Thursday, June 02, 2011


He had a huge stack of photographs, the kind I like. The ones you can hold. He was showing pictures to one of the staff who had attended the abuse prevention train the trainer class. When he was done, I asked if I could see the photos. I'd just taught him how to say 'no' and figured that now was as good a time as any to practice. But he eagerly came over with the stack in hand.

I love photos.

When I used to consult to families, in their homes, if someone offered to show me pictures, I was right there. How can you be in human services and not be interested in people? Well, he handed me the photos and stood beside me as I looked. He pointed to various people and told me who they were and the relationship they had to him. He had a gentle manner and a wonderful shy smile. Some of his features had been crafted by that extra gene that comes with Down Syndrome but his manner had been carefully crafted by loving hands. This was a guy who was loved. Sometimes, sometimes, you can tell. Disability or not, sometimes you can tell.

And sure enough the photos were of an awards banquet and there were lots of pictures of people with disabilities with families and friends. I saw him with his parents and his sister, they all beamed at the camera.

I don't usually trust photo smiles.

Years ago I worked with a woman, Linda, who had the most wondrous face when she was contemplative. I desperately wanted a picture of her. However, whenever I put the camera to my eye, which was how you did it in those days, she looked up and smiled. Try as I might, time and time again, I have pictures of her grinning at the camera. She never grinned at other times. Ever. She'd had a hard life of abandonment and institutionalization and abuse. She had two looks, one was as if she was mournfully praying for the live she'd had to live, the other was as if she was hopefully praying that the life to come was better. That was it, she didn't grin, except for the camera.


I don't usually trust photo smiles.

However, here today, with this young man, born with the same disability as Linda, I saw something in those photos that profoundly moved me. I saw a family genuinely happy to be there, with their son and brother, to celebrate his achievement. My good heavens, what a journey they'd had. I can only imagine that if, by magic, that photo floated down through their history and into their hands, the hour after his birth, how shocked they might have been. Seeing their future as one that included laughter and celebration and silly photos taken with a serious eye.

And there I saw other families, I saw other genuine smiles and smirks on other faces. They too were celebrating. Here this man stood pointing to people, his mom, his dad, his sister, his best friend, a pretty girl he really likes ... all of them. Mapping out for me a life of inclusion and love and support. Mapping out for me a life lived loved. I looked up and into his eyes, he smiled down at mine, we connected there, understanding what the photos meant, understanding the story they told.

Sometimes you can see when someone has been loved.

Sometimes you really can.


Shan said...

Wow that whole post is so nice.

I have been trying to get photos of my daughters without smiles for years. They're used to it now...I come up to them, camera in hand, and say 'pretend I'm not here'.

Belinda said...

"The kind you like." :) I wonder what will happen to our family records now that we don't often print out our photos? Will we point children to FB photo albums to see their great grandparents? :)

I too, love photo albums and my office has several straining shelves full of them.

And yes, the fingerprints of love and care are all over some people.

Elaine Bradley said...

What a beautiful post! I am a Mum in a family just like that and I have a boy who (just like his brothers) is loved immensely and yes, it shows! It feels GREAT!

Elaine Bradley said...

What a beautiful post! I am a Mum in a family just like that and I have a boy who (just like his brothers) is loved immensely and yes, it shows! It feels GREAT!

Nan said...

We have tons of photos floating around (and on the walls, and in albums) that my daughter loves to look at. But the most memorable was the first time she saw videos . . . my brother had compiled a bunch from our "family" video camera for us. She was about 10 and she looked these videos of Christmases and trips to Maine ove the years and then turned around and looked at Dan (her dad) and myself and said in wonder and delight: "Look at all the people who love me!"

Noisyworld said...

Now that's what family's really about: loving the similarities, loving the differences, just loving :)

Kristin said...

Love always shines through.

Dylan said...

This was a lovely post. Nearly brought a tear to my eye. You've got a terrific style of writing.