The gift of hope...
I visited Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish-Rite today for my walk-through so I could get a lay of the land before the big Help-Portrait Day on December 4th. To be completely honest, I didn’t feel like going today. I was dreading it, actually. I just wanted to go home and be lazy on the couch. But I had made a committment to be there, and Brooke was expecting me, so I went.
I sat in traffic and made it over to Scottish-Rite, then I couldn’t figure out how to get to the parking deck. I drove around the building and made several u-turns, then finally found my way in. I parked and navigated the maze of the parking deck, then made my way upstairs.
When the elevator doors opened, I felt like I was stepping into a cool new world. I walked down the hallway surrounded by a myriad of windows in every color of the rainbow, then the room opened up into this amazing entry room. It was huge, modern design, bright colors…beautiful and warm. I stopped at the information desk and got directions to The Zone where my contact Brooke was waiting for me. I was looking around as I made my way through the corridor towards the hallway to the elevators, and I felt genuinely happy. This place was gorgeous and colorful and bright and warm… The people were so friendly… Even the few patients wandering the corridors seemed to be in a good mood. It didn’t feel like a hospital. I made it to the other end of the corridor and turned to head down the hallway to the elevators near the cafeteria, and it started to feel real.
“Radiation: Do Not Enter” “Patient Rooms” “Family Resource Center: Live-in parents only” “Infant Care”
Reality check. Not only is this a hospital, but it’s a hospital for really sick kids. On the surface, it’s bright and beautiful. But when the shiny happiness is mixed in with hospital signs, it starts to sink in just how serious this place is.
I made it to The Zone, met up with Brooke, and got the lay of the land. This place is SO COOL! The chandelier is made of hockey sticks donated from every NHL team. The quiet room has a table made of skateboards with a guitar hanging on the wall. There’s a bunch of tiny tables and chairs with tons of arts and crafts supplies scattered everywhere. And the theater room, which is where I’ll be taking pictures on December 4th, is incredible. The back wall looks like the stands at Turner Field full of people. There are even a couple of big baseball mitt chairs. Outside, there’s a courtyard with a basketball court and a walkway to a beautifully landscaped koi pond. After spending some time with Brooke and discussing the details of Help-Portrait Day, I made my way back to the elevators to head home. I was full of joy and excitement and anticipation for the big day. I was full of hope.
Then, again, the elevator doors opened and I walked that hallway again. And there were the signs again – those signs reminding me of what this place was, who comes here. “Radiation” – cancer treatment. “Patient Rooms” – more than a one-night stay. “Family Resource Center: Live-in parents only” – for parents of long-term care patients. And the scariest one of all – “Infant Care” – a lot of these babies never leave the hospital.
As I made my way back to the car, the reality sank in. My chest felt like I had a ton of bricks sitting on it. I got in my car, put my key in the ignition…and the tears came. I was flooded with emotion, overwhelmed with grief and pain and sympathy. I cried hard. And I prayed. I thanked God for my healthy child and my healthy family. I prayed for peace and healing for the families in that hospital. I prayed for guidance for the medical staff. It felt good. The tears felt really, really good.
After a little while, I dried my eyes and left the hospital. I know I’m going back there in a few weeks. I’ll be photographing those sick kids and their families. I’ll probably even be photographing some of those babies who may never leave the hospital. And I have a very strong feeling that I’ll cry again. Hard.
Hopefully my photographs will give these families a permanent picture of a happy moment in their lives, perhaps in the midst of some really dark times. Hopefully these images will give them some hope, maybe a smile every now and then.
For me, just the act of photographing these kids and their families will give me peace and pure, genuine joy. I’ve already been touched by what I’m about to do. I can only imagine the kind of impact these images will have on me, and the act of meeting these amazing people….