about this work

Describing Eternity

An ongoing and incomplete series.

My wife and I were pregnant. Actually, she was pregnant but I wanted to be supportive so I went around saying "My wife and I are pregnant" all the time. At the time it seemed progressive and egalitarian. Now it feels kind of silly.

I was terrified all the time. Scared to death something was going to go wrong. I'd never had a child before. I stayed awake at night worrying about all the things that could go wrong. I developed a knack for taking my thousands of small worries and running them through a 500 watt guitar amplifier, until they were so loud sleep was impossible.

We went to get an ultrasound. The technician put my wife on the table an squirted what looked like clear toothpaste over her round belly. Then she took a small handheld device and rubbed it over my wife's tummy. Next to the table was a black-and-white screen broadcasting the effects of the soundwaves as they bounced off my unborn daughter. The technician began to describe various aspects of what we were seeing on the screen. "Here's the head", she'd point out, "and here are hands, and that's an eye". I wasn't sure what she said after that because the blood drained from my head and the room suddenly dimmed. I'd passed out.

I wasn't out long. When I came to I was slumped over, sitting in a chair. I imagined I looked like one of those drunks at the bus station, who sleep sitting up chairs reserved for those waiting on buses. They sleep there because their lives are a terrific mess and they don't know what to do about it. At this point, I could relate. Except I wasn't sure how I got in the chair.

The Technician had noticed my sudden spell and put a chair under me, thankfully keeping my skull from bouncing off the floor.

"Don't be embarrassed", she said, "This happens all the time".

Until she said it, it hadn't occurred to me to be embarrassed. I looked at the screen again, seeing my daughters body curled up like a shrimp. She was so tiny. So many things could go wrong. I could see her skeleton, a tiny, brittle crystalline structure housed inside a bubble. This bubble illuminated on the screen in black and white, filled with light. Embarrased, I looked at the floor.

While studying the cracks in the cheap hospital tile, it occurred to me that people were coming into existence all the time. New people. People were leaving existence all the time, too. And they both seemed to be doing it in the same way: wrapped in some protective bubble, in the midst of going from one state to another. Going from non-existence to existence, and vice-versa. And no matter which of these transitions are occurring, we are powerless as observers to do anything about it. Life is like that bus station, with me slumped over in a chair waiting for my daughter to get here.

I slept better that night. I realized things were probably going to be okay, and that worrying won't change anything anyway. But the image of that state of transistion stuck with me. I needed to record it with my camera. I knew that a skeleton would have to be part. And light, too. I wanted to use a cocoon of light, decorate them with electricity. In a state of coming down into the world, or leaving into the darkness. It would be my way of describing eternity.

-Ian Lemmonds, September 15, 2010