Strange times, my friends.
Particularly if you’re at risk. Which I am, according to the World Health Organization. My daily walks around east-end Belleville with our Basset Hound, Edna, are – strictly speaking – risky. So here are thoughts about being at risk with a Basset Hound while doing photography.
Being considered at risk is nothing new for me, however. In fact, I’ve been on this roller coaster twice before in my life.
The first time I was officially ‘at risk’ was at age seven when I had rheumatic fever. This led to an extended stay at Kingston General Hospital, followed by six months of bedrest at home. I didn’t like the hospital stay – it still gives me nightmares – but I LOVED the six months at home. In fact, it was during that time that I developed skills that still serve me well.
You see, early in my rheumatic fever days I knew that I faced a life-altering choice. Behind Door #1 was becoming a helpless little whiner who insisted on other people meeting my needs. Behind Door #2 was becoming the primary agent of change in my life.
I chose Door #2. And, in the words of poet Robert Frost in The Road Not Taken, “...that has made all the difference.” Looking back, I realize that I was embracing solitude and finding strength in it. The sublime Buddhist scholar Stephen Batchelor describes this as cultivating “inward autonomy.” It was also when I discovered I enjoyed my own company – and sometimes even preferred it. (Confession: I still do!)
Fast-forward to the second time I was ‘at risk’ – during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. As a gay man, I was in the primary risk group. And, yet again, I faced a life-altering choice. Behind Door #1 was seeing myself as a victim who had no control over what was happening. And behind Door #2 was being an agent of change, both in my own life and my life in the gay community. And once again, I chose Door #2. In addition to making changes in my behaviour, I became actively involved in the gay community – support groups, vigils, political activism, and advocacy. And, sadly, attending many, many funerals. During the peak of the epidemic, Saturdays were for funerals. It was especially important to attend them when family members wouldn’t. Or when protestors screamed at attenders that “God hates fags.”
And now, the risk comes from COVID-19. As a 73-year-old man, I know that this disease is especially dangerous for me, because of both my age and my gender. And guess what? I face another life-altering choice. Behind Door #1 is retreating into victimhood and panic, inhaling the breathless tsunami of social media. Behind Door #2 is staying safely engaged with my wider community while remaining the primary agent of change in my own life. And, once again, I chose Door #2. I like to think of it as rebuilding the future, one dream at a time. Which is one of the reasons why I continue to photograph and write about these strange – yet oddly familiar – days.
Thank goodness that the distancing guidelines allow for dog walking. I have been walking Edna regularly ever since she was a baby Basset. For the past forty + days, however, these walks have taken on added importance – they have also become my time to wander Belleville’s almost-deserted streets with my camera. It’s as if Edna gives me permission to witness and record. Thank you, Edna, for bringing so many blessings into my life.
Next week, I plan to post more thoughts about photography with Edna and living with risk. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these quirky photos of east-end Belleville.
A heads up: Blogger is experiencing technical difficulties. Many photographs on previous posts are not visible. Blogger, a Google-owned company, says it’s trying to resolve the issue. Here’s what you’ll see instead of a photograph:
Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada