Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Here we are, the three of us looking ready for June and summer weather sitting on the front porch of our Bend home.  Caesar (the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, red and white) and Bo (Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. brown and white with a sort of red head) book-end me, following their first formal grooming.  The weather turned out to be perfect and the photographer, Carole of Carole Marie Photography in Salem, Oregon, turned out to be terrific.
     Jerry didn't feel well that day so he's not in any of the shots; but we're going to schedule another shoot as I think it's really hard to get a good picture of people and pets and Carole did a super job in my humble opinion so now I want one with Jerry included.
     What I so enjoy about this shot is the way she captured the expressions of the dog's.  Bo looks curious, the way he always is, sniffing and checking on things, exploring.  Alert, too and maybe a little wary of what the woman with the black box was doing.  Caesar looks regal, serious, almost fearsome which he only is when others are around, as though he's been assigned to protect us. He thinks he's larger than Bo and often Bo defers to him.  I guess that makes him the Alfa dog.  He's 100% personality as someone described the breed, spinning like a top when we're going for a walk then curling up next to Jerry as tight as he can get since my husband's stroke and heart attack.  Both dogs took to Carole as though she was a member of the family so instead of the photo shoot being a bit of a trial day, it was a delight.
    The anticipated "trial" comes from my belief that I take terrible photographs; but I needed new ones for the publisher to use for publicity.  At an authors retreat I sometimes get to attend, one of the contests is to see how old our publicity shots are...the oldest wins.  We want to hang on to those pics when our skin lacked wrinkles or our arms were slender as young trees instead of chunky as old trunks. Yet wrinkles and widening is what living looks like, isn't it?  I say that often enough but sometimes I struggle to believe it.
    It's no wonder we cling to what was: all around us are media messages telling us that young is beautiful, thin is in. Celebrities captured by paparazzi tend to be of youthful souls shining with promise even when they've made questionable decisions that have often brought them to notoriety in the first place. This could be one reason why saying good-bye to Oprah's program after 25 years consumed so many...here was a woman we aged with and she continued to have presence, beauty, and yes, trials she spoke about.  That latter made her "one of the girls" and it's always painful when a friend moves away.
    But those changes are also what living looks like.
     When I look at this photograph, I am reminded of a girl of twelve wearing a pink and black checkered sleeveless dress with a boat neckline and a dropped waist. It was summer and I had a waist and a bust line and I was self-conscious of both.  I went outside and met with some of my sister's friends (she was four years older than me) and the boys and girls laughed together and I think we may have all gone into the Dairy Queen in town where we played the pinball machines and ate ice cream.
     Later that evening, back at home, my sister told me that one of her male friends had commented about me, had said he thought I was pretty and might want to ask me out when I was older.  She said he'd watched me walk from the house and "liked what he saw."
     This message panicked me.  That's the only word I can think of. People were looking at me! I had reason to be wary. I wanted to disappear.  Had I walked in some brazen way?  Had I behaved inappropriately to have brought such attention? How could he have "liked what he saw" when what I'd seen in the mirror just before walking out was a girl with a waist and breasts that were out of proportion to my other twelve year old friends.  I was a freak. What sort of person would like a freak? I vowed to cover myself with loose clothes and later -- as I look back on it now -- fat.  And through the years, whenever I lost weight and began to feel better about my body, some compliment would come my way and frighten me back into old patterns.
     It startles me that this day occurred more than fifty years ago. And in all those passing years there have been but a handful of photographs that I was willing to say "Hey, I look good in that picture!"  Maybe I feared I'd go out and consume a pound of ice cream to put me back into my place. Usually I assumed that since those pictures of me I liked were taken by people who knew me and whom I knew loved me, that they were responsible for making me look good. I gave the person behind the lens the credit for making me look better than I knew I did.
    Carole's photography may have broken something loose in me, like plaque in Jerry's blood stream.
     Now, I don't know how much Carole photo-shopped me; she might have spent hours.  But what I do know is that when I look at this photograph -- which brought tears to my eyes when I first saw it -- I realize I am no longer that frightened twelve year old girl wanting to hide. Maybe it's the presence of my two buddies standing guard over my gut; or maybe it's that the viewer is far enough away they can't see all  my wrinkles.  But I think it's more than that: I think for the first time in a very long time I might have to change the perception I have of myself and take to heart that Biblical promise that  we are each "fearfully and wonderfully made."
    Each of us is beautiful; and this is a beautiful day.
    Warmly, Jane