There’s a saying that one picture is worth a thousand words. For the viewer, it’s true but very often it’s for the photographer as well. Linda Solomon is a top photo-journalist. She understands the power of photography. That’s what drives her to travel to homeless shelters around the country to teach children how to express their hopes and dreams in photographs. She enables them to share their feelings and hopes that are often lost in the trauma of homelessness.
Her visit to a shelter begins with a brief tutorial on how to take good photographs. Each child is then given his/her own brand new camera, donated by local businesses. Their first photo-assignment is guided by a personal mentor. Each child goes out to capture in pictures what they most hope for and dream to become. But before setting off, the children make a list of their hopes and dreams. Many children, of course, write about someday living in their own house. But what has been especially inspiring to Linda is that most children do not list material things. Their dreams and hopes don’t revolve around a new toy or a new car.
“I want my mom to be happy,” one girl wrote. And she took a picture of two homeless people in a park with no place to go. Her mom was deeply moved by the photograph; she realized that she and her daughter, unlike many of the homeless, had some place warm and safe to go each night- and what a thoughtful, loving daughter she was raising.
“No one in my family has gone to college and I want to be the one to change that,” a nine-year old wrote, and took a picture of the entrance to San Diego State University. The photograph led to a scholarship to the school.
A photograph of daisies taken by a nine-year-old expressed her dream: “My hope is to live.” Other photographs have illustrated such dreams as: “My hope is to be the best I can be. My hope is that the world can be a better place.” “My hope is to help my mom whenever she is stressed.” “My hope is to have friends.” “My hope is to become better than the people who look down on me.” And a ten-year old boy took a picture of his own hands making a heart, with the caption, “My hope is to show people I am not a nobody.”
After the shoot, Linda hosts a “meet the young artists” reception to exhibit the young photographers’ work. Many of the photographs are made into holiday cards. Linda calls the program “Pictures of Hope.”
Since beginning the program a couple of years ago, Linda has traveled to shelters in 14 cities around the country, with more visits planned this year. Many of the photographs are life-changing for the children, as well as for those who view them. Linda writes: “The children’s hopes and dreams captured in quiet moments tell a story that few adults can imagine . . .When you show children that you care about what they dream in life, perhaps a child who never felt he or she had self-worth, now will.”
The photographs that these children take are images of transfiguration: what they hope for and dream becomes visible and so begins to become real. Their experience is like that of the three disciples in the Lenten Gospel called The Transfiguration. They “see” the very life and love of God that exists within the person of Jesus. What they see changes them profoundly. They have a new understanding and commitment to this Jesus whom they now see as the long-awaited Christ. The days ahead are going to be rough for them. The days of the big crowds have passed. They’re going to need all the strength they can get to continue the journey with Jesus.
That same image of divinity exists within each one of us, as well. God is present within us, animating us to do wonderful, holy things; guiding our steps as we try to walk justly and humbly in the ways of God; enlightening our vision with wisdom and selflessness to “transfigure” despair into hope, sadness into joy, anguish into healing, estrangement into community. It’s within our power. And the paradox is that when you help to transfigure someone else’s life you find your own self is being transfigured. This Lent find ways to transfigure someone’s life by small, anonymous, acts of generosity, kindness and love.
You’ll be blessed.
David J. McBriar, O.F.M.
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