Sue’s Hat, 2013
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We all know the tired bromides about giving:
“tis better to give than receive.”
“It’s a joy to give.”
“Blessed are those who can give.”
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
But let’s be honest. It’s always more fun to receive than give, especially if the gift is unexpected and something that you really value.
On Saturday I was reminded how getting can be giving. Or was it how giving can be getting. Whatever.
I was down at the oceanfront looking for people to photograph. The annual Boardwalk Art Show was in session. There were stylish culture vultures and clueless tourists alike strolling the oceanfront boardwalk.
I hadn’t been there long when I noticed a woman wearing an interesting hat. I told myself I had to photograph the hat and the woman wearing it. But she kept ducking into the various artists’ stalls where the light was bad and I felt like I’d be intruding if I were to ask her for a chance to photograph her hat.
Eventually she stepped out and agreed to let me photograph her. She was even flattered and, as we say here in the American South, “tickled” that someone had shown interest in her hat. It turns out the hat has a long story. It had been passed among friends and relatives across several generations, with each new owner adding something to it, and actually has intersections with people and places in my life.
When we were done the woman asked if I’d send her a copy of the picture. It was only when I introduced myself and asked for her name and address that it became embarrassingly clear that this woman was Sue, someone I’d known briefly about twenty-five years ago. We hadn’t even recognized each other. But we had a fond reunion all because of the hat. Sue’s so happy she’ll have a picture with all the other women who have owned it.
A few minutes later I was photographing some red glass art against the background of the blue ocean. The glassblower asked if I wouldn’t mind taking a picture of her booth for her to use in future art show applications. She was tickled, too, that I could do something for her.
Finally, a little further down the boardwalk I happened to notice a lovely woman wearing a shimmering green dress with white polka dots on it. I walked past her several times before concluding that I needed to photograph her, too. It turns out she’s a semi-professional singer who knew of my late mother, who was also a singer. Ms. E was also tickled—I swear she used that very word--that I’d admired her dress and asked to photograph her.
So although I didn’t think of these encounters as transactions, the joy of giving to these three ladies was far greater than the value of the three photographs I got. That I could surprise at least two of them with these small gifts was a joy.
Ms. E in Green, 2013