AMBER SEXTON New York City 917-207-2375

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Love is not a victory march

image by Amber Sexton

I’ve been trying to write about and also process something profoundly sad which has happened in my family. My cousin Israel Hersh has six children with his wife Lareina (known as Lori but I don’t know how she spells that), and three of them were killed in a terrible car accident. His children Julianna, Jeremiah and Jessa died, his son Joseph survived the accident with barely a scratch. I’m told Joseph kept his brother alive for two hours waiting for help to arrive, for that, as my own brother said, he is a hero.

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I’ve had differences with my cousin, we’ve gone through periods of facebook chatting a lot, to recent estrangement. Since early childhood though, we’ve not spent a lot of physical time together. His parents moved their family far away at a certain point and they mostly broke off contact with us in the 80’s and 90’s. I won’t go into the background of all that because it’s not particularly relevant to say here. It’s just shorthand to explain barriers to us being a close extended family for much of our lives, even though we are first cousins. I did reconnect with my cousin in his teens during a difficult time, and since then we had been in sporadic touch until a recent year when I just became angry with the social media arguments we had been having and I cut him off. I rebuffed his few attempts to reconnect.

My cousin is a few years younger than me but has built a large family of six children with his wife, and I have remained single with cats and no offspring. We don’t have the same spiritual or religious leanings and our politics are diametrically opposed, so there are cultural as well as physical distances between us and I guess we are not very alike. When something of this magnitude happens you realize how thin those differences can be, the truest part is that you are family. Anything that he had said in the past to irritate me dissolved in the face of this, I felt how petty the reasons I had to be estranged from him were. I felt a little small when I got the number from my dad and called him, because I wasn’t feeling too proud of myself. The first thing he said to me when we spoke was “I love you Amber.” That was just heartbreaking.

This type of loss has to be more than anyone is likely to bear in a lifetime, and just in a single day to lose that much has to be the limit of human endurance. I listened to him tell me of how much he loved his children and how painful it was. And he relayed their last day together as a family was Julianna’s birthday, just the day before. They had all been together making music, being a loving family together, and how he had almost missed being there that last day. Because he had been scheduled to do out of town work, but he turned his car around and drove back for her birthday, which they had been going to postpone celebrating till the following weekend. My cousin Israel is such a loving father, that really comes through, how much he deeply loved and loves all his children, he and his wife have no regrets of love not given. I am proud of them for that, its a beautiful achievement and really one of the best things you can do with your life.

My dad flew out, and my brother Brendan drove in the very first weekend after the tragedy. Israel’s younger brother Shules dropped everything and went there and stayed for the duration, he is just in every sense a mensch. I flew in for the service later, and my brother met me at the Phoenix airport and drove us to Chino Valley.  I felt very inadequate but just my instinct was just to show how sorry I was and give my love as best as I can. My cousin Shules was a such a solid brother to Israel, not only writing and giving a portion of the eulogy but being a logistical rock, including other family relationships more fraught with drama. He’s really a great guy, he’s trying to get us all to be closer and do things together in the future. To stop having a weddings and funerals sort of relationship.

The service was very touching, full of love and music. Israel delivered an extended and poignant eulogy for each child, and the siblings wrote and read letters written by themselves and Lori. It was a very devoutly Christian service, as the Hersh family is extremely committed to their faith and spend a lot of time in their church. A local celebrity Drew came and sang a song, If I Die Young, that just brought me to tears and it was ringing in my ears for days. I looked it up after, and it is a popular song, but the original version is not performed as sad as it was that day.

Here is the video which was shown at the funeral, which I only had the courage to watch again just prior to starting to write this post. Jeremiah is singing the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” at the very beginning. Heartrending for sure.

I felt so lacking because I’d never met any of Israel’s children, that is something I will always regret. Julianna had come to NYC as a teen which Israel was frantically worried about and asked me a million questions. I had wanted to meet her and her friends, but I think she wanted to strike out on her own and not have family eyes on her and so she never got in touch when she was in my town. I’m sorry that I didn’t know her, or any of my littler cousins, and I had to introduce myself to all the remaining Hersh kids at the service.

I hope the memorial helped the family, it was beautiful and full of love. When my mom died, I know that her service helped me. I think of it often and it still heals me to remember what love and regard people had for her. I hope the same for the Hershes. Perhaps the worst suffering is unanswered suffering. It was gratifying to see a huge turnout from their community in their church and town, their pain was seen and heard and felt by all around them and was witnessed. The town of Prescott/Chino Valley, which experienced the loss of those 19 firefighters in that terrible wildfire, arranged for the Hershes to bury Julianna, Jeremiah and Jessa in plots right next to them. The rawest part for me was at the cemetery. There was a lot more silence there, and it’s a larger hole needed for three coffins than you are used to seeing at a funeral. I hope I’m never at a triple funeral again, and that no one else ever is either. A cemetery in the desert is different than what I’d experienced before. In the east these are very manicured, with miles of headstones, and it feels like a controlled environment, well landscaped and softened by human design. I’ve even visited a famous cemetery in Los Angeles to see the sights, as a tourist. This was a very different cemetery, it was either new, or this was an unused part of it, the earth was raw there wasn’t grass or manicured bushes and flowers because this is the desert of Arizona. There were no headstones, there were iron wreaths as grave markers and benches for the firefighters, but the rest of it was the scrub vegetation, and the bare honest soil. We all threw handfuls of dirt and before the last bit of service there was a great deal of silence, I was sitting behind the Israel and Lori and the kids. That was the rawest bit for me, it was the most profound reality. What a terrible silence it is to lose your children or your siblings, how empty that space is that they occupied in life.

