased and I took it with me to work. I snuck it in knowing that many of those there had orders that pictures could not be taken. I didn't want to publish the picture, I didn't want anything but a reminder. I didn't ask for permission of anyone but Linda. When I asked her if I could take her picture, she looked up and me and said, 'You want a picture of me?' There was astonishment in her voice as if she never imagined for a minute that someone would want a picture of her. I told her I did want a picture of her.

I don't have a single shot of her now. Even though I took a roll of film, I didn't develop them. It was so frustrating. I couldn't get a shot of her concentrating. As soon as the camera went to my eye, she looked at it and smiled. Though Linda had no teeth to speak of, her smile was charming. I didn't want charming. I didn't want another picture of someone with Down Syndrome smiling. I wanted a picture of someone engrossed in life, in learning, in living. Linda would not oblige. She smiled and smiled and smiled some more. She had this uncanny knack of knowing when I lifted the camera and she'd sit up and smile, broadly.

I asked Linda to try and not smile. She said, 'You smile for the camera.'

Linda came to my mind yesterday. I wasn't feeling great. My sense of self seemed under attack - by no one but me. Even so, when I got on the bus to come home and the driver said 'how was your day'. I smiled.

When greeted in the lobby of the building I live in, I smiled.

When chatting with someone on the Internet I :)ed.

Because Linda was right, 'You smile for the camera.'


Kristin said...

What a wonderful story. Sometimes, just smiling makes you feel better too.

Anonymous said...

Dave, you have both shots in your mind. She smiled for the camera, she lived and learned with you!