This post was written by Em the Gem and originally appeared on her blog.
It’s hard to start somewhere with a story like this. Because it seems like a journey of the heart starts with just a feeling. A tiny nudge that says go. I am always trying to rationalize this tiny nudge with logic, not because I need it, but because I want to tell that story to others. But maybe right now you will understand when I say that I felt this tiny and at the same time overwhelmingly potent nudge in my heart to come to Maui. to Make Things Happen. As it were.
My heart has been speaking to me about getting back to the seed that planted photography in my life- the thing that moved me to act on starting a photography business 2 years ago with no real skill and having done hardly the proper research that one really ought to when starting their own business.
It was this idea of creating something to move people. To make a photo that speaks to the heart. That’s what I love most about art: that it pulls me from the pit I get in when I think about the hurt in the world. It brings me to that place that reminds me to laugh in spite of pain, to hope through the hurt, and to love perhaps even because of pain. I live in a world of feeling. And I feel a lot.
Sometimes I am caught by surprise by moments that remind me of what i’ve lost. someone once told me that i have not just survived these things, somehow in spite of them i thrive. i like to think it is because of what i have lost that i thrive. embracing what i have lost has opened my heart up to feel things deeply. to experience pain breaks this protective outer shell i wear.
My mom was struck and killed by a drunk driver when she was just 28 years old. She was in her little red Volkswagen bug, on her way to her nursing classes, when she was hit. Her car collided with another woman, a single mother, and a semi truck.
This is what I read in an old tucked away newspaper clipping last summer. I had always known it was a drunk driver but to read a newspaper article made it strangely real. I was 2. My brother Tyler was just 6 months old. To remember how young Tyler was when it happened cracks my heart in two. To think of my dad, to think about what he must have felt, the numbness of hearing that news, is what makes this pain more real. I’ve always thought I was better off not having memories to miss of her in my life. It’s the same logic that says it is better to just never love so that you don’t experience the pain of losing. I see that logic as flawed and yet how is it only now in my life that I see how wrong I have been? to think that I was somehow shielded from the pain of losing her is a nice thought.
It doesn’t often come up in conversation that I have lost her. It’s easy to keep that on the shelf. And it’s a strange thing to make that kind of disclaimer to someone when I meet them. Too often someone has asked about her and I have been reluctant to say that she died. I have always had a hard time with the reaction. The sadness that comes. The way other people look at me and feel so sorry. What has it been about that essentially loving and sorry gaze that made me turn away? Why have I not stood in that gaze and felt stronger for it. For the truth is that though I have lost her my life is not lost.
To be without something that everyone around you seems to have, is a circumstance that changes a child. I guess depending on what it is. Me, being my father’s daughter and mother’s mother, an artist, a dreamer, a deep thinker, I always found myself alone and contemplating why my life was different. What meaning that held for me. I have this memory of sitting at the window in my room in my childhood home, waiting for my dad to return from his job doing electrical work for a new organic supermarket about an hour from our house. and thinking that I was different. My life was not the same as others. Part of me was sad but i wonder if part of me just knew that there was meaning to the pain. I wanted a way to explain it to myself. I believe that those moments are when I first felt that God was there. not just in the universe but that personally he was there. I wonder if many third graders think thoughts like these.
I also wonder if many adults think thoughts like these. Or do they, like me at times, choose to ignore the things in our lives that cause our hearts to crack and fissure in places. We want to put some cheap sutures in place to shut those cracks, but unless I explore these things, walking straight into the pain and feeling the full force of it wear down on me, I will not go deep enough to stitch these things up. To heal.
