I have been told that my finest quality is my boundless enthusiasm. Sometimes, however, this eager openness gets me in a bit of trouble.
Several years ago a photography student asked me if I would participate in her photo series for senior studio. Complimented to be asked, I immediately agreed. For years, I have worn bright red lipstick in the hopes of being discovered like Lana Turner at the corner drugstore. On the appointed day of the “shoot”, I packed a bag of potential outfits, blew out my hair and painted on my lips.
As soon as I arrived Jen invited me to look at some of the images she had already completed for her thesis project. The first image was of her father. He was seated on an unmade bed with his colostomy bag exposed. The second was of a young man collapsed in an overstuffed chair – his tie loosened, his face grim, Las Vegas glittering through the glass window behind him. And, so it went – an overweight woman with candy circling her head, a video gamer hidden in the basement. You get the gist.
I have been teaching sociology for fifteen years. Or, at least that’s my cover. In truth, teaching is a rather selfish act for me as I love to listen to myself share what I know. It bubbles up on an enthusiastic wave of love eager to move through me to get to the hearts of others. As a former student once proclaimed, “She just dumps her guts!”
Back to the photo shoot. Looking at the series of pictures, my panic slowly set in. I suddenly felt confused as to how or why Jen thought I belonged with this rag tag group of individuals sharing their raw vulnerability. Not wanting to offend her, I figured I’d put on my most slimming black dress and let her take a few pictures just to humor her. Prior to taking the picture, she asked me to jot down a thought on my greatest fear. I spontaneously wrote: “Sometimes, I wonder if there is anything left that is worth saying, while words may echo, it is feeling that resonates.”
Jen ended up winning “student select” for her project. Her blown up photos graced the entry way to the senior show. Despite their prominent position at the show and my attendance, not one single person recognized me. Even my husband looked dismissively away at first glance. Jen had captured a moment of deep feeling. Even my carefully applied makeup, slimming dress and good cover story could not hide my true vulnerability. In asking me to reveal my fear, Jen had set an intention. Her talent and patient eye unearthed the truth of my being.
Reflecting on my participation in Jen’s project, I blush just a bit at initially desiring a “glamour” shot. In the end, I feel a certain pride at being a member of this brave group of individuals willing to share and embrace their true vulnerability.
It has taken me two years to look honestly at that photo – to see my truth exposed. I am writing this blog as a belated thank you note to my sweet former student. Jen, you were my teacher on that grey April day. I am abundantly grateful to you for allowing me to see in myself what you so clearly saw in me. My own desire to be seen for who I am.