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Posted October 1, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Roger Barbee: Look past the physical


By Roger Barbee

Over the Labor Day holiday Mary Ann and Robin, the other grandmother, took our granddaughter Lili to a concert at Bryce. Robin lives in Alexandria, so she came early and spent one night at Red Hill. The three of them enjoyed the concert, and on Labor Day Robin and Lili returned to their homes near D.C. This week Robin sent a package to Mary Ann. It was a book of photographs that Robin had taken in and around our home Red Hill.

When Mary Ann showed me the book, I was impressed with the quality of the photographs and computer-generated book. Robin's craft for both was evident. Each photograph that Robin had taken captured a scene of our small place in the Shenandoah Valley.

As I looked at the photograph of the cistern water fountain and the black-eyed Susans that grow behind it, I had difficulty seeing it as our fountain -- the one that Mary Ann and I are always adjusting for the best flow and sound.

Robin's shot of our corn crib offered an entirely new view of a building I have spent 12 years working in and around. In her picture, its passageway became an inviting tunnel to an adventure instead of a space holding tools, bags of mulch, and an old table.

When I saw her composition of the red door of my shop, I felt as if I were ready to walk through it for the first time -- a door that I had painted, and opened and closed for years. When I saw Robin's picture of the poultry houses across the pasture taken from the driveway, I felt as if I had never gone down our slanting driveway to get the mail or Daily while looking past the pasture wire and grass to those same poultry houses across the way.

Even the photograph of the new raised flower garden between the walkway and corn crib showed a freshness I had not seen before -- and I had just built the four boxes and, with Mary Ann, planted them. The door to what was Lemuel's smokehouse but is now Mary Ann's potting shed reflected new light and a new vision.

All of the pictures were new to me, but not new at the same time, because all the scenes are familiar ones of our home. Yet, it seemed that for each page I turned I was seeing a scene for the first time; each one from a place Mary Ann and I have created or altered over the years.

More than once while looking through the book I commented on a particular photo, "Gee, that looks good." While pleased about how fine the chosen areas of Red Hill looked in the photos, I realized that each was somewhat manufactured by the skill of the photographer, and as I later reflected on the book I realized something else, something of more importance than photographs of scenes in and around a home.

Each captured scene in the book took on a new, fresh, vivid life. However, those are just physical areas of our home that I have allowed to become somewhat ordinary and accepted as a part of the scenery and everyday life at Red Hill. That is one thing, after all they are just things. But what of the people in my life? Have they become ordinary? Do I assume that each one will be there when wanted or needed?

The lesson I take away from Robin's gift is about people who share our lives. We all share each day with other folks, and if it is a clerk in a store or another driver on the road or a child or a spouse, we should see each as he or she is, not as we expect them to be.

Try to look past the clothes, the job, the hair, because all of these facets can and will camouflage the real person. Look past the tattoos and see the blue eyes that may be asking for some help. Look beyond the shabby clothes and see the hunger. Peer past the runny nose to see the bewilderment and confusion the child carries.

Look and see the person who is before you. Each person deserves that respect, and just as Robin did with the scenes in her book, we need to see all the people around us in their best light, at their best angle, and with their best composition.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.

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