best photos of 2011.

I didn’t really realize, or at least recall, what an intense year 2011 was––uprisings, natural disasters, war, famine. When I stumbled on this collection of “The 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011,” I was reminded pretty quickly.

This collection of images, to me, is a reminder of the importance of photography. The photographs here astonish and capture the viewer in a way that words seldom can. They challenge the viewer’s perspective on another person, on an event, on life. They are shocking and provocative. They pose questions or, more importantly, cause the viewer to ask questions.

Of the 45 images, this is my favorite:

by @NevineZaki

It’s not the most technically composed photograph in the bunch (it was tweeted from a camera phone), but this is one of the most incredible images I’ve ever seen. Snuck into this reminder of what a destructive year 2011 really was for many people in the world is this image of provocative hope: Egyptian Muslims in prayer, encircled by a group of Christians, protecting them from attacks during the Arab Spring uprisings.

This is the way people should be. This is the way religion should be. This is the way the world should be.

It is important that photographers’ images cause us to posit questions like: How might we be better? How might we be neighbors? Witnesses? And while it is important that they capture images that illustrate the realities of our world––famine, war, disaster––it is equally as, if not more, important that they––we––fulfill our responsibility to capture hope.

Question: Which of the 45 images stuck out to you the most and why?

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“I hope…”

Aside

I hope you will reflect on what you’ve done with your talent and energy. I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you work to address the world’s deepest inequities, on how well you treat people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.

-Bill Gates

Thanks to my cousin-in-law, Lorrie, for sending me this great quote––such an inspiration that I had to share.

since when.

When I was in elementary school, my parents’ rule for me and my three siblings was that there had to be some fever or some throw-up if you were going to stay home from school. The rule was hard and fast. And if you did have a fever or had thrown up the night before, no school for you, regardless of whether you had a math test or Field Day. It was a good rule, especially for a family with four kids––objective, measurable, fair.

But sometime between high school and now––the ripe age of 25––I stopped believing in that need for rest.

When I got to high school, my parents added a layer: one “mental health day” per year. You couldn’t miss tests, and you couldn’t do extracurriculars if you didn’t also do class. You had to make up all missed work, which we always diligently did. And once you used your mental health day for the year, it was back to fever and puke. But for that one day, you could take a day of rest. It was progressive parenting, I always thought, and I intend to do the same with my kids.

But sometime between high school and now––the ripe age of 25––I stopped believing in that need for rest. Or at least believing in it enough to actually prioritize it. Whereas I could always make up a math test after a sick day, now even the most menial tasks at work can’t seem to wait.

Yesterday, I asked my boss if I could come in late to the office so I could go to the health clinic about a cold/flu/infection that’s lasted two weeks. Without hesitation, she said, “Definitely!” (progressive bossing, which I also intend to emulate). When I got back to the office, shockingly (not really), nothing had fallen apart without me.

It’s an important lesson I need to keep learning. A lesson in humility. A lesson that living intentionally also means being intentional about rest.

a brief thought on intention.

When I’ve written or thought about intention in the past, it’s typically been on a macro sort of level based on different topics. How am I traveling intentionally? How am I eating and cooking intentionally? How am I being intentional about writing (or not, based on the frequency of posts recently)?

Intention, as far as I can tell, is not about the activity…

But when work is overwhelming, it can feel like opportunities to be intentional about living (to bake bread, to travel, to write) just aren’t priorities any longer. And it’s easy to let months slip by without grabbing hold of the whole purpose of everything, without taking a step back, taking a moment to breathe.

Intention, as far as I can tell, is not about the activity, though it’s easy to make it about that (I’m being intentional because I hit all my travel goals…). But it’s not about finding several hours where you can be home to watch bread rise. It’s not about making sure you hit your personal writing deadlines. It’s not about traveling to a bunch of places (going to a place is not the same as being there). In times of stress and overcommitment and overwhelmedness, intention is about attitude. It can be as simple as laying in bed for an extra two minutes to notice the way the sunlight streams through the lace curtain. Or leaving a tip in the tip jar at the local coffeeshop. It’s about finding joy where it might get buried and drawing it out into the daylight.

a beautiful wedding & a new perspective.

Look at that. Two posts in rapid succession. So fast. Lighting speed. For a brief moment, I’m a blogging ninja. 

Since the updates have reached a new low (6 weeks!?), clearly I’m assuming no one is reading this anymore and am embracing that freedom thusly.

***

Maybe it’s just this phase of my life––the phase where you spend your savings on flights, hotels, dresses, heels you can walk in front of a sanctuary full of people in, heels you can dance in, heels you can wear outside, heels you can…

Ok, I actually have no problem with the heels, and if you could see my shoe rack, you’d know that. It’s a problem. But there’s just something about weddings that I don’t like (insert reader’s gasp here).

Ok, it’s not that I don’t like weddings. I just like to feel like the wedding I’m going to is original, unique. And I think the wedding industry has sucked some of that spirit out of it all.

And all it takes it my beautiful, wonderful friends to remind me…maybe it’s me.

The wedding we attended in Seattle last weekend was of two dear friends. It was also my first time experiencing a wedding from “behind the lens” (somewhat unintentionally). And I realized that the joy of weddings is not in the details that aren’t there; it’s in the details I just miss. It gave me such great joy to seek out (and find!) so many beautiful, thoughtful details my friends had incorporated into their day. And the responsibility of documenting them helped me see them. And I’m honestly excited for the next chance I get to do this again.

