on a recent morning, i found myself working on a photo shoot for a client of ours. we were putting together a new brochure for a local funeral home, and we needed to update the limited photography of their locations that we had on-hand.
what could seem like a very morbid account is actually one of my favorites. the funeral home is family owned, as it has been for the past four generations, and it has a history of being incredibly involved in the lives of the local community. john, the current owner, has a great sense of humor. he is one of the funniest guys i’ve worked with, but his jokes quickly turn to a sense of concerned seriousness when he talks about caring for local families. he’s quick to point out that his job provides him the opportunity to serve families during their greatest time of need. it would be easy to call him one of my favorite clients.
sweeping lawns and blue balloons
i met our photographer for this particular shoot at one of john’s larger locations, a peaceful park-like setting set in the valley with the snow-capped mountains setting the landscape of the horizon. it’s a cemetery, to be sure, but it’s arranged with paved walking paths and sweeping lawns interspersed with beautiful, hundred year-old trees that reach far into the sky. on mornings like these, with blue skies and fresh, warm air, it’s not unusual to find locals walking the paths on their morning strolls, catching up with friends and taking in the views. it’s easy to forget they’re walking through a cemetery.
on this morning, the air smelled of freshly cut grass. the crows played hop-scotch through the grass clippings to the sound of gabe’s shutter clicking away as the early morning sun shone through the trees. it was beautiful.
i am usually pretty good about treating work as work, and looking at a photo shoot as nothing more than a photo shoot, but this morning was a little different.
we walked to the edge of the grounds to snap some photos of the mausoleum for the brochure and my eyes quickly caught a small, blue balloon on the end of a stick beside a headstone. the words “Happy Birthday” were stretched across the balloon, and i was immediately struck by the reality of our surroundings. struck by the fact that a family member had recently stood where i was standing, that they had come here, to this same location, to wish their lost loved one a happy birthday. and i was overcome with sorrow. it was unusual for me, for i had been here countless times before, but this time it all seemed so real. and i couldn’t shake it. as i turned to catch my thoughts and remind myself of the project before me, my eyes caught another balloon, tied to a name on the mausoleum’s exterior wall, and it read, “world’s greatest dad.” it was then that i nearly lost it.
i found it incredibly difficult to focus on the shoot that morning. as we stood on the sweeping lawns, trying to spot potential shots for the brochure, i couldn’t help but think about all of the names of the headstones, and all the lives that they represented. peach. moles. chambers. each one a different life. each one no longer here. all that’s left are memories. more and more, all i could think about was my own life, my own death, and what i want to leave behind.
about a car
i recently had the chance to check out an early draft (or the first three chapters of an early draft) of don miller‘s new book, a million miles in a thousand years. i really enjoy don’s writing. very funny. very heartfelt. personal in a way that makes it seem like you’re reading the thoughts of an old friend, even though you’ve never met.
the thing that stood out most from his initial draft, though, actually came in his introduction. it’s something that has stuck with me ever since. and it has had me thinking about the life that i want to live. here’s what he had to say:
“if you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a volvo and worked for years to get it, you probably wouldn’t cry at the end of the movie when he drove off the lot testing the windshield wipers. you wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on and sit in a chair to think about what you’d seen. the truth is you wouldn’t even remember that movie a week later, except to feel robbed and want your money back. nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who got a volvo.
but we spend years living those kinds of stories and expect life to feel meaningful. maybe that’s why we go to so many movies, because our real lives don’t feel meaningful anymore.”
i think the reason this author’s note had such an impact on me is that this is something i have dreamed about. this is something i’ve wanted for my own life. and why? to what end? a volvo? as an end in and of itself? that’s sad. it’s laughable, really.
to live our lives for such material, meaningless goals. goals that have such little significance in the long run. the results of which will be forgotten shortly after we’re gone. and the saddest part is that this has the potential to be my own sad story.
i don’t want my story to be about a car. i don’t want my story to be about any sort of material goals. i want my story to be about changed lives. when my story ends, i want there to be a noticeable change, not just because i am gone, but because i was here. and not just because i was here, but because, when i was here, He was here. and He was working in the lives of those around me. working through my words. working through my hands and feet.
that’s what i want the end of my story to be. the beginning of so many other stories. stories of change. stories of life, and lives lived to the fullest.
i want to leave those who I had the honor to meet with a long list of fond memories and a good taste in their mouth. like your favorite song, and how it lingers even after it’s done, continually playing a tune you can’t help but hum. i want that tune to be a reminder to others of the things Christ did in my life, and, by knowing me, how He touched and changed their lives as well.