The man with the red guitar

I’ve debated whether to write this story or not, simply because I don’t want people to get me wrong. It’s one of my struggles in life to be misunderstood. It’s why more often than not I stay silent. It’s probably for that exact reason that I prefer taking pictures and let them speak for me.

But here goes…

It’s a Wednesday night as I walk into the metro station with my girls. A friendly looking man with a red guitar passes the ticket gates at the same time as us. I love music and have a great appreciation for everyone making music instead of leaving that dream in a sealed box like I have; I smile at him and move on.

We walk onto the platform to wait for the metro. The man stops and stands right next to us. I figure he noticed my smile and wants to talk for a bit, after all Paris can be quite lonely at times. What happens next is not what I expected.

In the blink of an eye I see him lift his guitar in an attempt to slap me with it. He starts ranting: “Vous les blancs!” (You white people!). My initial reaction is shock. Wasn’t I just being nice to him? How is it that I deserve this kind of treatment? At the same time, I realize it’s not me, I have never seen this man before. His anger came before me and I just sparked it in that moment. My fear leaves my body. I’m trying to hear what he’s saying. I want to listen to his story, because I’ve learned over time that one of the most important things in life is being heard.

While trying to make conversation he lifts his guitar again. As he tries to hit me a second time I feel a hand on my arm and hear one of my girls say that her sister is crying from fear of me getting hurt. I had completely forgotten about my girls being there with me and as much as I want to hear this man’s story, the priority I have is with my kids. I move back into mom mode. I look at the man and tell him: “Stop! I hear your anger, but it’s unacceptable to scare my kids. They are too young; they don’t need this fear.”

It’s with those words that he snaps out of it. He too becomes calm, looks at me and my kids and apologizes profusely. We shake hands and get on different parts of the metro.

A couple of days later I see him again; asleep at the feet of Edith Piaf.

“Entre tes bras, dans le calme des nuits,
J’ai tant besoin d’oublier tout ce bruit !
Délivre-moi de l’enfer de cette vie…
Fais-moi mon coin de paradis…” ~ Edith Piaf

Advertisements

Follow your (he)art!

dscf0449a

The picture looks to be about two friends chatting on what looks like just an every day metro ride in Paris. To be honest, I made it look that way simply because the man sitting next to them intrigued me…

So much so that when I saw him getting his camera out I walked up to him. I wanted to hear his story, I wanted to know what pulled me towards him, and the only way to make that happen was by listening to what he wanted to share with a stranger.

Much to my surprise the conversation went from 0 to a 100 in minutes.

He told me about following his heart, about being true to himself in his photography career, even though that made him lose out sometimes. But nothing was more important to him than being true to himself.

Boom!

I no longer had to wonder what that pull was that I had felt.  I simply needed to hear this man’s story, because following my heart, being true to myself and being afraid of losing out (not just money) are all things I have been struggling with over the years.

He was there to hold up the mirror of my life!

“Look for the helpers”

I’ve just finished reading an article about vicarious trauma by Annie Wright and am actually still feeling this all through as I write…

Vicarious trauma and the subsequent grief for the state of the world we live in; it’s definitely something I’m very sensitive too. It’s for that reason that I keep following news outlets to a minimum and will hide posts in my Facebook feed.

But even when I do that, I can’t really get away from reality, nor should I.

Yesterday my girls and I went to the yearly event Paris Plage. An afternoon out and about on a makeshift beach in the center of town. Unfortunately the state of the world is such that the entrance is guarded and soldiers are on patrol, as you can maybe make out in the picture.

DSCF8934A

The soldiers being there doesn’t really give me a sense of security. To me they are more a reminder of what may happen any time we go out anywhere in the world these days.

Of course I can let that get to me and live in fear, or I can go with the words of Mr Rogers – “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

As much as that may sound like I’m keeping myself naive, I’m mostly keeping myself open to meeting good people, the helpers.

After visiting Paris Plage we hopped on the metro back home and met Fran. Fran is most definitely a helper. He sang his heart out, kept cracking jokes at people, reaching out to touch hearts.

