Redefining Normal: A Must See

Let hope arise.  Let hope arise.  Generally, when I sing this song, I'm thinking of the hope and constant anchor I've found in the Lord.  But often, when I listen to this song I find my mind wandering to the project of a dear friend's.  Redefining normal. I met Paige in college.  If I remember correctly, the first time I met her I heard her, but never actually saw her.  I was trying to grab a bit of rest on the red couch in the photo lab and this girl was talking incessantly and so loud about a party she'd been to and how she was going to be OK doing photo and parties because she had leukemia one time.  What?  What the heck?  I was so disgruntled with her interference in my pre-class nap, but I was more consumed by the manner in which she threw out the word leukemia.  I decided that there was no way she actually had cancer.  Not in our photo lab.  Not in college.  Not with her all-over-the-place nature did she beat cancer, and still prioritize parties over class.  Cancer kills.  There's no way she had it and is here in our photo lab to talk about it so carelessly.

Ya see, if we've met, you know work always rules over fun in my life.  (I'm getting better, but I'm not healed of this work disease just yet.)  Serious often wins out over warm and alive, despite the tone my insides really take.  In my feeble mind, if you beat something that is meant to kill you, your life was meant for much more and it's time to hop to it.  God's got a plan and you're in it.  Well, duh.  God's got a plan for all of us and the way he's moving in Paige's life always blows me away.  If you ever have the opportunity to meet my dear friend, Paige, you, too will hear her first, then see her and feel the warmth and energy of her spirit.  She's magnetic.  Her laughter is infectious and everything she does is big and loud and bold.

For a few years now Paige and I have grown together.  Through hours of editing, arguing, McDonalds chats, coffee discussions, the sharing of hard questions and the growth of challenges.  She moved home from WKU to buy a car.  I thought that was dumb.  Girl's gotta bike - she'll be OK.  I came to know that leukemia was real in her life.  And that when we had met she had been in remission for about 3 or 4 years.  Make that nearly 8 now.  Praise God.  She moved out of her home.  We ate hash browns and pancakes.  She quit school and worked.  We shared coffee.  She started a project.  More coffee.  Piddled in it.  Long, argumentative emails.  Started school.  Coffee, again.  Went back to volunteer at the hospital.  More emails and chatty car rides to church.

If there's one thing I have come to learn about Paige, it's that she will always teach me more about being a fighter than my fighting nature ever could.  When she starts something, it will be finished.  If it takes a few years to process the pain of returning to the hospital where she was so sick before she can crank out a beautiful work of imagery, then she will.  If it's just gonna take a month of working and thinking, she needs it.  If she needs to draw near to other folks who understand the real pain of cancer, she's doing it for a reason.  If it's gonna take long phone calls on my drives home, she needs it.  But she never takes more than she needs and she never fails to return my effort with immeasurably more.

For a couple years, Paige has been spent on behalf of children with cancer.  She has grown to love them.  She has lost her friends to their early graves.  She kept shooting.  She kept making portraits and processing her cancer experience through theirs.  She kept letting a plethora of people pour into her life and love on her.  She kept allowing change in her life.  Phew.  Ya know I hate change.  And late last year I got to sit in the gallery she's worked and worked and worked on.  Accompanied by my dear friends, I read the words she had written, paired with words the families had written about her and the passion she has to share and educate.  My goodness.  Love.

Once again, I had the pleasure of sitting in a room adorned by painful, yet beautiful images and so many people who made both Paige's life and these children's lives possible this past week.  Work that I have seen more months, over and over again - yet each time, it scrapes into the surface of my heart just a bit more and just a bit differently.  She told the story that quakes my soul of her family's discovery and endurance through acute myeloid leukemia.  How her father cared for his teenage daughter, despite so many differences, despite the constant sacrifice.  I watched as her doctor shared his feelings on pediatric cancer.  Watched his eyes light up as he told of the children who are now having children and grandchildren of their own because modern medicine saved them with the help of his commitment to their lives.  He talked about the resiliency of children.  He spoke on the incessant joy so many of these kids share through their continual and often excruciating pain.  Incessant joy.  Paige hasn't had the easiest of lives, but she is one of the strongest, most resilient, joyful people I know.

I encourage you to make time in your plans to stop by the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft to view Paige's gallery before it comes down this Sunday to travel.  I hope you, too, would thank the museum for the wonderful opportunity they have extended to both Paige and the hospital.  Can't quite fit a visit in?  If you live in Shelbyville or nearby, her exhibit will be on display at Tres Chic, an upscale cocktail party held at Claudia Sanders Dinner House on February 4th.  All proceeds raised at the event this year will fund both the Shelby County Community Fund as well as the end-of-chemo parties the children at Kosair partake in.  Each time Paige tells me about her own celebration I'm reminded of the generosity and faithfulness of the staff at Kosair Children's Hospital.  Of the sweetness and joy that must radiate in a room full of folks celebrating the end of debilitating and painful childhood cancer.

Let hope arise that young, Miss Greene, who kicked cancer in the face, will educate, encourage and love people through her beautiful work, Redefining Normal.  Proud of you, my friend.  But you already know this.  Work like this is why we create imagery.  To open minds.  To compel hearts.  To empower and enlighten.

"It saved my life, made me believe I could do anything I wanted to.  Made me care about my future and then made me not worry about the future because I have ultimately no control.  And made me appreciate being alive." - Paige Green on having leukemia as an adolescent