The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo was born from my journey with loss, grief, depression, and rebirth. When the cloud of despair lifted, I experienced the world around me with new eyes, ears, and a changed heart. The ordinary in everyday life became extraordinary. Problems became opportunities, and I began to imagine the possibilities. Gratitude became my constant companion.
I began to wonder. Does gratitude have a distinct look? I know how it feels, but is the appearance of gratitude universal? This question led me to ask my friends to sit in silence and ponder gratitude while I photographed them. I hoped to capture an emotion, not a picture-perfect portrait. Several of my friends volunteered, and the project was born.
My favorite gratitude photo is the first one that I took of another person. Neither of us knew exactly how we should start. We were in a hotel room in Denver, Colorado, and we were both a bit weary from a day spent on our feet in our booth at a dental show. My friend decided to sit quietly in a chair and silently pray. As she began, the energy in the room became palpable, and I immediately understood the gravity of my request. I was asking another person to bear their soul, to become vulnerable in a way that is not comfortable, and to share that moment with the world.
After a bit of time passed, my friend began to shift in her chair and then opened her eyes. Her face, illuminated only by the lamp on the bedside table, appeared as though it had been kissed by angels. Silvery tears fell down her cheeks, and her eyes glistened with gratitude born from grief. The intensity of this moment took my breath away, and I nearly forgot to release the shutter to begin capturing images. The inside beauty of my friend was present on the outside, and it was stunning beyond words. That moment was then and has remained, among the most intimate of my entire life.
The photos taken in Denver are as real and raw as it gets. While I saw the images as beautiful, my friend did not. The image I chose was too harsh for her, and she did not recognize the woman depicted. And so, I have honored my friend’s wishes. The photo will not be used in The Gratitude Project. I will, however, use the experience as I proceed. My friend taught me that my request for a person to sit in gratitude is not small. I will move forward with honor and reverence for every person that participates in The Gratitude Project.
Thank you, friend, for the gift you gave me. I am grateful.
Authors Note: Would you or your organization (e.g., community group, retreat) like to participate in The Gratitude Project? Please feel free to contact me at Gail@Lakehousecc.com.
Song of the Post: Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) By BYU Noteworthy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Mtpk4jeVA
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2019© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
This evening I learned that a dear old friend passed away. Though I had not been in touch with her in many years, I thought of her often. I heard her words of wisdom, her laughter, saw her magnanimous smile accentuated by the deep lines and creases that come with age. But most of all her sparkling blue eyes that were alive with love, compassion, and a bit of mischief. Gwen was a beacon of light in a world that can so often be frighteningly dark. Gwen entered my life during a profoundly desperate time. She lifted me up, guided me, gave me hope, and helped me believe in myself, and my future.
I met Gwen purely by accident in my mid thirties. During a time when most of my friends had found successful careers, marriages, and had started families, I was still struggling. Nothing I tried was working. I had given up my dream of working as a park ranger, had failed miserably at two love relationships, and was working in the Detroit area at a low paying dead end job. To top it off, I had sustained a painful and debilitating upper body injury that left me unable to work for over a year. All the money I had saved had been spent on medical bills, and I could no longer afford to keep my apartment. Thankfully, my friend Mimi allowed me to stay with her until I could get my feet back on the ground.
Recovering from my injury was a slow and painful process. The only thing that eased the pain was massage and acupuncture. One day while I was getting a massage my therapist suggested that I get counseling for grief and loss. Having little money and little faith in therapy I quickly rejected her suggestion. However, she convinced me that I should join a group that met one weekend every other month. It would cost $50 and a dish to pass. Feeling I had little left to lose, I signed up for an upcoming workshop.
A few weeks later, armed with black bean and corn salad, I nervously entered the first of many meetings to come. At first glance I found the group of thirty strangers to be quite an odd lot, and not particularly friendly. There were men and woman of all ages and vocations. Some dressed in hippy garb, others in jeans and t-shirts, and yet others in their Sunday best. They came from many different religious backgrounds and had varied spiritual beliefs and practices. What I found on second glance was a group of folks that no matter their background had stumbled upon some adversity that had challenged them to look deeply within themselves. With Gwen’s guidance, they were able to explore and gain greater insight and strength. And finally, I found a loving, kind, compassionate group that accepted, and loved me.
