We are all storytellers

At eleven months, Matt had no scar on his chest.  July 1986

At eleven months old, Matt had no scar on his chest. July 1986

“We are all storytellers, photojournalists of lives that are rich with tears, bruises, tenderness, strangeness and humor.  There’s nothing wrong with shooting smiles and holidays and rituals, but life isn’t a marketing campaign.  More interesting stuff is going on.  That’s your job as a photographer – to shoot the world as it is.  Remember that you have a story to tell and that the camera, honestly used, has a way of staring without being rude.” – George Lange

When I look at this photo, I don’t see a cute bathtub scene.  I see an 11-month old infant about to undergo a nightmarish surgical trauma necessary to save his life, and his 27-month-old brother who cannot fully grasp what will happen, but who will nonetheless be indelibly influenced by the fear, uncertainty, and disruption of everyday life that lies ahead in the coming months and years.

I remember going into the bathroom to take this photo because I wanted a shot of Matt’s chest before it was cut open.  I didn’t really care that he would have a scar running from just below his neck to the bottom of his rib cage, but I did want to capture a memory of the baby who had not yet known that kind of suffering; the tiny boy who was still untouched by the first of many wounds to come.  Of course, I also was keenly aware that this little one might not survive to have another bathtub photo taken.

I’m sure there are many who might wonder why I would even keep, let alone celebrate, a photo that brings back the memory of such fear and sorrow.  But the baby did survive, as did his brother and mother and father, and their story is “rich with tears, bruises, tenderness, strangeness and humor.”

I am certain that anyone who is reading this also has a story to tell, a story equally tender and strange and rich with joy and sorrow.  My wish for you is that you will remember your story, all of it, and use your camera or art or music or words to commemorate your journey.

Your story matters.

This post was first published seven years ago today. As I schedule this post, less than two weeks before it will be re-published, that baby in the picture is now a 36 year old man. He has had countless surgeries, including the five heart surgeries that involved the cutting open of his sternum, and he survives as a witness of God’s grace, as well as the amazing progress of heart surgery during his lifetime. For example, he is scheduled for a third replacement of his tricuspid valve next week, and we are hopeful it can be done by a catheter procedure that will spare him heart/lung bypass and the trauma of midsternal incision that was necessary the first two times it was replaced.

The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. mike

    I will pray the catheter procedure can be used for Mat. In fact i think i will insist on that rather than a sixth sternum approach.

    • Yes, they were able to successfully place the new tricuspid valve via a (very large) catheter, and the total time in surgery was only a little over half the time former replacements have taken. He’s doing very well, thanks for the prayers!

  2. Judy

    This photo and your words bring tears to my eyes. Watching our babies grow into adults and then traversing their adult years is truly “a story equally tender and strange and rich with joy and sorrow.” It often seems that one of our children has to endure more difficulties and suffering than the others. As mothers, we wish only happy carefree lives for our children but life gives them challenges as well as joys. And so we walk in faith and with years and years of prayers.

    • Yes, and often our journeys mirror, in some way, those of our mothers and grandmothers. One of my own mother’s four children (my sister) had easily ten times more medical trauma growing up, maybe closer to 20 times, and her three siblings used to wonder why it is that one child seems so “marked” for suffering. For example, though much of my sister’s medical intervention was required due to congenital issues, by some cruel twist of fate she was the one most critically injured of the three children in the car accident that almost killed our mother (I was the only sibling not in the car at the time). But an equal, more interesting facet of all this is that she is, as an adult, the most well-adjusted, stable and happy of the four of us. Not coincidentally, she probably has been the most faithful and reliant on God, who has blessed her through so much.

  3. Chris

    Julia, I liked this photo and the post. Very touching. I had to go back and read the comments from 2018. So heartwarming.
    So, how did it go with Matt’s recent procedure? And how are you doing? You remain in my prayers daily.

    • Thank you Chris. Matt’s tricuspid valve replacement went very well, and at Wednesday’s follow up, the team was quite pleased with what the tests show. He’s back to his full routine and seemingly very happy.

  4. Thank you, Julia, for saying “your story matters.” It seems people are really struggling for validation these days, and some are taking extreme measures to get attention. It’s important to note that, like a camera “honestly used,” we needn’t sensationalize our story. Sensationalism doesn’t increase value.
    Blessings on your day!

    • Thank you, Susan. Yes, I think “social media” (which I think an oxymoron) has only fed people’s need for validation, like some sort of addiction to praise and “likes” and very superficial attention. Counterfeits are never as good as the real thing, and on some level we all know this.

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