When I was growing up, one of my favorite books on my parents’ shelves was The Family of Man, a compilation of photographs created by Edward Steichen for the Museum of Modern Art. In my family, reading is a rite of passage. We’re the type that would ditch the heirloom china but nearly come to blows over the tattered copy of Harper Lee’s legendary book, To Kill a Mockingbird or a first edition copy of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. So it was a bit surprising to learn that this tattered book of photographs had not yet been spoken for, by one of my siblings.
This past week I leafed through the scotch-taped pages of photos. Would that I had Carl Sandburg’s skill of describing the intensity and the atrocities, the deep love and profound beauty expressed here! There is one photo in particular that has lingered in my mind’s eye throughout my life. It’s a picture of a naked baby sleeping on a bed while her mother hovers nearby, gazing at her. The adoration in the mother’s eyes is unforgettable. She closely resembles my own mother, when I was small. In the center of the page is the timeless passage,
Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh . . . Genesis 2:23
Imagine the wonder of a young child as she looks through a book and sees this mother saturating this wee one with love. Amid all the hustle and bustle of life, a little girl forms her own beliefs about love and belonging. She becomes convinced that she is pictured there, along with her very own mother. That is how this book came to speak to me so much. If this publication really depicted Family, and captured foundational truths like Love and Beauty through the simple and wordless medium of black-and-white photography, and I was pictured in the book (…smile) then naturally I was part of the Family, and I was loved. And beautiful. Isn’t it amazing how we form our belief systems?
It makes me wonder how we communicate these foundational truths to those around us?
In her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard writes,
“I meant to do a bit of good today. Instead I keep thinking: Will the next generations remember to drain the pipes in the Fall? I will leave them a note.”
Ms. Dillard has aptly captured the essence of the things that so often fill my thoughts, the need to drain the pipes. In an effort to break away from the mundane, part of me wants to shout, “I’ve seen I AM! Now I know that I am Loved!” And then, too, I want to create quiet moments. I want to hover over the babies in our lives, gaze into their eyes and saturate them with love.