Bonus Post--A bittersweet goodbye
Great sorrow washes over my body and soul like water. Sorrow mixed with relief; and guilt for that relief.
It is the final day in the lab. For two decades this operation supported us. Toiling under the orange glow of safelights is a mix of work and play. A blend of precision and creativity.
Celtic music wafts in the air. The looming shadows of the giant enlargers cast their ghostly negative images onto the light sensitive photo paper. The hum and vibration of machinery. The gurgle of water. The acrid smell of fixer.
I first walked into a darkroom when I was 13, that was thirty-three years ago. Now I have to walk out. Darkroom work, endangered by the digital revolution to the point of near extinction, is like nothing else. It is one-third art, one-third science, and one-third technology. It is magic.
Today, I thank God I developed diabetes, as it gives me purpose. I cannot imagine the dark place I’d be in at this very moment with the lab gone and no purpose in life. I love my new life. I love the fact that I can have a hand in making someone healthier every day. I love my co-workers, my patients, my D-kinfolk far and wide. I love the power of the written word to reach those I cannot touch directly. But it is hard to let go of the old life. To know this is the end of a great book. To have to close the cover and set it aside.
There was a time when I was a master B&W printer. One of the best. But I did it every day, for hours and hours and hours. Skill at that level is like body building—you won’t win the Mr. Universe title working out four hours per month. I know I’m not as good as I used to be. Not by a long shot. I’ve gotten fat and flabby sitting on my metaphorical couch. There is simply not enough printing work left to be done for me to stay sharp. An era has past. I’m the best damn flint knapper in the history of the human race at the time when bronze spear tips have come onto the scene.
Today I also feel just a hint of what it might be like to have Alzheimer’s. I’ve not been into the lab for about six weeks. I let the final orders piles up. Maybe I couldn’t quite face the final act. All my life I have done this work. This very darkroom has been my home for over a decade…and yet…and yet while nothing has changed my hands can’t quite find what they reach for. Tasks that were as automatic as breathing before now leave me scratching my head. What’s the processing time for T-Max? Ummmm…. Was the warm-tone paper on the right or left side of the paper safe? Why am I having trouble loading the film onto the stainless reel? Crap. I can’t believe I forgot to turn on the paper processor.
Skills not exercised grow rusty. Knowledge not used is lost. The hands, as well as the mind, have memory. But only for a time. What we do not use, we lose. Tasks I was once the master of I can now barely accomplish at all.
Darkroom work is a solitary task, and over the decades I’ve spent countless hours working by myself, but never feeling alone.
But that is not true today.
Today I feel more alone than I ever have in my life.