Tuesday, May 23, 2017

#SOL17: Do Not Look Away from Life

Walker Evans, Subway Portrait, 1941, Gelatin silver print, from here.

It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long. 
                   - Walker Evans,  Many Are Called, quoted in the Afterward, p. 197.


One birthday, Rob gave me a book of photographs made by Walker Evans. He knew my love for photography and the iconic images are certainly ones I have long appreciated. The bit of advice by the artist that tops this post comes from a book of images Walker made while riding New York subways. 

It is also advice I now take to heart. 

Witnessing your husband die an early death, only sharpens Evans' words--resulting in a clarity so brilliant it is hard to look away.  

Perspectives alter. 

Evans is right--We are all not here long. We ought to make the most of it.


I began reading Sheryl Sandberg's and Adam Grant's Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resistance, and Finding Joy earlier in the week. Their discussion about post-traumatic growth--the capacity to grow from trauma--resonated. They write,
...post-traumatic growth could take five different forms: finding personal strength, gaining appreciation, forming deeper relationships, discovering more meaning in life, and seeing new possibilities (p. 79).
In the bereavement group I have participated in during the last 14 months, post-traumatic growth can be seen in the women I have come to know. I want to say that these are exceptional women, but that would be a partial-truth. They are also beautifully ordinary. Perhaps like you. Certainly like me. 

In this group, I see women who find personal strength in the adversity they are experiencing, who show appreciation for dwelling in the beauty of a moment of an ordinary day, who question their lives and what they are making of their lives, and perhaps most significantly--they are women who speak of what is possible. In seeking possibility, joy unfolds. 

What I have mostly learned is that how we name what happens and re-happens to those we love and ourselves are choices we make. That we are each responsible for those choices may be the most significant understanding I have garnered during the last 20 months since Rob was first diagnosed. 

I am responsible for my own life. You are responsible for yours.


Recently, I was able to join a writer's group in northern NJ.  At first I had been waitlisted and I was delighted a week ago when I received an email from the group's leader saying there was now an opening.  It's a sharp group and discussing two writers' submitted works reminded me so much of the way Rob and I supported one another for decades.  My husband was my own, personal editor.  No one read my work with a more critical eye, than Rob.  I love when others see things I simply have missed while reading. This new knowledge and perspective is such a gift. I found that to be the case last week as I listened to the other writers' discussing the texts. 

Next month, I plan to share with the group a section of the memoir I am writing. The work is based not only on my husband's death, but also on the life I am creating in the aftermath. There is a grace to knowing deep in my bones what is most essential from what is merely interesting, what is merely catchy. Chronicling Rob's death and the grief and resilience Devon and I struggle with has helped me to discern what matters from what does not.

What I want to contribute via the memoir is some of the understandings that have emerged in the journey these last two years. Grieving, writing, making art, being a single parent, connecting with other widows and so many others--all of it has helped me to not look away from life.  It's like those images Walker Evans made on the subway so many years ago when he pointed a camera at those unknowing and captured ordinary lives being lived. Each image seems to be saying, Do not look away from life. Do not.

Perhaps that is what Rob meant when he told me all those months ago to live brilliantly.  Do not look away from life.


  1. I'm glad that you got the "call" to be in the writers' group. I appreciate the feedback I get a lot! Re-entering life after a loss means new questions, new paths, and it sounds as if you are answering some of them through your writing, Mary Ann. It's tricky to know what's right because the person you most counted on for response is not there. But in your heart, after the years together, somehow I do know, and it seems that you do, too. I love hearing your thoughts about Rob and his ideas about living life, too. It's inspiring to me all this long way away. Thanks for sharing some of your own thoughts, too, of course.

    1. I count so much in knowing what Rob might say, think. And I agree with you there are so many new questions,

  2. I cannot imagine the pain of your loss. I read your beautiful, sad, strong, persevering words and know you are on a journey beyond my experience. This line jumped out at me: "My husband was my own, personal editor." Such a painful, deep loss you are moving through. I hope writing and the writing group continues to give you hope, to be a beautiful outlet for not looking away at life. Thank you for this sharing.

  3. Sometimes we see hard things. But if we look away from life, we will miss all the beautiful.

  4. "Do not look away from life." Such wisdom for all of us. A choice we have to make many times over. And I think you are right, that it will lead to brilliant living.

  5. Somehow.....there is a reason that we are blessed to be living this life each day. In the aftermath, we do find strength in ourselves and in the love that others give and in giving of ourselves. Perhaps that is living brilliantly.


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