By Bruce Mondschain
BLM Fineart Portraits
I believe that pictures tell the story of our lives: the moments of elation and those of despondence, those of great achievement and those that set us back. The moments we wish to keep forever because they show the feelings that cannot be uttered by our mouths. They capture the times that we wish to remember forever, some punctuated with salty tears, others with smiles of recollection, of times less complicated. Photographs capture the moments that remind us that we seldom walk the narrow bridge of life alone. Most often we cross that bridge with those we love and who love us. Photos are proof of that journey. So, four years ago, when my dear friend and former colleague, Nancy Hanna Dove, asked if I would be interested in photographing the Illinois SRNA Walk-Run-N-Roll, my reply was an enthusiastic, “For Sure!”
Having now been privileged to photograph four such events, I believe in the power of photographs with even greater conviction. You have taught me so much. And, for those insights, I will be forever grateful and in awe of the strength, promise and compassion that I have witnessed.
SRNA Walk-Run-N-Roll taught me that TM and related neuroimmune disorders do not discriminate. The participants in the event represent a blend of all ages, ethnicities, races, forms of mobility, levels of affluence and life situations. The event creates an arena for veterans of TM, as well as those who were only recently diagnosed. It is a place where a common language is spoken. It is the language of neuroimmune diseases accompanied by the language of hope.
Looking through my camera, I was overwhelmed by the welcomes I witnessed. Welcomes that were instantly visible in the hugs, words of enthusiasm, tears of shared loss and the overwhelming feeling of comfort that accompanies being with others whose hopes, dreams and fears mirror your own. There is no room for pretense or haughtiness. Life is far too short and precious for those. The camera tells the truth!
I saw a sense of hope that was, for me, overwhelming. It showed in the eyes that searched other eyes in conversation. It showed in the words of a 16-year-old athlete who now speaks of her dreams of athletic achievement from her wheelchair. Her service dog sat quietly and attentively next to her. It showed in the memorials for those who joined us in prior years but who lost their noble battles with this mysterious disease. It showed in the mother who talked about the loss of her precious daughter and the prayer of comfort they said together each day. I saw it in the wife sharing her story of her husband’s fight to the end. Her pain and anguish were raw. Her story was a true love story. My camera recorded it in the brother who talked about the fact that he thinks of his departed sister each day. About her smile, her stamina, the lifelong gifts she gave to her family members. Who says big boys don’t cry?
The event is a day when it is okay to be vulnerable. I watched through my lens as a mother spoke about the pain of her daughter losing her battle. She told her story punctuated with gasps for breath, with tears streaming down her face, with a sense of profound appreciation for what family and friends have done to help her deal with her unthinkable loss. At a point when it seemed she could no longer finish her remarks, a strong young man who had been watching her intently made his way to the stage to put his arms around the woman speaking, his mother. He held her and reminded me once more that we needn’t walk the narrow bridge alone.
But, all that said, my tear-filled eyes saw something I never would have anticipated. Unbridled hope! That is what this incredible event is about. Hope. That we can be with others like ourselves. That we can be authentic in our pain and elation. That SRNA is making a difference every day in educating doctors, improving diagnostic accuracy and sharing new treatment and clinical study findings. That we know more today than we did yesterday and that tomorrow, we will know even more. That the TM community will stand together in victories and in moments of loss. I cannot think of a moment at any of SRNA events I have photographed that was not about hope. It was there in the enthusiasm at the beginning of the Walk-Run-N-Roll where youthful patients held the event banner, and in the sense of accomplishment as people crossed the finish line and posed for a photo. Hope was there as I took photos of people reading the biographies that were strung around the pavilion. Biographies of TM patients. Epic stories of bravery, commitment and accomplishment. And hope was present in the multitude of excited requests from people wanting their picture taken with their “SRNA friends and family”.
And, hope was there as people gathered together to take a group photograph of all those at the event. Before I took that final picture of the day, I stood atop the ladder, looking out at the hundreds of mothers, fathers, husband and wives, sisters, brothers, children, grandparents, friends and neighbors. The love, camaraderie and feelings of hope and spirt were overwhelming. I struggled to steady and focus my quivering camera, took the picture and said a silent prayer.
From the deepest part of my heart, I thank you for letting me be a part of the journey across that narrow bridge. Here is to next year.