Thursday, December 18, 2008


You know that annoying feeling you get when you can’t string together your words into a sentence that makes sense? I've been feeling a lot of that lately. The inability to communicate. The inability to write. The inability to make coherent sense. And it is frustrating. I sit here in absolute silence, my cursor on the blank white screen blinking at me and I blinking back at it. We have nothing to say to each other, and it is beyond annoying. For as long as I can remember, I have relied on writing to let loose the endless stream of thoughts, feelings and emotions that remain buried within me and with this dry spell I am going through right now, I feel...what's the word...trapped.

Just then I hear a loud moan escape from the floor beneath me. It sounds deep and rumbling, almost like a grown man trying to stifle a scream. The first time I heard it, I almost jumped out of my skin. I then proceeded to arm myself with the heaviest Bible I could lay my hands on just in case I needed to shove it into the face of the ghost who liked to moan. After walking all around the apartment armed with an assortment of religious paraphernalia, both a cross and an om pendant swinging on the necklace around my neck, looking like the high priestess of some ancient religious ceremony, I finally established that the moans were actually coming from the apartment beneath mine. I let out a big sigh, relieved I didn’t have to share living quarters with a ghost, and concluded that my new neighbors were in fact weirdoes.

Over the next few weeks, the moaning got much more intense and a lot louder. I even heard doors slamming and loud banging on the walls. I woke up one morning to the sound of a piano being pounded upon. Noisy keys irately played, without a tune. As the encore presentation with the grand finale of shouts and bangs came to an end, I stormed out of bed. Enough was enough. I decided I had heard enough of my noisy neighbors and picked up the phone and dialed the apartment manager to let loose a barrage of complaints against my neighbors. “We’ll see what we can do,” she reassured me. Days turned to weeks and nothing ever happened. The banging and the shouting and the pounding and the slamming continued as it always had, and instead I purchased a barricade of pillows to bury my head under to drown out the sounds at night.

Then one day the unexpected happened. As I stood at the door to my apartment, fiddling around in my purse for my keys, I heard the door slam beneath me, and then footsteps. My neighbors were on their way out while I was on my way in. This was my opportunity! I could finally see them face to face and tell them what an awful nuisance they were being. With a long speech prepared in my head, I rushed down the stairway just in time to see a short, fat, bald man waddle out of the apartment downstairs. He was even shorter than I was and with small arms and small legs, his odd shaped head looked almost too big for the rest of his short stature. He rushed up to me in his awkward penguin walk and stopped abruptly right in front of me, peering at me from beneath his small slanting eyes. “Who are you?” he finally snapped at me.

“I…I…I live in the apartment above” I mumbled, caught a little off guard by his demeanor. “How old are you?!” he continued the interrogation in the same rushed breath.“Huh?...Um...29” I replied. “What’s your name?” he rushed on without pausing for me to reply. “You have two dogs”. A statement more than a question, lifting up two stubby fingers on his small hand. “TWENTY NINE. TWENTY nine. Twenty nine.” he repeated to himself and wagged his head and hypnotically pondered over the numbers. I stared at him not knowing what to say.

“Bobby!! Bobby! Come back here!” all of a sudden I heard a woman say. A woman in her fifties with graying hair and a gentle, kind face rushed up to us. She looked at me apologetically, trying to gauge the situation, ready to explain or apologize, whichever was in order. “It’s okay” I said. I smiled at her and walked back up the stairs to my apartment as she grabbed him by the arm and led him back to his apartment. I now knew. I finally understood. And subsequent conversations with his caretaker by the stairway confirmed what I already knew. My new neighbor had Down’s syndrome.

Down’s syndrome is a genetic disorder, a chromosomal defect that results in varying degrees of physical and mental abnormalities. My neighbor, a grown man of 35 years suffered some mental retardation as a result of the disorder. While he was perfectly capable of walking, talking, feeding and dressing himself, he needed constant supervision in order for the state to allow him to live in an apartment of his own. The kind old lady in the stairway and a few other caretakers rotated on a schedule to take care of him. Bobby, I have learnt, loves walks by the river, obsessing over numbers, finding out people’s birthdates, and playing on the piano. He is absolutely terrified of dogs and no amount of reassurances from any of the caretakers will convince him otherwise. He loves to sing in the shower and I often hear him shouting loudly, out of tune in the bathroom. And on days when he is frustrated and unable to communicate, he moans and shouts and bangs on walls and slams doors.