My cousin and his family are deeply devoted believers in Jesus and in heaven, so they trust that they will see their beloved family members again. Amen.


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About the photo above. I brought my Rollei because I think I needed some kind of crutch to distract me or feel like I had an outlet when I couldn’t figure out how to help. I took this picture from the parking lot of the church. I don’t know why I did it, or if it was a good idea, or if it was selfish and about me. I certainly knew I wasn’t going to take any pictures of the bereaved or of the service. I just seem to take phone pictures regardless of how I’m feeling, and using the film camera felt less flippant and more serious than that (though I took pictures with my phone too.) People also notice a vintage camera so it’s something you can talk about when you feel awkward.

Julianna was a musician, and played many open mikes and was a gifted songwriter. An album will come out next year which includes some material she recorded and tributes from other musicians. When they looked on her computer they found a brand new song she had written and made a video of on it. Apparently her guitar playing didn’t come through, so one of her friends watched her fingering and figured out the chords and added the guitar later. The drum she received for her birthday right before she died, so the friend added that too.

Here is that incredibly haunting and beautiful video

Jessa did a lot of equestrian school with her older sister Jazmyn with her pony that Santa Claus got her. I took a picture of it while her brother Jacoby told me about all the family’s horses. Here is a picture of her pony. It is red-headed like her. I think the family is going to give it to another little girl who will enjoy it.

image by Amber Sexton

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I think everything that I wrote here is factually accurate, but if anything is wrong I will update and annotate this post.

Posted by Amber Sexton on 11/23 at 04:46 PM
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rollei film backlog, a gray day at the beach

image by Amber Sexton

This will be a brief post. Maybe these photos aren’t good enough for a post, but they are here and I’m charmed to remember my niece at this age.


image by Amber Sexton

My sister is still exactly the same as this. I love her.

image by Amber Sexton

Except now she’s a doctor, pretty badass. She’s laughing here, she’s actually the funniest person I know, by an order of magnitude.

image by Amber Sexton

She probably won’t like these pictures that much. But she’s beautiful, and also just a great person.

image by Amber Sexton

Posted by Amber Sexton on 11/20 at 11:47 PM
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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rollei film backlog..truly the last of film from Venice

image by Amber Sexton

So the last batch of five rolls I sent in had what are truly my last rolls from Italy, and one random one which turned out to be beach and family pictures. And in a twist I actually ran a new roll of film through the camera. It reminded me that it does need work on speeds and possibly the focusing magnifier needs to be aligned. Also it’s harder to use now that I require reading glasses. Anyway I’m breaking up the posts of these bits of film because it is hard to connect it all. I think this picture above is one of the nicer ones I did of San Marco, though it’s a drab day.

Hello and goodbye Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice.

image by Amber Sexton
Picasso glass sculptures

image by Amber Sexton
Calder wire sculpture

image by Amber Sexton
Calder piece outside, with guy unwittingly mimicking it.


image by Amber Sexton
The “tail” of the sculpture


image by Amber Sexton
Pretty sure this is the boat dock of the museum.


All this sort of qualifies as a drab day for nice scenery. I think this is from the sole gondola ride I took.
image by Amber Sexton

A nice bridge, I forget which one.
image by Amber Sexton


Where the fancy people stay when they are in Venice
image by Amber Sexton


San Simeone Piccolo which you are constantly passing in Venice.
image by Amber Sexton


Goodbye Italy, I would come see you again any time I could
image by Amber Sexton

The rest of the film is completely unsorted in my drawer. So I actually have little idea what is there, my guesses are Coney Island, New Orleans, family beach pics, and random Brooklyn things.

Posted by Amber Sexton on 11/17 at 08:57 PM
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Rollei film backlog, family and friends

image by Amber Sexton

This time there were quite a lot of pictures from the beach house that my dad and his wife rent each year. And there were many naked pictures of my twin sisters, only one of which I can show here in a public web page. This film is perhaps not the oldest I have, the girls are nine now and perhaps they are two or three here. I made many versions of this frame, and I like some of the color ones, but so far this is the only image I have really preferred with a black and white, slightly toned treatment.

I shall swallow my pride and show a decidedly unglamorous shot of myself and my niece at an adorable age. She’s a gorgeously tall teenager now. 
image by Amber Sexton

And here she is on her own being super cute.
image by Amber Sexton

My biggest little sister, with my littlest little sister.
image by Amber Sexton

Some pictures of the same view I seem to take each year, headed down to the beach.
image by Amber Sexton

This one I really like
image by Amber Sexton

I had got in one roll from Venice, that I was really bored by the images on, and also a roll of old Mermaid parade pictures that I felt the same about. But here’s a couple frames from a friends old apartment. I used to babysit their birds and cat on weekends. This first one, I’m not sure what I was attempting but I sort of like it.
image by Amber Sexton

And here are said birds. The guy in the foreground is Peepster, one of the most interesting creatures I’ve ever met and certainly the bird with the most personality I have ever known personally. A mourning dove who was pushed out of the nest and rescued by my friend Joanna Belby. The bird in the background is his companion Emma who is a domestic ringed neck dove. Anyway, both creatures have sadly shed their mortal coil but I have fond memories of each.
image by Amber Sexton

I’m facing a situation where I have an amount of backlog left, where if I keep sending the same number of rolls each payday, I will not finish by the end of the year. This had been a new years resolution, but while I wasn’t working I had to pause, and it took a while to bounce back. I could send double the amount and be done by the end of the year, I’m thinking that over. My rollei related resolution for next year is to get some repair work done on the camera. I’m pretty sure the shutter speeds need help.

Posted by Amber Sexton on 11/10 at 05:31 PM
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