Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

The Photograph

I stared obsessively at a photograph posted in Thursday’s edition of the Greek online newspaper, Ekathimerini. The accompanying article outlined the sudden closure of Greece’s public broadcaster, ERT, by the conservative-led government.  After reading the article, I flipped back to the photograph. I went to it several more times that day.

In the forefront, there is a crying woman hunched over her control panel, her fingers stretched over switches as if to protect and defy anyone from turning them off. There is an inconsistency in her bold stance. I wonder about her tears. Perhaps she knows the inevitable will come and this is her last stand. She is focused, despite the tears. I get a sense she won’t go quietly. Although I don’t know her, I’m in her corner, cheering for her. If I were in her shoes, I hope I too would be stubborn to the end.

There are people behind her. Some appear to be working (one woman is on the phone maybe listening to a new angle on an important story the network has been following). These people seem to be thinking if we just keep doing what we’re doing, everything will be okay. We’ll slip under the radar. No one will notice us.

Still others mingle in the background, waiting to see what might happen next. They appear non-committal. They are not going to take a stand one way or another until they see what direction the wind is blowing. I put thoughts into their heads. They wonder, for example: will someone come to our rescue? What’s plan B if protests and tears don’t work? How might I save myself?

In case it doesn’t show, I’m a storyteller. I make up an entire life story about a stranger I watch in the grocery store examining one head of lettuce, then another as if his life depended on this decision. As he gropes the lettuce, I imagine he’s thinking how he’ll propose to his girlfriend, will she reject him, what will he do if that happens. He frets over the lettuce rather than worry about the engagement ring hidden in his pocket.

I’ve done it (making up stories I mean, not examining lettuce) since I was a child. Vivid imagination? Yes, absolutely. My terror filled, larger-than-life nightmares can attest to that. But, I think my need to come up with a story goes further than this.

I want to place myself in someone else’s shoes, experience what they are going through, explore all the what-ifs and see if I would make the same decision. I’m interested in people you see, but I’m also interested in the strength of their capabilities and the depths of their vulnerabilities. How else will I ever know what I would do when faced with certain circumstances? Stories allow me to experiment with the full range of life’s possibilities. No harm done (i.e., excluding nightmares).

So perhaps this need in me to make up stories is one of the reasons I was drawn to the photograph. Another might have to do with the fact that in a previous life, I was a change manager. This is a nice way of saying I dealt with the fall out of large organizational change initiatives (mergers, acquisitions, large information technology implementations, downsizing and privatization) that usually ended in people either changing or losing their jobs. I like to think I helped ease their transition, but I’m not so sure. Who among us has such power?

The photograph struck me because in it I could see the various reactions we humans experience when faced with change. There are those who resist (the crying woman), those who hold out (the individual sitting at her desk working) and those who won’t commit either way (the idle women in the background). It strikes me now as I write this that these reactions are the same ones we might also have when things happen we don’t like. Some will speak out, others will hide, and others will wait and see. We’ve seen this in war-torn countries with ethnic cleansing and in our own backyard as basic human rights erode in the name of security.

I like the spunk I see in the crying woman in the photograph. I want to be the person who resists when something is being done that I don’t agree with. But I’m not sure I am that person.  After all, I have argued that public broadcasters should be supported and never be closed down at a government’s whim. I don’t think budgets for a public broadcaster should be cut. And yet what did I do when this happened to the CBC? Oh, sure I wrote a letter, signed a petition or two. It wasn’t enough. I know this.

You want to know how I know? Easy. When I listen to the same programs on CBC radio repeated again and again, I know petition signing was not enough. I should have organized a rally. Or at the very least, I should have held a placard and marched in protest against these cuts. I should have supported those who stretched out a hand over the controls daring anyone to try to switch them off.  Instead, I took the path I could fit into my busy life. And I lost something in doing so. Something I cherished.

In the photograph I saw the person I wanted to be and the person I actually was. I didn’t like that reflection or the story I discovered about myself.

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