Every day you pass things that you pay little or no attention to. One of my favorite musical groups is Sweet Honey in the Rock, a group of African American women who sing the most amazing a cappella music I’ve ever heard. They perform a song called Breaths written by Birago Diop and Ysaye Barnwell. lyrics
“Listen more often to things than to beings…’tis the ancestor’s breath when the fire’s voice is heard…Those who have died have never, ever left…They are with us in the trees…”
I love this song and often sing it when I see something that makes me think of my mother or sister Myrna who was an artist and photographer or any of the loved ones who have passed on.
The song also reminds me to pay attention to the things I see regularly, but pay little or no attention to.
Much to the annoyance I my friends, I have become one of those frequent picture takers. Something will happen or I may pass a wonderful site on the road and all of a sudden, I’m like, “Whoa, slow down.”
I’ve gone years without taking pictures. When I traveled to South Africa with my brother Marlon and his family (brother from another mother) everyone wondered why I didn’t have a camera.
“I didn’t bring one.” I told them. “I hold the memories in my head” They all looked at me like I was crazy and started taking pictures.
Later, after we had all gotten home from an amazing trip, I received a photo album full of the wonderful pictures everyone else had taken. One look at those pictures told me that I didn’t remember everything, nor had I seen some of the things that were right in front of me.
Now, I take pictures of things no one else has noticed; things that speak to both my head and my heart. Later when I show someone a picture, I am often rewarded with a tidbit of information I didn’t know.
Yesterday when I went to Wild Birds Unlimited to buy fresh bird seed for what we call my sister Christine’s birds, I showed the owner Craig and the local bird columnist and author Diana Churchill, a picture of a blue bird sitting on our backyard fence.Birders View of Savannah
“Why would he perch on the fence when he’s got all of these trees?” I asked. Diana smiled and said, the bluebird likes to sit high so he can look out everywhere to find all of the insects he wants to eat.” Well, he should bring his cousins. I replied. We both laughed but I heard the lesson; "In order to get all that you need you must sit high and look far."
When I was in Martinsville, I took a picture of an odd looking house and was told by the driver that the place was known as the cake house. The house looks as if it was just recently built, but I later learned that it was built in 1918 by G.T. Lester the founder of Lester Lumber. Local legend says that he built what was then called “The Wedding Cake House” as a testament to the love of his bride. The lesson for me; build a love that will last.
You may be wondering how I missed the obvious, because I’m wondering it myself; but until right now while I am writing this, I did not make the connection that my oldest sister Myrna was a photographer. I adored all things Myrna. She was smart and beautiful, spiritual before it was called that and an artist. My love for eclectic artist like Sweet Honey came from Myrna as did my desire to travel.
So, I’m sitting here writing a piece about paying attention to the things we see and hear but often pass by and I am remembering my own sister and her amazing influence on my life.
Maybe my picture taking thing is connected to Myrna and her life as an artist and photographer, I don’t know for certain. But I do know this, every time I look more closely at the world around me, I see more than I could have imagined.
Every day we pass by lessons of history, folklore and messages of love from the ancestors.
Today, take a camera. Stop, look and learn something new from something old.
Pay attention and remember your loved ones and the things that they taught you. Feel the love that never leaves and hear their songs on the wind.
Be you, be well, be attentive.
Bertice Berry, PhD.