DSCF8960AI have a lot of respect for people like Fran and I wanted him to know. Now really, I’m not someone to just walk up to a stranger and say: “I have so much respect for you”, but I did. What followed was a most awesome discussion…

Thanks Fran, you may have just convinced me to do that more often, after all you can’t go wrong with being a helper!

Our neighbor Oleg

How many people do we walk by day in and day out without ever knowing anything about them?

If we pay attention we will come to recognize some of them. We may even exchange a smile and a good day, but we don’t really know anything about them.

That’s what happened with Oleg, the tall blond man that lived in a tent at the foot of my building. Until one day the tent was gone…

It’s 11 in the morning as I find myself standing with about 20 others around the tree at the corner of my street. The place where the tent used to be, but where pictures, flowers and candles now remind us.

I don’t know anyone of the people I’m standing with, yet we’re all connected in this very moment. Simply because we’re all here for the same reason, to say goodbye to Oleg.

When the tent was first gone, at the end of December, I hoped with all of my heart that Oleg had found a better place to live. This is a sentiment I hear echoed from the people that surround me. We all hoped…

But unfortunately, Oleg died in a Paris hospital at the end of January.

He’ll be missed, because Oleg was more than just the homeless man that lived in our neighborhood for the past 8 years.

The words that I hear being used to describe Oleg this morning are kind, friendly, a lover of books, a beautiful smile, graceful….

And graceful he was. Before fleeing the political regime of his home country Oleg was a ballet dancer at the opera.

Despite his success he fled his country to live a life of freedom.

In my eyes his choice for freedom is perfectly displayed in the way he took responsibility for his life. He made the best of it with all he had.

And with his life he changed a neighborhood. He touched us all and leaves an empty spot in our hearts and on the corner of our street.

Thank you Oleg… Farewell!

The timing of things

DSCF6050A

 
Looking at this picture I can still feel the doubt I felt that day.

A week earlier I had been on a photo-walk with a group of people I had never met before. At the end of the walk we sat down and talked about our photography, our reasons to take pictures, our projects…

Walking down the rue de Thorigny I was reminded of the woman mentioning that she had done a photo-walk where the goal was to actually go up to a person and ask if you could take their picture rather than to snap it unnoticed. I felt that I could never do that!

So what was I to do now that I stumbled on this shop with the light on in the back where this man was working and I just loved what I saw?

I stood there for a moment and did nothing and as I moved on I wondered what all of that was telling about me; what was I afraid of?

I chose to go back. Not just back. I went around the block to muster up all the courage I needed to take the picture I had in my mind. When I stood in front of the shop I took the picture, not entirely unnoticed, then I left…

I decided to deal with the ask part some other time not knowing that the whole process of doubting myself and going around the block would make for the perfect timing of “some other time”.

Crossing the street near the canal Saint Martin I met Alain. We got to talking over a can of paint he had almost tripped over and that I had avoided only because I saw him trip.

I should have taken a picture right on the spot, to show you how roads end up black… It’s really not how you think!

After the initial joking around he noticed my camera, concluding that I was either a tourist or a photographer. My accent threw him for a loop. I threw him for a question: “Can I take you picture, sir?”

DSCF6056BTurns out Alain had always dreamed of getting his picture taken… and we just met at the perfect spot for that.

Sometimes timing IS everything!

 

I wasn’t always the person I am now

Paris-20120324-00223While editing pictures I suddenly find myself being thrown back in time. I’m feeling pained. It’s a mixture of shame and regret.

Where a minute ago I was just happy with the pictures I’m working on I now feel a deep sadness.

I wasn’t always the person I am now…

I quickly try to find the picture linked to my memories to pinpoint where my memories took me. March of 2012. The picture says: “I met a man”.

I remember the day when I met this man along the Canal Saint Martin. I was on one of my walks. On the bank stood a bright red deck chair. I was dreaming about sitting there in peace. My life was anything but peaceful at the time. I took a picture of the chair and while I was doing so a man spoke to me.

