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Monday, January 4, 2010

You Get the Picture

Allen rarely holds strong opinions that differ from mine so when he does, I pay attention. The first time this proved to be a wise strategy was related to the decision of where to send Henry to school. I favored sending him to my alma mater, Washington, DC’s prestigious (to the extent that a nursery school can be such a thing) National Child Research Center where 30 years earlier I stapled my brother Andrew’s thumb and met my first best friend Katie Hawke. Allen wanted Henry (and eventually Jack and Joe) to go to a Jewish preschool because, well, we’re Jewish, and also to give them sufficient instruction in Judaism to increase the probability that they would be mensches. We enrolled them in the Gan Hayeled Nursery School at our synagogue where each played with blocks, made beautiful art work and friends for life, and took a few sizable steps down the road to mensch-hood.

Allen was sure that Norman Jean Roy, a prominent, award-winning portrait photographer (think U2, Cate Blanchett, Katherine Heigl, Isla Fisher) would agree to take my Saving Henry publicity photos. We had met Norman and his beautiful inside-and-out girlfriend (now wife) Joanna in June 2001. They had traveled by car for about five hours from their home in New York City to Bethany Beach, DE where Henry, Jack, Allen and I were enjoying a day on the beach. Norman’s assignment was to take a photograph of Henry for a New York Times magazine cover story that Lisa Belkin had written about ours and the Nash families’ race against time to save our children. Norman’s photographs poignantly capture Henry’s incredible strength and indomitable spirit and the havoc that Fanconi anemia had wreaked on his body. Something magical happened on the beach that day. Norman and Joanna ended up getting engaged and then married. We got one of the last and only pictures of our family of five (Joe was five months in utero and I was most certainly showing). We formed a lasting bond unaffected by geographic distance or frequency of communication.

After Henry died, Norman sent us all the contact sheets from that day on the beach with a note instructing us to pick any and all that we liked. The photographs are displayed throughout our house.

When Hyperion bought the rights to Saving Henry, Allen felt strongly that Norman should and would take the publicity photos. I thought that Allen could take the picture. I did not think it would be as beautiful as the piece of work that Norman could create.

Norman is in demand. His breathtaking work is featured on the pages of Vogue, Vanity Fair and other top magazines. His photography book TRAFFIK, portraying Somaly Mam and other survivors of Cambodia’s sex trade, is stunning. So when Allen wrote to Norman this fall asking him if he would be willing to take my photograph, I thought Norman would simply be too busy to do it. I was wrong.

On October 30, 2009, Allen and I flew to Los Angeles, rented a car and drove to Norman’s studio on Sunset Boulevard. We spent hours with Norman and Joanna talking and remembering. They shared their heartbreak over the despicable human sex trade and their inspiring work with Somaly Mam to bring attention, and hopefully an end, to it. Allen and I shared a copy of Saving Henry. I let Norman see the depths of my joy and heartbreak which not surprisingly he captured beautifully in the photos.

Publicity PhotoPublicity Photo 2Publicity Photo 3

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Lost Words

You’ve heard of the Lost Tapes, the Lost Files, the Lost Songs. Cutting room floors are cluttered with all sorts of lost things. Here is a little story I wrote for Saving Henry that didn’t make it into the final book, but I think is worth sharing nevertheless.

Traditionally, my parents host a family Hanukah celebration for me and Allen, my siblings and their spouses, and all the grandchildren. In the winter of 1999, the grandchildren numbered seven, the oldest was six and the youngest two were one year-old. Henry was four at the time.

Together we celebrated the lighting of the family’s collection of menorahs, followed by a delicious homemade dinner by my mom, and an exchange of gifts.  It’s always noisy, festive, and a little more out of control than usual given the presence of a big pile of Hanukah gifts.

It was one of the few times during that particular year when the thoroughly festive atmosphere created by the three generations present, overtook the continuous heartache associated with Henry’s future.  He appeared perfectly normal next to his cousins and was a full participant in the wondrous chaos.

When the time came for distributing the Hanukah gifts to all the grandkids, there was great excitement.  Despite all the noise, chatter, and positioning before the pile of gifts, my dad became mesmerized by Henry’s totally wide-eyed smile, as he stood back a bit leaving room for his younger cousins to push closer to the gifts.  Henry knew that his time would come. My dad decided that Henry needed a little reward for such sensitivity and patience.

Without notice, he took Henry by the hand and led him to an empty room.  He taught Henry to spell P-A-P-A S-Y, his name to all the grandkids.  Henry was asked to spell it three times and he did so perfectly each time.  My dad then led Henry back to the pack of cousins. Nobody had noticed their absence.  As Nana Pat was about to distribute the gifts, a tradition, Papa Sy asked her to wait a moment. My dad then declared that whoever could spell his name would be the first to open his presents.  Before any of the kids had an opportunity to say anything, Henry—carrying a smile as bright as the Hanukah candles—immediately raised his hand, stepped to the front of the crowd, and slowly and carefully spelled P-A-P-A S-Y.  I will never, ever, forget the astonished look on everyone’s face, including Henry’s, as he received a thunderous applause.

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