Gwen took this odd group, disassembled our differences, and exposed our sameness. With each tale of hardship the group listened to one another, wept, and prayed for one another. In doing so, we were all on some level healed. We also, sang, meditated, created ceremonies, pledged in the Native American Tradition to Air, Water, Earth, or Fire. We created prayer sticks and explored the emotions relevant to each of the four elements. We opened our minds, bodies, and spirits to gain greater insights to ourselves and each other. Gwen guided us graciously through each process. Sometimes with gentle encouraging words of wisdom, and at other times, quick to call one on their misconceptions (otherwise known hog wash or b.s.).
I went to the workshops for several years. During that time I not only grew stronger mentally and physically, but also met the woman that made my career in dentistry possible. I literally went from the depths of despair to having most of my dreams come true, and from believing there was no hope to knowing that there is always hope. I have never had the words to thank Gwen for all she gave me. Thank you just seems too small and insignificant. But as I look heavenward all I can say is this: Gwen from the deepest and most sincere part of my heart and soul, thank you.
Gwen was 88 when she passed away. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, poet, and artist. She was also a teacher, mentor, and healer to countless numbers of people. During her workshops Gwen would occasionally speak of her transition. She was unafraid, as she did not believe in a true death, only a changing of one form to another. She spoke of this transition with joy and looked forward to continuing her journey on the other side. She would not want us to be sad, but to remember and to carry on, to live in love, with integrity, and to help one another when possible.
Please consider viewing Gail’s photography at: http://www.lakehousephoto.com/
© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
All these memories! Where are they coming from? Just one note from an old country song or Sunday school hymn can evoke vivid imagery from my childhood. Sights, sounds, smells, and voices rush back as clear as the day they occurred. Perhaps I am just of an age when this phenomenon occurs. Perhaps it is simply because I have been working in the same vegetable garden that my folks started in 1963. Or perhaps the memories live in the ground and are released as I part the soil to plant seeds. The memories come in clusters quite rapidly and then into individual events.
Mother is in the kitchen, not yet thirty, listening to Tiger baseball cheering on Al Kaline and Willie Horton. The room is hot and humid and her skin glistens with sweat. There are tomatoes in the bushel baskets, on the stove being blanched, in the sink cooling, and some in jars. The house is filled with the smell of partially cooked tomatoes, the clinking sound of glass jars being bumped against one another, and the pop of canning lids as they seal. My arms itch from the juice that seeps from tomatoes as I remove the peels for mother.
Calvin and Kenny are in the upstairs hallway endlessly stacking and restacking wooden blocks into a pyramid. Only to propel the indestructible gray model car forward hoping each time for a bigger better more magnificent crash. They banter back and forth arguing over which crash was the best. I am the cheerleader and always root for Kenny because he is not my brother.
Jeannie, Joanie, Frankie, and I are sitting in the front yard on a warm summer day. The grass is cool but prickly on our outstretched legs. Our legs create a human fence to contain the new baby bunnies. We take turns holding each of the babies, nuzzling and petting their soft black and white fur. We giggle. We giggle because they are cute, and soft, and funny, and because they try to nibble the ends of our fingers. We giggle because we are delighted, because it is summer, and there are bunnies, and we have each other.
I am sitting in the old fiberglass canoe on the pond, fishing pole in hand. I am in the front and Dad in the back. I want to catch a fish, but I am distracted by the turtle that is swimming under the boat. “Keep still” my father cautions, “You will scare the fish.” So I sit still and watch the bobber. I like the yellow flowers on the lily pads and ask if we can take some to mom. “Keep still” my father cautions, “there is no talking in fishing, you will scare the fish.” I am five years old and I try to watch the bobber and I want to catch a fish. But my mind begins to wander, and I wonder how warm the water is and why we cannot go swimming in this lake. “Jerk!” my Dad hollers, and I do and he says “reel in” and I do and he smiles and calls me his little fisherman. He takes the fish off the hook, tosses it in the bucket with a splash, and recasts the line for me. I want to catch another fish and I try to watch the bobber, but I am distracted by the bird flying overhead.
All of these memories! Where are they coming from? I simply cannot say. No matter the catalyst, each is a precious gift to be unwrapped, savored, and considered again and again. I hear the laughter of children and the echo of boys being boys. I feel the special bond that is created between father and daughter spending quiet time together, and that of mother and daughter working side by side to complete a task. I have cherished these snippets from the movie of my life. It is with the sincerest gratitude that I say thank you Mom, Dad, Calvin, Kenny, Frankie, Jeanne, and Joni. Thank you for all of precious moments long past shared that have molded me into the person I am today.
For More of Gail’s Photos please consider: http://www.lakehousephoto.com/
© Gail Howarth and Blog.Lakehousecc.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and https://lakehousecc.com/blog/ with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.