Over the past six months or so I’ve been reconnecting with my love of photography. It’s been an exhilarating time, learning different techniques, practicing composition, and shooting, shooting, shooting. In order to develop my own style, one of the things I’ve been doing is to study the work of past and current masters, and what I’ve come to realize is that the images that resonate the most strongly with me are those that tell a story. With that in mind, I’d like to tell you the story of one of my recent photos.
The story takes place at one of the California missions, which I was visiting with a group from a local camera club. We had been there an hour or so, and I had been happily snapping photos of everything from historic ruins to bird droppings. I wandered aimlessly, eventually finding myself in the church’s cemetery.
The cemetery grounds were quite beautiful, well-kept with a feeling of serenity throughout. I approached a few headstones and was surprised to find that the graves ranged widely in age, with some nearly two hundred years old, while others were less than six months old. I walked around some more, taking a few snapshots here and there.
Eventually, I found myself outside the cathedral crypt, where the church’s fathers were interred. The markers nearby were surrounded by gravel instead of grass, and I stooped to get a close-up of the textures. As I leaned over, a flash of color a few feet away caught my eye, and I moved over to take a closer look. Atop one of the flat gravestones, someone had left a little yellow Matchbox car.
Huh, I thought. I wonder what that’s about. I took another few steps closer so I could read the inscription. “Some people dream of angels,” it said. “We held one in our arms.” Then I noticed the dates: January 20, 1999 to April 1, 1999. It took me a few moments to parse, but when the realization came, it came with a crash. This was a baby boy’s grave. The car was there for him, probably left by his parents.
I couldn’t help but think of my own son, whose second birthday was coming in just a couple of weeks, and imagining what these parents must have gone through I felt tears start to well in my eyes. Did they spend the nine months leading up to their son’s birth planning and preparing the way my wife and I did, buying tiny socks, painting his bedroom, wondering and guessing what he would be like? Did he die of some congenital defect, something that they might have been warned about? Or was it a sudden misfortune? Which would be worse? I wondered how anyone could ever get over such a tragedy.
Just as that last thought crossed my mind, the second realization came. Because it had been eleven years since this boy died, but the car looked like it had been there less than a week. And, just like that, I knew that if it had been my son who had died, I’d keep bringing him presents until I passed on, myself. It’s not the kind of thing you ever get past, not really.
As I knelt to take the picture, my cheek practically touching the cool gravel, I wondered whether I wasn’t doing something wrong. Was this thing too private for me to share? Was I intruding too much by taking a piece of it with me? I still haven’t fully answered that question for myself. I think that the experience I had was profound, and touched on something universal. I might be doing something good by sharing it. I hope so.
“Something For The Journey” © Mike Sakasegawa, All Rights Reserved
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