“You aren’t taking a picture of me, are you? An ugly old man like me, crippled and almost blind.”

We continued our walk together. We both could use a bit of company and a bit of sympathy.

After that day we would occasionally meet up for a drink. We would talk about our lives. I felt that this friendship was without risk, but I was wrong.

During one of our talks he told me he had told his friends about me. This beautiful young woman that had an interest in him. I felt defeated. Where for me I had just found a great man to talk to. A man that gave me valuable advice for my messy life, he found a woman he fell in love with and imagined it being mutual.

I wanted to explain to him that it wasn’t the same for me, but I feared his response. He finally had hope for a beautiful future again. I couldn’t imagine how he could even imagine that after all the things I had told him, but he did. I was afraid to crush his hope. What would he do?

That’s when I lamely started ignoring his calls and his text messages until one day I just disappeared from his life all together.

A couple of months ago I’ve started going back to the canal to see if I can find him. I will continue to do so from time to time. I want to tell this man I am sorry…

I’m sorry I wasn’t always the person I am now…

Only 3 stops to Dizzy’s

Dumbest move on my NY trip? Going without a map. I mean, I love exploring a city by just going where my feet take me, but if you want to go somewhere specific a map is definitely a useful tool.
 
One of those places I wanted to go to was Dizzy’s Diner on 9th Street. I was told I would be able to get some mighty good breakfast there. It was only a couple of subway stops from where I was staying, so normally I would have walked had I had a map, but now I didn’t…
 
And that’s how I ended up in the next encounter…
 
Let me first say that there is a way to do things, and I’m not convinced I handled the situation in the best possible way.On the other hand I did something, where before I would have just felt bad.
 
I got on the subway and since it was after the morning rush there were some spots to sit. I randomly picked one.
 
On the opposite side of the aisle were a mother and a daughter. Their clothes clearly showed that they were religious people. They were both deeply concentrated on reading their holy books.
 
We got to the next stop and a man got on. He too went to sit on the opposite side of the aisle, in an angle from the mother and daughter.
 
If you know the NY subway system, you know that there isn’t a lot of personal space. It wasn’t exactly the man’s choice to be that close. Clearly the mom still thought the man was sitting too close to them. While looking at him she asked the daughter to move up a spot so she could get away from the man.
 
At first I was surprised. What had just happened? The man did not look uncared for, nor did he smell bad. I saw no reason for the woman to want to move away from this man.
 
Until I saw the look on the man’s face; a look of intense hurt. He shook his head. He looked at them and then looked at me. He shook his head again and looked away, out of the window.
 
Do I need to point out to you that the man was black?
 
I felt disgusted by what just happened, but normally I would have also felt too self-conscious to do something. I would have quickly looked away and minded my own business hoping someone else would stand up for this man. But the man had looked at me. Not at the person next to me; at me.
 
I got up, crossed the aisle and sat down next to the man loudly stating that I DID want to sit next to him. To spite the mother and daughter I wasn’t going to be quiet about what I had just witnessed.
 
Yes, I stood up for this man, but I did it in a way that would make the mother and daughter feel bad. And that’s where I feel I went about it in the wrong way. It’s not with hatred that we change people’s vision of the world.
 
Yet the man looked at me and smiled. He told me he was tired of fighting this battle and that he had given up on standing up for himself. Looking at the mother and daughter he told me that he used to be a man of the Bible himself, but that he was no longer able to read it more than once or twice a week.
 
I felt his sadness when he told me this. It was like him telling me he could no longer believe, because the real world kept showing him that it wasn’t ever going to be like in the Bible.
 
I had to admit to him that I don’t know the Bible or any other holy book from the beginning till the end, but that I was pretty sure that in none of them does it say that one person is meant to treat another person like a lesser human being.
 
I told him that instead I was pretty sure that life was meant to be the way he and I were living it in that particular moment: Two people freely exchanging a moment in time, a moment that for us didn’t last any longer than 3 subway stops.
 
And that’s how I made it to breakfast.