Well it's a new year. We are all super excited about that right? 2016 was (what I felt like) collectively rough for many! And though it was hard, a hard year for our country and for our families, we are all still standing, breathing, moving, making coffee, changing diapers and persevering. That's what I love so much about human beings- our abilities to go thru so much bullshit and pain and yet still we rise. Wobbly, maybe, but we are here.
I found out a few weeks ago that my best friend, my father, has stage 4 lung cancer. Gulp, that's hard to type. I didn't even know what to think or say when my sister told me. I was devastated. How could I even be a me without a him? I literally talk to him every single day of my life and we talk about everything. He is my sanctuary. In a fury and emotions (beyond what I was capable of dealing with) I felt like the solution to my sadness was to quit my business and find another career, something that if/when I needed to be called out I could leave and be there for my dad. I was unraveling. I felt guilt suffocating me, an immense amount of guilt welling up inside me, like why didn't I call more? Why didn't I visit more? Why didn't I do more when I could? The past looming over me. And here he is, essentially, dying. I can't help anything. It's a reality his girls (my mama, sis and I) are coming to terms with. I asked him if he was ready. He said he was. We aren't though. But how can you fight with His greater plan? Then I felt selfish for wanting my dad to try harder. Why aren't you moving from the couch papa? Don't you know that a body in motion stays in motion? Why don't you quit smoking daddy? Henry really loves you. Why don't you try therapy dad, you have to keep fighting. But he said he was tired. He's so tired. And so we wait and we pray and we hope. We cry and we hold him dear. My father is an amazing man. He is strong and yet gentle all at the same time. He is the funniest person I have ever met and most people that meet him instantly love him. He's that kind of guy, a peoples' person. He is quietly intelligent, he doesn't shout his opinions, yet is full of knowledge. He was the kind of man I always wanted to find. I don't think there was a single day where my father didn't put his family first. He was never prideful, never macho, my father never ever ever had guy nights. He has his family, we were always enough for him. My dad would weep when my sister and I strayed from his guidance and dated men that hurt our hearts- he always knew best and we rarely listened. I feel sorry for that. I hope Henry isn't as obstinate as I. My father did everything to make us happy- he took us to school (even though sometimes late), he picked us up when we would miss the bus. I always missed it on purpose, I just wanted more time with him. He took us to dance practice, band practice, orthodontists appointments, our friends houses. He was always the rock in our home, always the one working the hardest. I think what I love most about this man is his gentle-loving nature. He has taught me what it means to love someone. Love isn't a dick. Love is so sweet, so pure, so organic. It flows and flows. It doesn't hold you to everything you do wrong. It IS forgiveness. Despite my efforts to mess my own life up radically (hmph!) my dad never judged me a single moment for the poor choices I made. He would make me laugh and help me find a new path. He always held the weight of my heart just like he did with my sister. My dad taught me that love is more about a steady hand then quick fancy words, that it develops overtime, that it manifests. It grows and grows. I see love when I see how my dad talks about Henry. Oh how he loves that little boy. He sees himself in Henry. I see him too. My dad isn't a big man but he is huge in my eyes, he is brave because he loved us the way it was intended. How lucky could we be? I know in my heart that my father won't leave us until he feels that he can. He needs us to tell him that we already have him, that it's never going anywhere, that maybe it's time to let his body rest. He is tired, we know.
My dad was upset when I told him I was quitting photography. How could you give up 9 years of hard work Alexandra? I know you're burnt out but everyone feels that way sometimes with their careers. I didn't listen. I was angry and hurt. I don't want you to go, I can stop everything I am doing to help you. He didn't approve. I emailed 4 of the 11 weddings that I had this upcoming year and told my dear clients that I was closing up shop, that I would refund them, that I couldn't be their wedding photographer. PANG. Instant remorse. Not a settling feeling. I mean, this is my baby, and yet I feel hopeless, like I am a child. I started this little vision when I was 21 in college. My business was built on connection, how I LOVE people. How I love to make people feel beautiful about themselves and about their special connections with their loved ones. I loved the social aspect to my business. I loved to create. I felt so needed for so long. And then I didn't. Fear, anxiety, guilt. Pang. Being a family and wedding photographer isn't for the faint of heart. It's fucking scary ok. What if they don't love their pictures? What if someone steals my camera and I lose everything? What if a memory card corrupts? What if a hard drive crashes. What if they don't like me? What if, if if. if if if. I prayed and cried and prayed. Took up a soul-nourishing job nannying for a friend and that helped quiet my head and think. I woke up a few days after releasing those emails and said, no, I can't let fear dictate my life. Love isn't scary. And this business to me is nothing but hard work and love. I love that about it. I haven't always done everything perfectly. I've pissed people off. I've been lazy at times but I never stopped loving the connection I had with my clients. I never stopped wanting to be useful to them. I never stopped wanting to create something beautiful for someone to cherish. Every thank you I get, every time I see a client change their profile picture or hash tag me or leave a review on The Knot my heart grows a little bigger. This is my calling, this is my heart. And while I exhibit some extreme tendencies (like selling all my furniture and cutting all my hair off) there's a quiet voice inside of me that says, calmly, quietly, surely- you are ok Alexandra, just as is. Just the way my daddy says. You keep loving people like you do? You can't lose. So I chose it, that love my father has exhibited and displayed my whole life, and I emailed all of my clients and said I'm so sorry, I have to keep doing this. You don't have a new photographer? I would love to be it. And if you do I GET IT and I wish all you babies well because lord knows there are so many wonderful, kind, amazing photographers in Jacksonville. They are lucky to have you.
So where does this leave me? REFRESHED. I am ignited not by fear but by love. I LOVE what I do and I can't wait to prove it. This year I will be refreshing my website. I will be active. I will beat this depression. I will showcase the amazing weddings and shoots I am blessed to do. I will pick up film photography (again) to show you that beautiful images don't always have to be perfect images. I will forgive myself. Life for EVERYONE is messy, unpredictable and hard sometimes. But it is also beautiful and honest. There are lessons in the dark. I will give back to you. Please hold me to that, charge me to that promise. I don't want to ever be "too expensive" to give your family beautiful images. I want to be apart of your lifes' work- those babies' you made, their milestones, your moments, your favorite days and your love. Please email me. My lifes' work is about celebrating and curating relationships in Jacksonville. This community is everything. We are nothing without each other.
2016 was full of sadness for so many of us. 2017 will be better. I promise if and only if we allow that paradigm shift. No fear anymore. I see you, I get it, I'm here. Talk to me, life is hard, we need each other. One foot in front of the other, holding hand and hand. Slow it down, take a nap, sit, observe, be. And listen aint nothing a little Chick-Fila, a trip to Target or Starbucks can't fix. Life get's obnoxious. I think I should write those businesses a thank-you card for every time I felt sad and needed to check out what new seasonal decor Target carried or drank a scalding sip of a PSL or devoured a chicken sandwich, thankful they, not me, cooked a meal for my son. You guys are my VIPs. And since I'm on this topic (I'll make it brief)... you aren't a shitty parent because you let your kid sleep in bed with you or you chose formula over breastfeeding or you don't make every meal from scratch. You aren't shitty because you don't let Pinterest dictate how you parent. You aren't unstable because you forget picture day and you don't like your kids teachers. You are allowed to be like clay, you bend and move, and mold to what happens to you, stop letting people put you in their box. We are humans, we are trying. That is enough.
My father might not be here this time next year but I know I will always have him. I know he can't get out of my heart. He is my heart. That's love- thru and thru. And to end this post with a little lightness, to chime off the wonky political campaign (I don't care who you voted for, that shit was fucked up), Let's Make America Love Again.