Sitting by my laptop, unable to string a sentence together, I hear the familiar moans from the apartment beneath me, and I feel sorry for Bobby. In my trivial frustration over being unable to compose a sentence, I realize his much deeper agony over the inability to communicate. Hidden amidst every moan and every shout I hear a painful plea, a desperate need to be understood. He bangs and pounds against the walls, he slams doors, setting loose the emotions trapped within him, the only way he knows how. And even on a day when I can’t seem to find the right words to express my thoughts, Bobby shows me that I’m grateful to be able to write them down at all.

~vagabond~ © 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

My life through my lens

A couple of months ago, I started out on a particularly depressive phase of my life, marked with enough instability and uncertainty to drive anyone crazy. It is inconsequential what happened to me or why, because ultimately it’s always something or the other in everyone’s life. Life has a certain overbearing way of introducing big ripples into the most tranquil of lives. It doesn’t matter what the causes of your own personal woes may be, but there is always that one moment in everyone’s lifetime when life just seems unbearable suffocating. And I had arrived at mine.

It was somewhere in the midst of all that chaos that I got interested in photography. In the past, I had always tagged a camera along with me when I traveled but now, in the midst of the turmoil I was going through, I turned to photography as a daily distraction. I needed something to take my mind off what was going on within me, and I took up photography as a hobby. I started tinkering around more with my camera, taking it with me everywhere I went, carrying it with me every day, and capturing the most mundane things on its lens. One day, as I walked my dogs in the evening, I captured a family of ducks that had waddled along our way. Another day, driving along my way, I stumbled upon an interesting looking church I had never noticed before and photographed that. A bright red maple leaf here, a stark white birch tree there. Fall leaves on the withered summer grass, winter snow on the drenched fall leaves. I photographed it all.

And slowly, almost unnoticeably a transformation started to take place. It is difficult to hate life in the same breath in which you remark at its beauty. The more I searched my world for the perfect shot of the day, the more beautiful the world around me became. In my quest for the best photo, I started noticing little things I hadn’t noticed before – how the fuzzy blossom of the dandelion has the tiniest little hair, how a duck’s tail has just the perfect curl, how bright red winter berries can brighten up the gloomiest of days. The mundane, ordinary things around me that I’d taken for granted suddenly radiated with a hidden beauty. And I slowed down. I paused to finally admire life.

Photography to me is almost meditative. In that one instance in which you shut off the rest of the world to capture the one image on your viewfinder, you catch a vision of life at its finest. In that one moment in which I zoom out the world and focus in on the delicate cap of snow sitting on a wildflower’s head, everything else about life seems trivial and inconsequential, and all the beauty of the world seems contained within that one glimpse of life that I peer at through my lens. Life in that moment is beautiful, no matter what else. After months of passing life by, I finally started to pay attention. And instead of agonizing over a future out of my hands, I started to live life in the now. Somewhere in the turmoil of my heart, photography brought me the calm peace that follows a good cry.

As I flip through the pages of the photo album of my life over the past few months, I don’t see pages filled with the fears, anxieties and insecurities that comprised my days. Instead, I see the fun filled moments that made me laugh on an otherwise gloomy day. Or how tranquil the day was when my heart was aching. Or how much there was to be thankful for even when I felt utterly ungrateful. They capture just how beautiful life was even on the days when I thought my life was an abysmal mess. And they fill me with hope. They heal my broken heart.

Of all the life lessons that photography has taught me, perhaps the most important is this – no matter how ugly and gray life may seem on the gloomiest of days, when you crop out its ugliness, zoom in and capture it in just the right frame, life is always beautiful. No matter what else.

~vagabond~ © 2008.