I started this trip as a photography workshop. But I think I see that this is in truth something that God had put in motion to get me moving on a journey to discover why I feel passionately about inspiring and influencing others. Why I feel this strong need to put myself out there in the world, out to the vast and sometimes faceless Internet, with all of me. There are competing voices as I have started this photography business that tells me that to keep talking about myself is conceit. That no one wants to really hear so many personal things, especially on the Internet. But the more I have told stories on my photography blog, the more affirmation I get when I tell my own story. There is something there that affirms that people want to hear all the things that go on in my head. Maybe it’s because in reality, face to face, there isn’t always the time to get lost in another person’s story. Their personal triumphs and heartbreak and success. To watch a 2.5 hour movie, all about a hero and the things they went through to get to their victory, is a commonplace thing. When is the last time I sat down face to face with someone and let them talk for even an hour, about all the things that they contemplate or that make them afraid when they are alone with their thoughts.
Something about the written word speaks to our hearts without any of the social anxiety we feel when we must put ourself aside and give all our attention to someone else who is sharing their thoughts with us. I experience this daily.
These are the things that I realize make me want to write to my brother. Tyler, who does not like to look me in the eye when we speak, even just about television shows or sports. I want to give him all of my heart and allow him to know that i want to share life with him as my brother. for now I have to do this in a letter. Aaron and I go down to see my dad and my brother as often as we can, but I also feel like that is not enough. those few hours that we share a meal and talk about the weather do not satiate my need to show him that I care about his life. Maybe a part of me hopes that he may choose to write back. That’s the part I must trust to God. it is absolutely not anything I will write that may open him up to a relationship, but I do believe that God can use the smallest of things to spark a fire in a heart.
On day 1 of our workshop in Maui, we laid on the floor of the Four Seasons conference room and tried to visualize where we were in 10 years, at the place we most want to be. We tried to visualize what we were doing there, who was with us, and how it felt to have come to that place. I was in my studio, a high ceiling office with exposed brick, big picture windows, white walls. The walls held my art. Photographs of people kissing, hugging, laughing. and crying. Aaron and all of Aaron’s immediate family was there, and my dad and my brother were there. The biggest piece was that Tyler was there. I felt unfettered. I felt unified. My heart was whole.
I think I was teaching in some way. I was giving people hope through my story. Hope that there is life beyond and also because of pain. This unified family would not be as important had there not been things to overcome. I realize that there is actually nothing in my story except that God heals and brings together through pain. That this is his way with us: when we experience pain the love we give to one another is more true. It is sweeter than anything else we hope for.
The thing that I see more clearly than anything from this week is that if I do not make a change now in my life and my business, I will look back on my life with regret. Life is too short for that.
I will regret that I did not write about my mother because I would have missed the opportunity to help another person who is grieving the loss of a beloved one.
I will regret that I did not write about and to my brother because I was afraid that it would expose some of my deepest pain to others that I desperately want to think i have my life together.
Life is too short to worry that this is too personal to share with every person I know and don’t know yet. Life is too short to keep in something that has the potential to open another up to be healed.
Life is too short to sell my business short and just get by with a website, blog and branding that could be better, to draw people in to this story and reach them through my art if not just by my words. I know I need to take risks and go big or go home with my business.
Life is too short not to just throw all of me out there. it’s too short to worry that my ego will ruin things. It’s too short to not trust that God has given me words to write and trust that it’s His work to do.
It’s too short not to hit publish.
My name is Emily. I grieve. I love. I am pushing through my past to a future that is more real than anything I knew before. I have the power in me to use my words not just to sell my business but to simply give as a gift to whoever would read them.
I hope you decide to stick with me through this. Through the new mistakes I will make. Through the self doubt.Through any success that might come.
And I hope you comment. To tell me who you are. What you feel. What you dream. And I NEED you call me out when I’m not being authentic. I want you to read this and know that this comes from the deepest part of my soul.
And you know what else? I can’t afford to not do this. I am too prone to needing approval.
I need to do this. I need to be so translucent right now that you see my heart beating right out of my chest. I need people to call me out when I am posting just another picture and not pouring my blood and guts into this work that I’m doing. cause the world doesn’t really need just another photographer. I want to put things out that make my heart sing. Colors that inspire me. Light that captivates me. Work that comes from the core of who I am, all the hurt and pain but also all the love and joy.
my name is Emily. I am yours.