Just When I Thought I Knew Everything

How a 90 year old woman changed my life in 20 minutes.

When I was a teenager, I thought by the time I was an adult I would have life figured out.  I imagined when I was over 50 I’d know and experience everything this life had to offer.  I saw myself sitting in a masculine leather chair, perhaps in my study, wearing a tweed coat and smoking a pipe (this is what happens when you watch a lot of TV growing up).  Not until a few weeks ago did I realized how ignorant and naive I am.

 

Last month, a long time customer asked me to photograph a birthday party for a 90 year old woman.  I felt disappointed that the assignment was a birthday party and not a million dollar wedding.  A bunch of “old people” I thought…  Regardless, I packed my cameras and headed off to meet the birthday girl.

 

Edith Eger or Edie to her friends, is a tiny woman with a twinkle of love and gratitude in her eyes.  She greeted her cheering friends with a wave and her signature high kick. I soon found out what a remarkable woman she is.

 

The youngest of three, Edie and her Hungarian family were sent to Auschwitz in 1944.  Rather than me giving a clumsy attempt describing her life, watch this clip from a recent TED Talk.

 

When I look through my camera’s viewfinder, I intently focus on the eyes of my subjects. I slow my breathing, remain calm, watch and wait for the shot.  My emotions separate from the act of shooting. Yet, I was so taken by her story I almost forgot why I was there. At some point a little voice inside of my head shouted, “Shoot you idiot!” “Shoot this!”

 

Below are a sequence of shots taken as she retold her experiences.

 

Later in the evening Edie spoke to her guests. She told the story of how her family dealt with the horrors of the Holocaust. She recounted what her mother told her while they were being forced onto the trains. Her mother said, “No one can take away from you what you put into your own mind.”

 

The party ended and I drove home. I thought to myself how fortunate I was to have met such a courageous and beautiful soul. Then I remembered what a shallow ignorant dope I was for assuming this going to be a waste of my time and talent. 

 

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