All the rest of them here, if you’re interested. Much love to Austin and T.

“In praise of craziness…”

Aside

hibernation.

on cold evenings
my grandmother,
with ownership of half her mind-
the other half having flown back to Bohemia-

spread newspapers over the porch floor
so, she said, the garden ants could crawl beneath,
as under a blanket, and keep warm,

and what shall I wish for, for myself,
but, being so struck by the lightning of years,
to be like her with what is left, that loving.

-mary oliver, “in praise of craziness, of a certain kind”

shadows.

A friend of mine recently returned from several months living in an informal settlement in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He has, at the same time, been working a foreign correspondent for Glimpse.org, a website supported by the National Geographic Society that seeks to “[bear] witness to place, people, culture, and especially the stories and struggles that might otherwise go unrecorded.” His first piece, “In the Shadow of Table Mountain,” on moving from his first home in an affluent (and mostly white) part of Cape Town to the settlement of Riemvasmaak, was just published.

The piece is complex and layered and a beautiful read. And I so appreciate his intentionality in making the move. But I’ve been mulling it over for the past few days more because of the unexpected similarities between the predictably segregated South Africa in his story and, thousands of miles away, my current home in Washington, DC.

For Kevin, Table Mountain served as an emblem of a divided South Africa––it graces every tourist’s postcards and guidebooks, defines the city’s skyline, but is at the same time absent from the lives of his new community in the Riemvasmaak.

The Capitol Building is Washington’s Table Mountain. Many of the affluent white residents of the district have never been neighborhoods on the other side of the river. And for many of Jon’s students, for example, who live in the shadows of this national icon, the Capitol is more an image in their history textbooks than a background to their lives.

It is without a doubt the most difficult thing about living here.

How to bridge this gap, to serve as a restorer of streets to live in? What is my settlement and how to be a light?

it is time.

“No one wishes to make the problem seem smaller than it is. No one wishes to make its solution seem easy. No one wishes to make light of the fears that beset us. But whether we be fearful or no, we shall never…be able to evade the moral issues. It is time–.” (Cry the Beloved Country, pg 179)

It’s a hard time in DC––perhaps not the best portrayal of the good and redemptive side of humanity. Some people feel like the winners (“those other guys are incompetent and deserve to be ousted”) and some feel like losers (“those other guys are incompetent and are going to mess it all up”). In my job, I sometimes get an inside perspective, and it’s far from uplifting. Partisan politics. Equivocation. Maneuvering. To what end?

I have not––will not––give up hope. If for no other reason than for the simple acts of humanity that I see every day. A man in a suit helps an elderly lady through the crosswalk. My French neighbors greet me in the hallway with a kiss on the cheek. A man in line at Starbucks offers to pay for the drink of the stranger standing behind.

Nothing more complicated than human-to-human  connection, regardless of differences in religious or political perspectives. Simple, good humanity. And that’s a beautiful thing.

a beat down and a benediction.

I can’t remember the last week I worked fewer than 55 or 60 hours, or a night I haven’t taken my laptop home after official work hours have ended.

A new job and an old one, both that need to be done, one for the day-to-day and one for the future. And every day for at least the last week, we’ve encountered a new and totally unexpected obstacle in passing the CPCA, a bill my team at work has been working on for almost 2 years. Partisan politics. Petty behavior. Mistakes and miscommunications. Too many cooks in the kitchen.

So I’m just tired. And so stories from the field have been affecting even more deeply. A ten-year-old gives birth to a child of rape, and I cannot stop myself from crying, at work and in bed later that night and the next morning on the train to work.

And certainly that’s the appropriate response. To weep and cry out to the heavens. But it’s not a response that allows me to get up and come to work every morning. It’s a balancing act––allowing myself to sit deeply in the injustice and evil we encounter and yet keeping myself distant enough that I can come to work everyday without feeling entirely beleaguered and beaten down.

This benediction, tucked in my memory, resurfaces. Resurfaces and gives me new life.

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

on community.

I have been thinking a lot about neighbors. And community. Set off down this thought path by a conversation with a friend and an unshakable yearning for the peripatetic lifestyle  that makes me anxious about settling down and staying in place.

The conversation, though, was about relationships, particularly the relationships we have that we are oddly somehow unaware of. In a sense, I have a more real relationship with our mailman––who knows our names and will walk up three flights of stairs to leave packages at our door so they are safer––than I do with the hundred or so people I went to high school with that I am friends with on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. I know who they’re dating and where they went on vacation but I am not a part of their lives.

You can have a lot of friends, connections, people you grab a drink with when you’re back in a place you used to be with them. And these people are truly friends. Necessary and valuable and not to be taken for granted in any way because they are the people who remind you who you are and were.

But your community is something else.

This is difficult because I adamantly subscribe to the “once a friend, always a friend” philosophy, as well as the “a friend’s friend is a friend” way of thinking. And I think this is true (and I hope my friends––past, present, and future––know this; my house is always open and I am always interested in getting a cup of coffee). But community––community is different.

Community is a joyful obligation to the people whose lives we are invested in. If you want any joy out of it or if you desire that joy for others, then it has to be consistent and inescapable. It is also necessary and the most fulfilling investment we humans can make.