My life changed today. Not in a wham-bam-shazam kind of way. There were no fireworks, no flashy neon signs. In fact, nobody else probably even noticed. It was a calm, quiet – but powerful – shift within me. It affects how I view my work, my passion, my life, and the many blessings in my life. It was very personal, and it was magic.

I spent the day volunteering at our local Homeless Connect – an annual event that provides a ‘one-stop shop’ of services, resources and assistance to our city’s homeless population. I had no idea what to expect going in this morning – I just knew that I’d be giving these homeless families a chance to get a family portrait taken.

By the end of the day, I had been moved to tears so many times that I lost count. I had photographed more than 75 families and individuals, each with their own story and each amazing in their own right. I had planned on doing some simple shots – each family got one print, done on site. Quick, easy, make sure nobody blinks.

When I actually started shooting, it all transformed. It’s no secret that I view the world through rose-colored glasses – I’m a hopeless romantic, and I see love everywhere I look. I live for love stories. And the ones that unfolded today were nothing short of miraculous. I was completely humbled to be able to tell these stories, each one a single frame. All that love in just one 4×6 print.

Here were these families, lining up to get their photo. None of them cared whether their outfits matched. None of them made comments about wishing they were ‘just a little skinnier.’ None of them fussed with hair and makeup, and none of them asked about props. When they followed me out to the parking lot, not one questioned the background. All that mattered – all that mattered – was that they were together. There it was. All they had was their love for each other, and that was enough to bring out the best giggles, the biggest grins, the sweetest comments, the tightest hugs. It was beautiful, and it was perfection.

“This is the first picture we’ve ever had together.” From the sweet older couple who bashfully cozied up for my camera.

“We’ve never had a family picture taken before.” Their oldest son had to be 14, and their young daughter was 7. And a half. (She proudly told me.)

“I’ve always wanted a picture of my kids together.” The proud mama had tears in her eyes as she watched her daughters hug each other.

“This is going to be just perfect.” The young couple snuggled with their itty-bitty new baby girl.

“I just want my kids to see that I’m happy.” The middle aged mom asked for two copies of her print – one to send to each kid.

To be able to give these families these gifts – all of which went far beyond just the paper the image would be printed on – was humbling and incredible and oh-so-joyous.

Because I was so busy shooting, I didn’t get to see most of the prints get picked up. But the ladies working the table filled me in on the reactions – tears, laughs, sighs, gratitude, joy.

I had been so worried about how the images would turn out when there were so many limitations. One image, parking lot as backdrop, no editing. How would I possibly be able to tell a love story in a single print?? And yet…there they were. When it was all stripped down – no frills, no fuss – all that was left was the love.

One older guy – a veteran – was all about joking around with me while I took a photo of him with his brother. He asked about the tattoo on my finger. It reads “don’t blink.” I laughingly explained that it has layered meanings. It’s on my trigger finger, so you can see it when I’m taking your photo…so damnit, don’t blink! But it also alludes to how quickly life can change when you’re not looking. He shook his head with a smirk.

“Don’t I know it.”

His injury during his service left shrapnel in his head. Less than a blink, he said, and that disability has changed everything. The same is true for so many of the families I met today. The strength they have to keep them together, to keep them laughing in times of struggle, to move them forward when it all looks bleak…it all stems from the love I witnessed today, in so many forms.

Today, I gained back infinitely more than I gave, in the form of hugs, handshakes, grins, giggles and tears. I am moved beyond words, humbled and filled with gratitude + joy.

 

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