2023.21 : Three Of Three

Circa 2021

Have you ever woken up, blissfully, then suddenly been flooded by the awful remembrance that someone had left you? Have you ever lost the ability to imagine a future without a person that no longer was in your life? Have you ever looked back at that moment with a sad smile of autumn and the realization that future will happen regardless?

Congratulations, you have completed the test – you are all human.

— ZeFrank

ZeFrank, known for his side-splitting humor and equally skilled science communication on his YouTube channel, traverses into deeper, more solemn territories in his TED talk, from which this poignant quote is drawn.

This is Part III of my series admiring the lyrics of Jenny O., currently on tour. [Part I. Part II.]


If you bring the sun and the moon
And the stars
Then babe, I’m gonna take em.
You bring the devil
And I’ll shake him
Go on, lay it on me.

Three years ago this week, we were blindsided, Jane Doe and I. That cruel ending is the inciting incident for the photos and essays. My pledge to her was swept away by currents beyond our control. The spirit of that pledge is artfully articulated by Jenny O. in the verse above.

If you bring the clouds and the rain
And the whole world in flames
And you’re bleeding
And someone comes looking for trouble
I will cover you.
I’ll make headlines when I follow through
Go on and lay it on me.

Hemingway, when once asked what it was like to go broke, retorted, “At first imperceptibly, and then all of a sudden.” His reply brims with humor and accuracy, hitting home in two significant ways. Firstly, it mirrors my personal experience of financial downfall. Secondly, it aptly depicts the insidious onslaught of dementia—the specific strain from which my mother suffers. In the past year, the “all of a sudden” tipping point arrived, upending many lives. For me, it necessitated a shift to becoming my mother’s full-time caretaker—and came with a pledge echoing Jenny O.’s poignant lyricism.

Quit hiding your face
It’s the last thing that anyone needs.
And when I get to crying instead
Over something you said
I’ll stand by the blues
I’m gonna use em
I’ll make a note not to abuse em
Go on and do that for me.

The mother of a friend of mine likes to say, ‘If it happens twice, it will happen a third time.’ So when the sorrow’s bell tolled for the third time in as many years, I wasn’t surprised, although the predictability didn’t dull its bitter-sweetness.

This week, I tried my new title—”photo essayist”—on a complete stranger in a cafe. It resonated. Like Jenny O., I pledge to stand by the blues, use them to help others find their way out, and refrain from abusing them.

I’ve been moving a new way entirely
Listen to me
I’ve been trying
I’ve been trying
I’ve been trying

Listen to the companion video below to hear the soulfulness in Jenny O.’s voice as she articulates each “I’ve been trying” in three distinct voicings. I feel every nuanced note.

The past three years have been so hard on so many that it’s difficult to share. Yet, it’s the way forward. “I’ve been moving a new way entirely,” and it has already proven itself. In these three years, I have made no fewer than eight new, as well as re-established, long-lasting friendships.

To live my life over here
And choose love over fear
Cause it’s useless not to taste it
And there’s no reason not to believe
I give my dreams to the dealer

“To live my life over here”—to live separately rather than together.

“And choose love over fear”—to embrace ‘is’ over ‘ought’.

“Because it’s useless not to taste it”—One of my favorites. I’ve learned that there is no way around the lake of sorrow. The only way is to jump in and swim across.

“And there’s no reason not to believe”—We all have at least one person in our lives on the far shore, calling out encouragement as we struggle to make it across.

“I give my dreams to the dealer”—Embracing the flow of life and living in the moment, rather than in an uncertain future, has never been more beautifully articulated.

I’ll be a witness to disease
And have the courage of a sailor
If there’s an answer I don’t see it.
If there’s a weakness I don’t see it.

As Jenny O.’s writing continues, she returns to the heart of the matter. In the midst of drafting this passage, I found myself called away because my mother’s disease demanded a witness. Caretakers really do need the courage of a sailor. If there’s an answer to this debilitating condition, it remains unseen to me. And Jenny O., if there’s a weakness in being a witness, it too is unseen to me.

I live my dreams over here
And choose love over fear
I give my days to the dealer.

This week’s photo—an abandoned Mickey Mouse toy, a reminder to new readers that none of my documentary photos are staged or altered—was taken when I was not even halfway across the lake of sorrow. It was emotionally hard to take this photo. I didn’t want to publish it, perhaps as a Halloween gag, but it’s so fitting for this week.

And now … know the photograph.


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