Paradise Paved. Maybe.

To state the obvious, loss is experienced in different degrees and contexts all through life. Some losses are brought about by our own actions (and, really, there is no such thing as inaction as inaction is a chosen action of its own) and other losses are brought about by the actions of outside forces.

I’m reminded of the “Big Yellow Taxi” lyrics:
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot

As I sit here writing, I’ve a pair of crutches leaning against the wall, just off my left elbow. About five weeks ago, I was in a car accident which left me with a destroyed minivan and broken and sprained ankle. There is a sense of loss there, but there is also the sense of finding.

What is freedom? What is paradise? Certainly, there is a freedom in being able to move about town as one wills behind the wheel of a motorized behemoth capable of transporting not only ourselves but our possessions, our friends, our families, but there is also a liberation found in not possessing nor being possessed by such things as automobiles, whatever form they may come in. Sometimes, after paradise is paved over, it decides to fight back and reclaim its space.

I think the real loss wasn’t the minivan, but my general mobility. Those who know me even somewhat well know that I like walks, fairly long walks of up to 20 miles or so, and bike rides. On crutches and in this boot, I can’t even manage one mile in a go on foot and the idea of hopping on my bicycle is a bit far off yet. But, even in the midst of the loss, there’s a finding of dependency upon others, which isn’t always a bad thing. Dependency fosters compassion. Dependency fosters community. Dependency fosters appreciation for others that may otherwise be brushed off in the busyness of life. In the first days, I couldn’t even change my own sock on my right foot. In the first weeks, I couldn’t carry my own food or drinks. Even now, I have to struggle, sometimes more than a little, to ascend and descend stairs. As winter has solidly befallen the Great Lakes region, I must be hyper-aware of patches of ice.

So often, throughout my life, I am forced to deal with what may initially appear to be negative: the loss of loved ones at the hands of death, the loss of friends at the hands of distance, the loss of hope at the hands of failure, the loss of romantic relationships, the loss of possessions, the loss of words, the loss of creative spark, the loss of appetite, the loss of health, the loss of mobility, the loss of money, the loss of time … Losses can be found with barely one eye open. I have them, you have them … But, what comes of them? How many of the losses are losing true paradise? How many of the losses are paradise reclaiming its territory?

As a photographer, I create images while looking through a lens (usually – there are those shoot-from-the-hip or shoot-from-way-up-high-with-an-outstretched-arm moments). What I choose to include or exclude in my framing can, in and of itself, bring about even more insight into the scene before me. The moment of the loss is a snapshot, but what is the full context? The moment of loss can be poked, prodded, and mourned, but without the benefit of what was, perhaps, excluded from the framing, we cannot always see it for what it is. Art mirrors life in that the viewer is subject to the bias of the artist; the viewer is, in a sense, limited in ability to see based on the will of the artist. I think that, often, we must fully experience some pains for what they are, even without knowing the full context, so that we can appreciate the gains and joys, so that we can learn compassion for and from others. There is certainly more to be had from the experiences than that, but it’s a start.

I think back to the car accident just those weeks ago … I think of what could have been different. Had I not ventured out for the pumpkins that evening, had I not remained longer than I had originally intended in this place, had I chosen to wear my sunglasses rather than my prescription glasses, had I taken a different route … I think about the airbag inflating in that instant, assaulting my chest and sending my glasses and ball cap sailing off my head and into the space of the van. I think about the impact with the car and the brake pedal being forced so violently into my foot that it fractured bone. I think about the steam rising out of the radiator, of immediately hopping out of the van and running, so much as I was able, to check on the people in the other car, of collapsing in pain on the side of the road as the adrenaline began to fade. I remember them deciding to leave my boot in place and the hurried and pained ride to the emergency room …

“You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.”

Sometimes, that includes chains.

I am presently a bit marooned on this island of immobility, but at least I’ve had time to think, to pray, to write. At least I’ve had time to learn, to grow in dependence.

Snapshots are of fleeting moments. Don’t live in the snapshots. Explore them, but move beyond them. Explore the context behind the snapshots. Explore the context of your pain. Explore the context of your joy. I have no idea what’s coming, but while I’ve still a breath within me, it’s going to come. Even now, as I write, I am just sort of winging it. I felt the compulsion to pose some questions and make some points, but there really isn’t a full conclusion. Maybe that’s the conclusion.

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