A Trip Through the Mountains

Last Monday, I flew steadily west for most of the afternoon. Headed for Denver. For the Rocky Mountains. With my camera. It was one of those “strike while the iron is hot” moments, when the rest of life’s responsibilities are on hold while I walk through an open door.

But let me back up a bit . . . Retrace some thoughts and events leading up to this trip. 2015 began quite oddly, as I muddled through the darkness of a control group in the Deep Brain Stimulation trial. Then, mid-February, came the brilliant reality of computerized muscle control. Close on the heels of that event was the long-awaited ordination to ministry, coupled with an acute awareness that I still have feet of clay. I still live in a fragile shell.  Life didn’t get better “just because”.

This year has offered opportunity to join Village of Dreams, marketing my photography to the meager economy of this town I’ve called “home” for most of my adult years. I have struggled with the dichotomy between people’s affirmations and the reality of limited sales.   Is this photography bug really something I need to be doing . . . Or is it just a hobby that I romanticized in my mind?

It has been a year of great loss:  Two faithful choir members and friends to cancer.   My father-in-law. The threatened loss of three other choir member friends.  I “lost” most of the summer at home, as I remained in Chicago for the birth of a grandson, and another overnight trip turned into six as we watched my husband’s father slip away. I lost a dearly beloved teaching position, and with it went many of the close ties I had with my faculty peers.

The stress of it all recently brought on some terrible pain, as my body reacted to bursitis with the severe cramping that sometimes goes with Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s Disease advances inexorably onward, sometimes oblivious to the wonders of modern medicine – a growing monster of another type of mountain. In the far reaches of my mind is the growing awareness that my world is beginning to shrink.  Now on full disability, I can never return to my classroom.  I don’t think playing the organ or even the piano will ever be “easy” again.  Even speaking and singing are becoming more difficult as this illness progresses. Life, as I have known it, is gone . . .

This week, I have been to the mountains, invited by my art teacher friend, Julie. She has chauffeured me through hundreds of miles of steep mountain roads, and steadied me when my movements grew sluggish for lack of oxygen above the tree line. She had listened with an artist’s ear, and has “spotted” and staged several photos I might have missed. Her friendship has given me new hope and inspiration for life beyond the demise of my career. I don’t know where this photography bug will lead, but I am convinced anew that it is too soon to toss in the proverbial towel. (Yes, there is still a towel with my name on it . . .)

Reflecting back to the beginning of this mountaintop week:  just before heading for the airport, I sat at lunch with a special group of friends — peers — ordained ministers all.  Next to me sat a man I have known for 30 years. He is a gifted thinker and writer, a profound preacher, a dearly beloved emeritus pastor who still, with a few succinct words, can shed light on current issues. He suffers from an increasingly debilitating illness with no known cause, no treatment, and no cure.   “How?” I have often wondered. “How does he keep going? How does he remain so serene in the face of growing disability? Why is he not railing against God or Someone, angry in the face of what is lost or will be lost?” He has posted in his own blog a rationale for dealing with life’s devastation (Check out his blog at https://undercoverpastorblog.wordpress.com/)

In his wisdom, this friend has reminded me that relationships are what are most important – always! Living one’s life fully is something we must choose to do everyday. grabbing hold of those moments when we can embrace a friend or family, accepting the gifts of their companionship and time, acknowledging that we need these relationships to not only survive, but to maintain quality of life.  Interestingly, one doesn’t need to “get” a debilitating illness to so live.

Valley at Guanella PassIn two days, we wrap up this photography (read, therapy) trip. I am grateful for family who didn’t stand in my way when this opportunity came my way.   I am grateful for a son who gave his blessing, even though it meant missing his surgery. I am thankful for Arts Council volunteers and church musicians who covered for me in my absence. I am grateful for continued friendship beyond the bounds of a job. A new door opens even as the old one slams shut behind me. And there is still a beautiful world out here, begging for the touch of a photographer.

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