Years ago in a huge antique shop I was drawn to this tiny silver baby cup. On the little handwritten tag it simply said: ‘I had a hard life $1’, so endearing it became my only small purchase. Believing I may have something to learn from this forlorn cup I put it on my desk at the college where I teach photography. Often my odd collection can help me connect with a student, but it also reminds me of who I am beyond my job.
One day long after classes had moved online due to the pandemic, I went to our closed campus and walked empty halls past still labs to my overly quiet office. Nothing had changed, and everything had changed. My on campus students knew my office cluttered with old cameras, snapshots of art & music heroes, tiny lights, and treasured stones. Online I knew the color of the students walls and the sound of their dogs bark, but the knowing each other was clearly not the same. Understanding this difficult time would forever be where before ends and after begins, I put this cup in my pocket, open to hard life lessons.
The first came from research: babies + silver are often a nod to being born into wealth, but the real gift of silver was its toxic effect on bacteria, a plus for a baby’s health. So this bent cup is both a relic of hardship and an artifact of hope. A good reminder to hold in my hand: be both.
The second came from patience. Now on a windowsill, the cup sits where light constantly changes: shifting colors, transforming shape, and revealing scratches and dents. The polish is long gone, but perfection can be too simple. I’ve witnessed light move across someone’s face revealing them as lovely then flawed then radiant in just moments. The honesty of light is intriguing. No wonder exploring photography with students on a screen may have felt a bit hollow at times? Lesson: pay close attention to life’s small shifts to discover what others may not - exactly what I teach about light over and over, year after year.
So I was right, it took a long quiet year but in the end this $1 cup did have something to teach me: hard life lessons are often simply reminders of we already deeply know.