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Monday, August 20, 2012

What Matters Most

These 3 words have been swirling in my head lately "What. Matters. Most." I think about it a lot. I think about "What Matters Most" to me, to my family, to friends and relatives. I even think about it with my pets. Pets are such a big part of our family.

But I also think about it a lot when it comes to my passion - to the things I LOVE doing. What is it that matters most to me as a photographer and as a writer? Those are the two things I love doing the most in the world and can see doing for the rest of my life.

Basically it all boils down to this. Being authentic, being genuine - being myself.  And to get to that authentic place I just have to recall the things I loved doing that made me lose track of time when I was a little girl. I loved to write and draw. I used to write lots of letters to whoever would read them and take the time to reply. The reply was what motivated me, I loved getting letters in return. There's nothing like getting a real letter addressed to you in the postal mail.

I just got a card from my 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Baird. I reconnected through letters with Mrs. Baird about 10 years ago, when she was 84. Today she is a spry 94 years young. I saw her in person last summer. It was wonderful to reconnect with her as we chatted over a nice Tex-Mex meal (we were in El Paso, Texas) last summer.

Now I make it a point to call her regularly. She does not use a computer, therefore she does not have email. It's totally "old fashioned" communication with her, by phone or handwritten email. I love it, it makes me pause and reflect every time I talk to her. I hang on to her words as she recounts her days as a young school teacher when she first started out in 1942. she talks about her life as a wife to an engineer. She never had children, I never asked but suspect that they could not.  But after years of teaching she always told her friends that her students were her kids. And we are. A bevy of her former students stay in touch with her regularly like we do with our own mothers. She was and always will be our favorite teacher. Nothing can beat that.

Mrs. Baird kept a small handwritten journal that listed all of her students so she would never forget them.
Why do I bring up Mrs. Baird and memories of being in her first grade class? Because when I think about "What Matters Most" - it was when I was in first grade that I remember the things I truly loved. I had an inkling about what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I look back at who I was when I was six years old, I knew nothing BUT how to be myself. I was a genuine six year old little girl and life and social interactions hadn't tainted my core. That all happened in middle school and high school. Then you rediscover it again in college if you're lucky - or perhaps you never lost it if you're wise.

I was so grateful to have taken this photo with her last year.  I hadn't been back to my childhood home since I was eleven years old.  So it was such an incredible moment to spend the evening with her and recollect my elementary school years and listen to her remember her time as a teacher.

Mrs. Baird and I last summer.
I love this photo of her hands - those hands patted the heads of many students and scribed lots of lessons on the chalk board. 

Those hands wrote on the chalk board for so many years and captivated tons of first graders.

The other day when I called she told me - "Don't get old," and "I'm getting so forgetful, I forgot to eat lunch yesterday."  And then we laugh because she is 94 years old after all.  She'll always say "I can't complain, I've had a good life."  Her "children" visit her often.  The neighbors in her retirement home are envious of all the visitors she gets.  They visit  her more than the real children of some of the neighbors at the retirement home.

So when I think about What Matters Most I always think about Mrs. Baird.  Thinking about the effect she had on so many children for so many years is an amazing testament in one person's life.  What could be better than that?

My conversations with Mrs. Baird are a constant reminder to me to always stop and think about What Matters Most.

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