RESPITE

Outside a major hospital in Seattle, a cop corrals a disorderly, screaming man wearing a backpack away from the busy front doors. The men catch my attention and I slow to a stop as I exit the building – how dangerous is this? Will the angry man turn and come back? Is the policeman radioing for help or is he confident that he has this?

They disappear down Broadway and I beeline for the curb. There, beds of oddly mixed perennials, banana trees, cabbage palms and annuals draw me in. In these days of hyper-vigilance to violent encounters and the stark polarities of class division, there is respite in nature.

I’m here for a day-long training on suicide prevention; maybe that’s another reason that plants look especially good today. I spend breaks outdoors examining juxtapositions of leaf and branch, color and pattern. I’m glad I can freeze these arrangements with my phone. It’s very satisfying work and the rest is left behind.

 

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Even the ground under the banana trees offers up interesting compositions in the textured twists and curls of dried plant leavings.

It was centering to lose myself in the intricacies of the foliage after the endless statistics and probabilities, what if’s and worries, advice and reminders about tough conversations. It’s been a decade since I sat in the hospital at the bedside of a client after an attempt, but when/if I’m confronted with another person who might be suicidal, I hope I remember to ask that simple question: “Have you thought about killing yourself?” No? Good (move on). Maybe? Yes? Let’s talk (deep breath).

 


23 comments

  1. Interesting. Are you a therapist, Lynn? Suicide is a thing my family of origin has dealt with for years, attempted but, luckily, unsuccessful suicides. I love your photos juxtaposed with this very serious subject; they allude to the twists and tangles of the human mind. Thanks for sharing.

    • It’s really tough to have suicide in the family – seems to make a clear case for the effects of nurture AND nature, doesn’t it? Your remark about the way the images play against the words is wonderful – thanks very much for that! I’m not a therapist but in Washington state, my social work license requires the suicide training every so often. A good thing. I work with elders and their families to help navigate the many and diverse challenges of aging, particularly (bot not only) dementia.

  2. Gosh Lynn that’s some heavy responsibility dealing with such a difficult subject. It’s no wonder you seek solace and a break from the subject to study these beautiful plants. Your compositions and examination of these natural forms speaks volumes as to your commitment to dealing with this sad reality of life in the difficult world we find ourselves living in today. Well done for publishing this thought provoking post.

  3. You’ve revealed the solace that somehow comes from looking at nature’s patterns and details – thank you for sharing that insight, Lynn, and for such beautiful images captured by your phone.

  4. So good that you took time out to refresh yourself and ease your focus. I don’t know what I’d do without the trees around me. There are so many times it helps to go out among them and breathe or look up and let my over-analytical mind fly away for awhile into the fresh leafy green. It’s also a relief to watch the patterns of rain running down the window or the movement of the ripples on the river. I hear ya!

  5. I very much like the pairing of the text and the images in this post. It has a particular significance since I have come to the computer having just watched the creation of a garden to help a person suffering from Post traumatic Stress Disorder..

  6. Well, quite a dark post, Lynn, what with the screaming man and suicide >>> and another similarity between us >>> you’re a social worker, I’ve just retired from 20 years in social services, where I was an information analyst. I’m ambiguous about suicide, mainly perhaps because the default attitude is that it must always be a bad thing, and I simply don’t know about that default – in the same way that I’m uneasy about the view that, as its put here, anyone who attempts suicide must be having the balance of their mind “disturbed”; I simply don’t know. As always, your pictures are intriguing – and my especial favourite here is the meeting of the natural and artificial worlds in the 5th down – wonderful lighting and composition. Adrian

    • In my work with elders who may be at the end of their life, suicide is itself an ambiguous term at times. People may know or decide it’s time to go, and that very knowledge creates subtle changes in the bodymind, probably moving the process along. As long as there isn’t too much discord among family members. it can be a very dignified, even graceful process. Happily our presenter was well aware of palliative care and end of life matters. This part of the US is also a little more enlightened than other regions that way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…I cropped that one! 😉

      • There are many places that are not enlightened, I feel. I, for example, live in what advertises itself as a “free” country. So you cropped it, so what???!!! Most of mine are cropped, its a fundamental part of the creative process! 🙂

  7. If you ever leave social work, you might consider teaching photography. You have a natural grasp of composition, Lynn. I learn just by studying how you create some kind of visual order out of chaos. In other ways this must also be something you do every day in your social work. A very thoughtful post and comments….

  8. Hard to approach your topic in this one. I’ve just heard from a friend who committed suicide, albeit he was in the beginning stages of dementia. I find it tough to condemn folks for not wanting to go through that slow death by inches having watched my mom through it. What your post did do for me was to finally clarify (in my own mind -not to judge other folks) my objection to black and white conversions. Life simply isn’t black and white and in my personal view, photos shouldn’t be either. But I still love, love, love all the stuff you don’t strip down to monochrome.

  9. Powerful.

    I, too, find reprieve in nature, and recede into the peace of nature as often as possible. I feel like I have just stepped into the jungle (or just outside here in FL) as I gaze upon your wonderful images. Beautiful. Emotive. Enchanting. A haven from the chaos.

    Suicide training must be very interesting. Extremely difficult work, but exceptionally rewarding, too, I suspect.

    Very moving post.

    All the best,

    smiling toad


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