Working Hands   Leave a comment

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

Reflecting on yesterday’s blog entry, I was reminded of a photograph I took last year while on a trip to Charleston, SC.

Up until the time I was 8 years old, my bedroom window looked out, beyond the safer boundaries of my backyard, onto a cemetery. It was not a morbid fascination I developed back then to the mysteries of death and of our society’s burial rituals, but an attraction to  the sense of place being in a cemetery so vividly creates for me. With a surname like Coffin, I guess it only stands to reason that I should be so fascinated.

On the day this photograph was taken, I wandered, as I often do, into the midst of a cemetery filled with the heavy weight that the symbols of our passing bring to us. All that was missing was a light fog rolling onto and gently over the tombstones and final resting place of so many souls, to set the scene as I experienced it that day.

Much to my surprise, as I rounded the bend of the church that stood in front of the graveyard, I almost literally stumbled into the man who sat idly and eerily quiet in front of me, resting himself and finding a peaceful quiet in the midst of the city of Charleston. I was, regrettably, afraid, an emotion one feels when confronted with the unexpected. I took pause not to disturb him, stepped back a few steps, lifted my camera and snapped a couple of pictures. He did not move a muscle, and I could feel my breath getting heavier for fear that my intrusion might also startle him.

I was filled with a multitude of emotions that are as fresh for me now as they were then. It was clear he was a working man; hands calloused by labour I could only imagine. The hood of his jacket lifted over his head to give warmth during the cool early morning hours. His shoulders pressed forward and his posture symbolic of the hopelessness of his fate and yet it was his hands, clasped and solid, strong and unflinching that have stayed with me since.

I slipped out of the cemetery unnoticed and left him as I found him, but I was not as I had arrived. Who was he and what brought him to “this” place? I wonder what those hands are laboring at today.


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