The stories of Melissa Cann and Charla Nash may be familiar but it is difficult to imagine familiarity with the nature of their suffering.
Melissa Cann’s sister, 25-year-old Maureen Brainard-Barnes, disappeared in 2007. Her remains were found three years later on a desolate stretch of Long Island beach along with the remains of nine other people. The deaths are being attributed to a still at-large serial killer.
Charla Nash was attacked and severely disfigured in 2009 by a chimpanzee who lived at the Stamford home of Nash’s friend Sandra Herold. Nash lost her face, eyes and hands in the attack and last year underwent a full face transplant.
This week I photographed Cann and Nash on consecutive days. Cann in her Norwich home on Wednesday for a story by the Courant’s Denise Buffa. Nash, I photographed on Thursday, in a Massachusetts rehab center for a story by the Courant’s Jon Lender.
On Monday, also of this week, the Courant published a story I worked on about Michele Bigda and her Stafford yoga studio; Middle River Yoga. During one of our first meetings Bigda introduced me to the following poem titled Please Call Me by My True Names, by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh:
Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow—
even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
of all that are alive. I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of pond.
And I am also the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat.
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands,
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.
My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one. Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up, and the door of my heart could be left open, the door of compassion.
Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughs at
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and the door of my heart
could be left open,
the door of compassion.