1. An Emergency, A Photograph
One of the best things about working here is how we all come together in a crisis. For example, when our co-worker Whitney suddenly needed to move out of her house, we all came together to show her how much we cared, to help her get her things and get everything over into a new place.
Our COO Amanda took a framed senior photo of Whitney when she wasn’t looking. She brought it to work. When the following week started, there was young Whitney, arms crossed like a boss, ready to take on the world. All of us, including Whitney, got a good laugh out of it. You know: ha ha ha awwww, look at little Whitney!
A week later the photo was still there. No longer a joke, it had become a part of the landscape. Because of the way the building’s set up, I often passed through the employee break area on my way to the clinic side of the building from the administrative side of the building.
I don’t know what your home is like, dear reader, or your parents’ home, but it seems pretty standard to have pictures of family, pictures from the past. Growing up, birthdays, weddings, trips; all the accumulated memories of the past, from before our phones had become the gatekeepers of memory and we had to capture it in a physical photograph just to remember and revisit and celebrate where we came from, or else have to rely on our own ever-deteriorating brains to bring us back to the past. I don’t notice them very much when I’m home, because, well… I’ve seen them all before. It’s just part of the background.
But when it’s a picture of something you didn’t experience… I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find it fascinating. All the ways in which we’ve changed and grown, all the things that are still the same about a person you didn’t know back then. Look, that’s the same smile she has now. Look at how she’s standing; I’ve seen her do that.
So when Amanda decided to fill one wall of the break room with pictures of staff as kids, I was thrilled.
2. The Accumulation of Memory
I contacted my mom: can you send me some old photos of me as a kid? Yes, of course she could. She had tons of them; I’d been her first child in an era where digital photography wasn’t even a pixelated gleam in our collective eye.
So she started sending me pictures of someone I barely recognized, some little mop-haired kid always mugging for the camera. Wearing a fisherman’s hat and holding a hot dog like a cigar. Bouncing on the couch in a yellow zip-up onesie. Standing in front of the Christmas tree triumphantly, like some kind of pint-sized conqueror.
Somewhere along the way I became different. I wasn’t sure where.
People who know me now know me as a relatively quiet person. I sit in my corner. I go home and write, sometimes play guitar, but I don’t perform. At all. In any way.
I’m not dissatisfied with what I do; obviously as we grow, our priorities change. Also, we change. I didn’t mean to become the person I am now; it just sort of happened.
3. A Series of Babies
One by one the photos went up on the wall. We even made one for Mama, our clinic cat, using a photo we found of a comparable black kitten. I stared at them for a long time, thinking about the people here, the people in the photos, and the time and space that separated the two. The path of life winds, and occasionally it disappears altogether, leaving us nothing but open earth and a vague sense of direction. How many of us have felt lost? How many of us found ourselves again? How many of us are suffering right now? There’s literally no way to know.
4. A Reminder
Our clients come from all kinds of backgrounds, have had all kinds of experiences. In the everyday, it’s easy to make assumptions about who a person is, what they’ve gone through. It’s the first thing you have to unlearn in this line of work.
Part of what we do a SNKC is honor the road a person’s on. Having this wall of photos has unintentionally given me an easy way to do this. I remember the photo of my in front of the Christmas tree, I remember me in the mirror now. I could take a baby photo of any client, put it on that wall, and it would fit in just fine. Why? Because we were all once just little babies with everything ahead of us. Life doesn’t let us stay that way, but remembering that we all come from the same place, that no matter what we have this commonality, makes it so that when we say, “How can I help you?” it’s more than just a generic greeting, it’s an acknowledgment that we are here to serve, here to help keep them on the path, or perhaps show them where the path is.