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Jewish Journal

What Do You See?

by Ilana Angel

April 7, 2012 | 1:07 pm

Photograph courtesy of Alex Fortag

It has always been interesting to me how I can look at something and see one thing, and someone else will look at the same thing and see something completely different.  Perception and interpretation are fascinating to me.  I have a very specific worldview.  It is guided by my faith, my open heart, and by being a mother.  People can agree on things but still not see things exactly the same, which I love.  I recently saw a picture that made me think.

A young photographer named Alex Fortag took this photograph, and when I saw this woman I was drawn to her.  I am attracted to people with stories, and this woman clearly has stories to tell.  Her body had the appearance of an elephant from the mud, and I could not tell if she was happy or sad.  I love that she is wearing lipstick, and when I looked into her crystal blue eyes I wanted to hear all of her stories.  I am very curious about her.

The photographer had this to say about her subject:

A true San Franciscan, Carol Shulz began her love affair with the Pacific Ocean when Joplin lived on Haight, and remains deeply enamored with the arduous sea a half century later.  The five mile bike ride she makes daily to her Mecca, Fort Funston, takes her past familiar monuments, both structural and human, that have been there for decades. Carol Shulz’s zest for life is infectious, and she refers to her daily body surfing ritual as “free electroshock therapy”. In a serendipitous meeting, I was fortunate enough to cross paths with the 79 year old woman who has been crowned San Francisco’s “Queen of Ocean Beach”.

To be honest, when I first looked at Ms. Shulz I was a little frightened by her. When I read her story however, I found myself in awe.  This woman is 79 years old and she is living her life out loud and with no fear.  She embraces her worldview and I am envious of that.  She rides her bike, gets in the ocean, becomes one with the earth, and I imagine that it cleanses her soul of fear and bitterness.  What a remarkable way to live a life.

I wish I was as brave as Ms. Shulz.  I am trusting of people yet not particularly trusting of myself.  That seems to be in stark contrast to her, as she strikes me as someone who has full trust in herself, but may be weary of others.  I would like to meet her one day. I would like to ride with her to the sea, cover myself in the earth, and wash it away in the ocean with the prayer that some of my fear and sorrow will wash off with the mud.

This picture has had an impact on me.  As human beings I think we have an obligation to each other to look a little closer at things.  If we could just take a minute to not judge each other at first glance, it would be a kinder world wouldn’t it?  Today is my birthday and with this new year I hope to be brave like Ms. Shulz.  Life is a blessing and I owe it to myself to view things with grace.  I’ll be able to do that if I keep the faith.

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