When my daughter was born, she came alive into the world with only one tiny cry of surprise. Her little black eyes blinked. She saw nothing – but she saw everything that was important: she was loved; Mama was here; she was a person.
I saw for her; I saw her; I learned at twenty-five what it meant to see as a baby sees.
But baby wisdom fades as children grow, and mothers often see only risk where we could offer life.
Almost five years later, seeing had become my full time job, and it came with grown-up rules and professional obligations. I was slowly dying in pursuit of a safe sort of dream I’d forgotten as I learned to “see” only what “they” said was okay to see.
In April, when my husband hijacked my to-do list with a trip to Ireland, all my friends told me they “couldn’t wait to see all the pictures” (after all, a photographer does take pictures wherever she goes, right?), but even their enthusiasm couldn’t overpower the exhaustion that checked obligation with my baggage and left it at the claim.
Unless I could see beyond what I supposed to see and come alive, I wasn’t going to touch my camera.
I went to Ireland too many years tired.
I never sleep during the day. I don’t sleep on planes, or in cars, or on my first night in a new bed — yet in Ireland I slept like a baby. And when I woke, I felt like my daughter the night she was born, newborn to a vast world I couldn’t begin to define.
Was I inhaling for the first time?, I wondered as we rounded a mountain into full view of a rose-tinted sun gilding an impossibly green Atlantic.
How was I even here? My mind tried to make sense out of real people speaking the lyric tongue I’d imagined but never attempted. We wove round the Irish roads, up and down blackened hillsides burned for peat, through endless rolling pastures dotted with sheep.
I thought about crying.
The mountains fell into the sea; the thick pasture grass undulated like the waves that surrounded the island; the light sang a song known only to those who understand sorrow, fading in and out between and beyond the clouds.
We played games by the peat-brick fire in the parlor of our self-service cottage as we waited for the sun to set and let us burrow under cotton sheets and a bit of Irish lace.
We had our photos taken by the shore. I watched the an emerald bay bubble up over the white sand. I borrowed the camera to capture love I found there as I shivered my way back to the car.
I didn’t say much.
My heart was a riot.
I tried to journal, but I couldn’t write the lilt that had crept into my voice while I was there.
I was a writer lost for prose, a photographer breathing my thousand words, a person seeing through the eyes of a child.
My Ireland pictures weren’t what they were supposed to be. “They” might make rules for what you ought to see, but they don’t make rules for telling how you come alive.
I shot nothing – and everything in the nothing, piling colors on patterns and feeling, and mixing in my life.
I could see only pieces at a time. Growing old in Ireland would be the only way for me to take the whole of her into my heart.
Photos and post by Kelly Sauer.
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