When photographing an image, one of the things I look for is distractions within the shot that will pull the eye away from the main subject rather than strengthening it. If a problem is discovered while composing the photograph, I then ask myself, “How difficult will this be in postproduction to remove or subdue?” In some situations I look for a better shooting position to help minimize or eliminate the problem altogether. For it is always easier to take care of potential issues at the time rather than later when they may never totally be resolved.
On the particular day that I shot the above photo of a lone pine tree on a rock face overlooking Yosemite Valley, the sky was etched with contrails (condensation trails). These vapor trails are thin, artificial clouds that are created from condensed water vapors that are left behind from the exhaust of aircraft engines. It was those imperfect marks streaked across the sky that caused the photo to be filed away shortly after I shot it. I couldn’t imagine using it for anything in the near future because of the work that would be needed to clean up the sky, but little did I know that focusing on its imperfections kept me from truly seeing its beauty. Then, this morning I woke with a clear view of just how this image is a simile for many in struggles brought on not by choices of their own but rather by the choices of others. No matter the reason for difficult conditions, the solitary fight to survive as seen through this stately pine on its windswept slope is truly the message, a message of strength of one in a fight against all odds.
This tree exists where the winds blew the single seedling that took root in the most inhospitable environment. All it needed was a crack within the rock that would give way for its roots to travel downward, finding nourishment and strength, supporting the life that willed to survive. Many, like this surviving pine, have been born or married into families that give little support or nourishment to the soul. Yet many in these harsh circumstances not just survive but thrive against all odds. How one can hang onto life, to hope, in such harsh conditions is testimony in itself to the fortitude that can reside in the human spirit.
Recently I heard an awe-inspiring and powerful story of one who survived an attempt on her very life before she was even born. Gianna Jessen is an abortion survivor whose 17-year-old birthmother walked into a Los Angeles County Planned Parenthood facility requesting help to terminate her 7-1/2-month pregnancy. She was administered a late-term saline abortion solution designed to kill the unborn baby and force delivery within 24 hours. After approximately 18 hours of labor, Gianna was born alive. Miraculously she was not blind or burned as should have been the case with such treatment, but because of lack of oxygen at birth she does have cerebral palsy, a compromised motor control condition that limits her ability to walk. Her story continued when she was fostered into a home that was described to her simply as “the mean home” that she endured for the first seventeen months of life before being blessed to be loved and raised by a kind family. Now an adult, she speaks openly of her worth and states, “You see, I’ve been hated since conception by many and loved by so many more, but most exceptionally by God. I’m His girl!” She continues on by asking a very profound question: “Do you not realize that you can not make your own heart beat?”
There is much to be learned from this messenger of strength. She was given little to hang on to from even before she began her walk on this earth. However, she found all that was needed to become a survivor;” she found a crack within the rock, a place to gain a strong hold and a firm foundation. Her strength comes from a knowledge that she is of royal birth, the daughter of a Heavenly Father who has allowed her to become strong in her trials. Gianna carries a reality that she is valued far above rubies and knows just who gives her life. Regardless of how she has been treated by a few, there have been many more who have influenced her with their love.
Gianna Jessen has much reason to give blame for her condition, but she does not. As a matter of fact, she has forgiven those who have attempted to do her wrong. Using her example, I can see that it is important to not look at the distractions of imperfection when looking at an individual to find value in them. There will always be those things that are not perfect, those things that will pull the eye, or more importantly the heart, away from the main subject rather than strengthening it. As in the above photo, the beauty is found in the miracle of the existence of life against all odds, and that miracle is to be celebrated in each and every one of us, a testament to our divine nature.
In Other’s Words:
“Believe in the nature within you, the divine nature, that you are in very deed a son or daughter of the living God. There is something of divinity with you, something that stands high and tall and noble. Get above the dirt and the filth of the earth and walk on a higher plane with your heads up, believing in yourselves and in your capacity to act for good in the world and make a difference.”
~Gordon B. Hinckley~