Monday, March 13, 2006

A Picture is Worth a 1000 Words

That’s what they say right? But if that were true, rather than turning in a 50 page research paper we would be able to submit a small portfolio of photographs and call it good. We’d all be photographers, and instead of writing journals, we would only scrapbook. Newspapers would be much more accessible and would no longer alienate the illiterate.

Actually, I have this all wrong. I’m describing, “A 1000 words is worth a picture.” And there is a reason we all write journals and read newspapers, and speak a hundred thousand words a day and then compensate by supplementing it all with photo albums. After all, paintings and photographs and art are each meant to communicate something so unique that another medium just can’t say it. And a picture is usually worth way more than a thousand words anyways (except a small collection of photos from my high-school days which can summed up pretty neatly with “idiotic”).

My brother Frank called me to rejoice in the birth of his healthy newborn son Michael Ward. He expressed how he counted all the fingers and toes. He expressed that there was an inexplicable spirit in the room. He said, of the pending birth of my own son, “It’ll take all the man out of you.”

Frank sent me a photo, over the weekend, that to me communicated much more than any grade A research paper I ever wrote. The picture is him, cradling his newborn son. Michael is crying and making a ruckus. Franks hair is disheveled and he looks like he hasn’t slept in a week. His eyes are hidden from the camera, but you can tell they are puffy from tears. He is looking down at this beautiful crying baby with an expression of utter amazement. The look is more than a welcome mat. The look is more than a “hello.” The look is more than fatherhood. The look is LOVE.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Steven George Pehrson 1977-1989

The last moment I shared with my cousin Steven Pehrson was at Green Canyon Hot Springs in rural Idaho, in the winter of 1988. I was ten, he was eleven. I specifically remember standing outside of the entry doors on a freezing wet rubber mat waving to him through fresh falling snow. It was dark outside and my hair smelled strongly of chlorine. I had to get back inside where it was warm, and he had to get home before the roads closed in. We had spent the last few hours giving some poor lifeguard a headache by dangling from the end of the diving board leg wrestling each other. We laughed ourselves sick.

Steve was a skinny, beautiful toe-head. He spoke with a slight lisp and had a wide smile. He was extremely coordinated and excelled at each sport he attempted. He loved the Los Angeles Lakers, the Chicago Bears, and the BYU Cougars. He had a curious lack of fear, was endowed with an amazing sense of independence, and aspired to be a great fly fisherman. He was a leader among his peers, and I had the chance to see first hand how they would follow him. He played hard, worked hard, and had the wide open spaces of the Teton Basin as his playground. He was pretty well traveled, by my standards, but his heart (which was tender) never left home.

In mid January 1989, while camping with the scouts, the roof of the A-frame cabin in which they were sleeping collapsed. He was crushed by a log. His dad, I’m told, was with them and was up late singing happy songs on his guitar. Upon going to bed, I’m told, they said to one another, “I love you.” If I were forced to choose, I suppose, those would be the last words I would go with.

I was playing a game of Junior Jazz Basketball when Frank rushed in, pulled me away early, and told me Steve had been in an accident. I didn’t realize until later its severity. I remember my parents being gone all day. I remember being mad that my mom wasn’t there to explain things to me. I remember holding a faux-gold framed picture of Steve in my hand and asking God to help him live. I remember cousin Bruce coming over when it was dark that evening, attempting to explain that Steve had died, so I locked myself in my room. I remember lots of questions and no answers. I remember lots of tears.

His funeral was fittingly cold. I overheard my mom whisper to someone in a concerned and tearful voice, that older brother Jeff had told his parents that he was done crying. He’d cried about all the tears left in him. I remember thinking he was stronger than me. When I stood by the open casket I noted the large bouquet of light colored flowers draped by a banner that read “Beezer.” This is what his dad called him. His sister Jenny placed her favorite polished rocks in his hand. His best friend Brian left some fun photographs of them both lining the insides of the casket. Aunt Kristy commented on how happy Steve would be to see them when he awoke someday. When the grave dedication was over I went up to the casket and touched it one last time through teary eyes. Its shininess fogged at my breath.

Brian and I became friends at the funeral. There was a large table filled with flowers sent by many members of the ward and community. Aunt Kristy told all the children that they could go and pick out their favorite and take it home with them. Brian and I walked up to one side and saw the perfect ones. Two separate flowery plants that looked like twins, one whose blossoms were bright red, and the other’s were purple. We took them and said goodbye. On the drive home I told my mom a secret. I was going to care for this plant and make sure it lived. I was going to find it a bigger pot, if it needed one. I would put it in a place where it would get a lot of sun. On the morning of the resurrection, I told her, I would give it to Steve who would be happy to see the bright living blossoms of a flower I got at his funeral. He would like that, I imagined.

I look back on all this now with the memory of a ten year old (which is pretty fallible and inaccurate). I look back on it a little bashful about the ache that is still there in my heart. When my mom finally, finally, finally came home from the hospital, that day Steve died, she knew just the way to hug me. I confessed to her that I was afraid that I would forget Steve—how his voice sounded, how his jumpshot looked, how he made me feel. Mom held me in her arms and asked me to start right then and tell her all of the different things Steve and I used to do. She told me to say them out loud and in my head. She told me to recite all the details of each fun experience we had, and why I loved him, and to do it often. She listened until I was done and promised me that I wouldn’t forget him.

I coursed over again and again in my mind all that you are, Steve. The dog kennels, the motorcycle, the sleeping bags in the tent, the race car track, the Legend of Zelda, the Sand Bar, Christmas and Grandma Blake’s, filling the coolers, lightning on the carport, your artful Sunday School lesson on the worst ways to torture someone, snow sledding, and on and on and on. My mom helped me remember you in ways that make a ten year old brain spin. The one I pick the most, though, is me standing outside Green Canyon Hot Springs with cold wet chlorine hair, and waving you off into the night. Each time I choose it first. That bright flower that I brought home from your funeral never bloomed again. I hope its okay that I threw it out before I went on my mission. I figured you wouldn’t want a shriveled up plant anyways. It may not be alive, but you are. Time and time again, and especially today. Happy Birthday!