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I’ve been going through photographs on my computer this week. My father-in-law died last Friday, and we’ve been grieving and feeling our way through the loss. Part of my process has been finding all my photos, remembering two decades of good times, with lots of tears and laughter.

I have 43,739 photo files in total. It’s a ridiculous amount.

Some may be duplicates, but I’ve got a program that’s supposed to identify and remove copies, so I assume the number is pretty accurate. Over the years, I’ve tried to keep them organized into separate albums for different vacations and events, but that’s been an inconsistent effort. In theory, now, I should be able to use facial recognition software to search for every photo of Robert Gianotti, but it doesn’t seem to work completely, identifying only a fraction of the relevant images.

So I’ve been scrolling through everything — year by year, pic by pic. All 43,739. Some of these are old photos scanned from physical albums or shared with me by others. But mostly they’re pictures that I myself have taken since I got my first digital camera about 22 years ago (coincidentally around the same time I met Robert). I’ve averaged about 2000 images a year. It’s quite a record, a time capsule.

In addition to the memories I’m refreshing, I’ve also found occasions that I’d completely forgotten. And I’ve rediscovered a number of wonderful, unexpected convergences — people from different parts of my life, people of whom I think in totally separate places and times who did, in fact, come together at least once. In some cases the encounters seem so unlikely that it’s almost miraculous to see these folks together again.

I’m struck by the way that this life, and every life, has been a space in which countless other varied and disconnected lives have overlapped, interacted, and related. Maybe that’s totally obvious; it’s happening all the time. But I saw it clearly and newly as I scrolled my pictures — the fact that I have created these connections, that each of us creates connections, that Life is Connection.

Every individual is a space of gathering, perpetually forming so many different “us”es. Simply by being, each of us can engender an expansive idea of “we” — who we are.

And at the same time, I was reminded that my life, as represented in these photographs, has been a collaborative thing. It has included the contribution of every person pictured. More than that — it has depended on every contribution. It literally would not have been the same without every other.

Sure, I’ve been consciously actualizing and purposefully choosing and intentionally expressing myself, but I haven’t done that in a vacuum. I can claim credit for the creation of my own life — AND — it is just as accurate to say that my life has been a group project, a team effort, created by all those who have touched me, shared with me, graced me with their presence.

A few weeks ago, my friend Sasha offered the opening blessing at our Sunday service, and he said something about “the powers that be.” I’m sorry that I don’t recall exactly how he used it (it was a lovely prayer but I don’t remember the specifics). Nevertheless, this expression stuck with me — the powers that be.

Typically, the phrase suggests something of external forces beyond our control. “The powers that be” usually refers to a faceless bureaucracy, invisible management, or a shadowy and manipulative cabal. The powers that be make the rules and call the shots. We here below are subject to their agendas and vagaries. It’s a disempowering idea.

As I think now about how we create our togetherness and how our togetherness creates us, it occurs to me that we are the powers that be. Each of us individually and especially all of us collaboratively. We’re bringing together life in all the ways we do, making our meanings, synthesizing a world which, in turn, contributes to our ongoing becoming.

The Life that makes us — the powers that be — is the very same Life that we are. And onward…

I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, January 28, at 10:00am at Maple Street Dance Space. Special music by Dianna Hughes and Patty Stephens. XO, Drew

©2024 Drew Groves

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