With everyone holed up in their homes trying to keep their families safe, I’ve been challenged on a nearly constant basis. These aren’t the challenges you would think. I’m talking about the photo challenges, the book challenges, the recipe challenges. It seems like everyone is so desperate for entertainment that everything is suddenly a challenge.
“I’ve been challenged to post the titles of 10 novels.”
“I’ve been challenged to post pictures of motherhood.”
“I’ve been challenged to post my favorite dinners.”
I kind of laugh at them because the nasty, sarcastic part of me wants to respond with, “Honey, if that’s your challenge, we should talk.”
But not wanting to be that person, and recognizing that it’s all in good fun, I just kind of roll my eyes and scroll past. Engaging in social media these days sometimes requires more emotional effort than I’m willing to invest, and so I “like” the challenges I’m tagged in and just move on, not joining the flurry of photo posting and social gushing.
Today is a bit harder.
I got a message to join the photo challenge. “Post one picture every day for ten days that has meaning to you. Don’t comment. Just post it. And challenge someone else every day.” Normally, I would do what I always do: like, smiley face, move on. But today, I’m thinking about one picture. One photo that has more meaning to me than any other photo. And so this innocuous, meaningless challenge, on today of all days, set me off to the races.
Every year, for the past five years, there is only one photo that I think of on today, May 7th. It isn’t the one you would think. It’s not a picture of my son post-surgery in the hospital, or a picture of us in the waiting room that long day. The picture I always think of is this one:
This is at a Marlins game in April of 2015. Twenty-four hours after this picture was taken, I was in the ER with my son, finding out he had a brain tumor. To me, this picture is the ultimate “before” shot. I was at the game with all my kids. Everyone was kind of miserable because it was so hot, and the game was so slow. I had forced them all to go and I knew they were all humoring me. I took this picture on a whim, not realizing how much our lives would change within one day and how this one picture would reflect an entire world that I left behind 24 hours later. The picture is different for me than anyone else who may look at it. I could post it on that stupid photo challenge and no one would know why I chose it. “Cute pic!” someone might say, not realizing that in the realm of challenges, this photo knocks all others out of the actual ballpark.
I’d like to think that I could look at this one photo and scroll on the way I do these inane challenges and posts. But five years later, I’m having a tough time getting through this day, more so than years before. Maybe it’s because five years ago, the plan seemed optimistic and now I’ve come to a place of uncomfortable peace with the uncertainty that fills every day and probably will fill every day for the next five years. And maybe the next five years after that. Or maybe it’s that the stress of keeping my family safe has finally reached a tipping-point, today of all days, where the patience I’ve been practicing is no longer at at my fingertips. That when I see photo challenges and mournful posts about the difficulties of lockdown, I scroll past but that very real desire to lash out at the the poster with, “You want a challenge?!?” has moved closer to the surface. While the world cries about toilet paper and yeast and sacrificing the immunoscrewed, it takes every ounce of strength to not post the photo of what we have been hoarding:
I also know I’m unreasonable. I know that everyone is having a hard time. I know stocks are crashing, unemployment is high, people are scared. I know this is a bad time to argue the semantics of “challenge,” but today, even amidst worldwide chaos, I’m back five years ago, looking at a picture that reminds me how life changes on a dime.
It’s five years later. It’s two years since we had to step back in the ring. It’s 15 months since we started treatment and hoping for the best. There are so many photos between that one at the stadium and the one from dinner last night, each one telling the story in moments and pieces and different anniversaries.
Maybe I’m being hard on the Photo Challenge. Maybe the challenge isn’t in finding the photos, it’s in refraining from comment and reflection. Simply looking at it and saying, with no back story or pretense, “This is my photo. This is my life. This is my challenge.”