The other week, out of the blue, I received a phone call from a friend (former co-worker). My friend who was a wee sleep deprived, confessed that her mother had just undergone surgery but that was not what she wanted to tell me (just the reason for lack of sleep). She told me that she thinks of me often and that she wanted to let me know that I was one of ten people who influence and inspire her life. Me? Little Mary – an inspiration – I was floored by her affirmation of how important I was. She assured me that she wasn’t the only person that felt that way at work and that she had the need to tell me so. How nice, how friggin nice to hear her words. Especially because I have been feeling so creatively lack-luster for a while. I brought a new camera recently but hardly even touched it other than to snap off a few shots of flowers or the snowy scenes at a nearby river. I’ve not felt inspirational to anyone and certainly not to myself since the holidays.
She reminded me of how empowered I felt when I decided to leave a lucrative weekly paycheck and career that had become just a job, a means to an end. The atmosphere of corporate life had become demeaning over time and the company’s philosophy and attitude towards it’s hardworking, creative staff was deplorable. I couldn’t breath, it was stifling and since I wasn’t able to turn things around, I decided it was time to leave and to pursue my dreams of becoming a fine art photographer. I was going to retire at the age of 56 and enjoy the time I have left on this earth to the fullest. (Not that I didn’t enjoy my life before, but it was always centered around someone else – always more about me being something to someone else other than I was to myself). I was a wife, then a single mother, a print production manager, a friend, a lover but I had lost sight of who I was without a label attached that describe more what I did than who I was.
Retiring was a little scary. What if I couldn’t cut it? What if I didn’t like who I was, what if I wasn’t good enough? All those questions did bounce around in my brain before I handed in my resignation, but I did it anyway. I felt like I was free-falling. But back to the story… her phone call. Cheryl’s words ignited the spark in me once again, affirming my value and the influence that one’s actions can have on another being.
Simple words and gestures can make all the difference in the world even if only in a small way. And I thank her for letting me know.
Words and the people that altered my life:
Many, many years ago, I was working at an ad agency in NY, climbing the corporate ladder, putting 15 – 18 hours a day at least 4 of the 5 days of the week for the last 2 years. When my daughter was 9 years old, she said, “If I wanted to be an orphan, I wouldn’t have had parents” I cried all night long and handed in my resignation the next day. Took 6 months off, enjoying the summer with her and remembered how thrilled she was to have me walk her to school showing the other kids that yes, she too had a mother. Of course I had to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table so I went back to work at another grueling ad agency job in the city. The hours crept back up to unbearable and I left, again taking a few months off to become a part of her life again. Her words resounded in my head.
Two of my dear friends, Denise and Rosa, thought I needed a man in my life. My life was full, I had work, friends and family and didn’t have time to get involved in a relationship. Nor did I have the desire. They insisted and that after a 5 year hiatus from the dating scene, I went to Match.com. My daughter helped me set up the membership. That’s where I met Jene. Life was now fuller and just like in the storybooks – love happened.
When I was first dating Jene – on our 3rd date, we went to see the tree at Rockefeller Center and sat on his couch talking after dinner. He asked me what my dreams were. I responded that I didn’t have any. He replied, “yes you do”. I wept, my dreams were put on a shelf in a box so many years ago that I simply forgot they were there. I took night classes in figure study water color at The Art Student League and picked up my camera again.
Although most people thought I was crazy (with a capital C) for retiring, they also admired me for my chutzpah. For wanting to realize my dreams after all those years. I love what I do, although I have a tendency to become lax every now and again and lose sight of my visions, the world is my oyster. Jene and I are both photographers with many differences and many similarities and love to travel – exploring the world together. Hopes, dreams and visions shared. What a wonderful life it is.
There are many other people that have influenced me, photographer Kenro Izu’s devotion to the children of Cambodia. After visiting Cambodia, we too wanted to give back through our art and both Jene and I (since 2009) participate in Friends Without A Border’s annual photography auction , which raises much needed funds for the Anchor Hospital for Children that Kenro built. Giving back through art makes creating so much better. We may never be rich monetarily but our hearts are full. And any of my Cambodia photographs that sell privately, a portion of the profit goes to FWAB for the hospital. That always makes me feel good.
So who has played a role in a pivotal point in your life? Have you ever told them so? A little thank you goes a long way.