Archive for April, 2011

Sarah and Elizabeth

Posted in Gratitude, Light on April 17, 2011 by cgeary

This is a photograph of my friend Elizabeth Campbell and her mother, Sarah West Campbell. Sarah died the week before last at age 91. I went to her memorial service last Sunday at the Methodist church downtown. It was a very sweet service. Elizabeth died in 2004 at age 52 of a very aggressive form of cancer diagnosed only months before her death. The last time I was in that church was for a memorial service for Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and I became friends about 1997. We met at a video workshop at Duke. We were in a session together and ended up pairing off to take photos of each other. We decided to go to lunch together and then hung out for the rest of the day through the reception that evening. I think we talked non-stop. I had started taking black and white photographs and she was the artist I wanted to be. She was a writer first, but also an astrologer, photographer, videographer. She had gone to UNC but then spent many years in the Hudson Valley in NY state working at the Omega Institute. She split her time between the NC and NY, primarily so she could be close to her mother as Sarah got older.

I met Elizabeth at a time I was going through a lot of personal transitions and her friendship was very dear to me. Though I had stepped away from religious spirituality I had known as a child, I was ready to be pulled back into a way of understanding the world that was not bound by human understanding. Elizabeth was very much a mystic and was a great guide for my new seeking.

Getting back to Elizabeth and Sarah….Elizabeth grew up in a close-knit extended family in Weldon. Her father died when she was in college and her mother moved to Chapel Hill soon after that, where Elizabeth was at UNC. Elizabeth felt extremely connected to her family. She stayed close her to aunts and cousins and saw them on a regular basis. To be Elizabeth’s friend meant that you got to be part of that as well. I spent at least one Thanksgiving dinner and New Year’s Eve dinner and many picnics and birthday parties with Elizabeth and Sarah and others..bringing along Emily or Max when I could. Elizabeth’s family rooted her. I remember when she did a reading for her book Intuitive Astrology in a local bookstore, she started out by saying,”I think half the people in this room are my blood kin.” That made her very happy.

Sarah was light and love and lots of energy. They called her “Skeet,” short for “mosquito” because she was so short…but I never thought of her as small because she seemed like such a force of nature. She was grounded, but interested in everything. She kept up with everyone’s lives and it was evident in all the discussion at her memorial service that she was a pivotal connection for all the members of her extended family.

                         Sarah and her close friend, Vera Hart.

I stayed in touch with Sarah even when Elizabeth was not in town. Sarah came to my wedding in 2002 though Elizabeth was not able to. I tried to stay connected after Elizabeth’s death — not as much as I had meant to — but periodically with Christmas cards and calls. One year I sent her a Valentine’s Day card and she called me to tell me how excited she was to get it….I felt badly that I had not done more.

After the memorial service I went through some of my photographs to find some of Sarah to share here. I selected photographs which best illuminated Sarah’s spirit shining through.

 At a July 4th party at Elizabeth’s house..Elizabeth’s sister Kacky on the left.

                                    Sarah and Elizabeth, same party.

What is the what?

Posted in Light on April 9, 2011 by cgeary

I recently listened to the audiobook of What is the What? by Dave Eggers about Valentino Achak Deng — one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. It is the amazing story of how Valentino and many other boys escaped from the death and destruction of war in southern Sudan and walked across the desert to Ethiopia and then Kenya and then after many years in Kakuma refugee camp imigrated to the United States. The story touched me in so many ways — from despair over the cruelty of war and difficulties faced by immigrants in the US to the gratitude for the numerous miracles that kept Valentino and his friends alive during their many journeys.

The personal connection I felt to this story is related to his time at Kakuma because I visited this camp once for several days in February 1997 — admittedly a much different experience than his. I was able to imagine the landscape as I listened because I had seen it, if only for a brief time. I was there with staff from the Kenya Girl Guides Association visiting Guides in the camp. As described in the book, many residents of refugee camps are living in more or less stable rather than emergency conditions. Children go to schools and girls join Girl Guide clubs where they are available. We were there to think about a possible activity with these Guide clubs. (In the end we chose to work in Uganda in another camp with many Sudanese refugees.) While I was there we saw women learning to use solar energy for cooking, we saw people weaving blankets and we met with the school-based Guide groups. As in many other camps we visited that year and later, we were welcomed with singing and dancing by so many lovely young girls.

In listening to this book I was reminded of many things I had seen and heard in Kakuma and other camps. But I also realized that I had had no idea about the real lives of refugees in the camps. I had no idea of the hunger and material deprivation that existed. It is not that I am so naive to think that refugees lived like staff, but I did not really understand the true disparities. I ate three meals a day while I was there and slept in a comfortable bed at night while now I realize that many people were eating only one meal a day and sleeping on the ground.

What can we do about the inequities in the world? I am never able to answer that question to my satisfaction. The best we can do, I’m afraid, is the best we can do. And work for peace and social justice in whatever way we are able to life us all up.

I am a photographer, and after reading this book I went and found photographs I took at Kakuma. I wanted to share them with Valentino so I scanned my negatives and am sharing them here. I hope to find a way to share this link with him and other who might have been there at this time.

Valentino — these are for you…and Dave Eggers for telling the story so well. I hope this will reach you somehow.

Peace and grace to all of us…Cindy