I grew up in a family of eight, my mom, my dad, my five brothers, and me. When I was about 10 years-old, my dad, a sheet metal worker and as I mentioned previously, father of six, decided that he wanted to have a hobby. He’d quit duck hunting. Our impressively pedigreed German shorthaired pointer, Britt, had turned out to be rather limited in her pointing and retrieving skills. Well, actually, her problem was that she was not very specific. Instead of pointing a pheasant, she pointed at bees and slugs. Instead of retrieving ducks, she retrieved the neighbors’ (yes, plural) live chickens. Did I also mention that she didn’t follow commands very well? She quickly became our family pet and wonderful dog who lived until she was 15.

After some study, Dad decided that he wanted learn how to take and to develop photos. Given that he did not like black-and-white movies, it was not surprising when he announced that he would do color photography.

I spent many hours with my dad as he built his darkroom. I have vivid memories of helping by scraping the excess glue from the Formica counter tops that he placed over the cabinets that he built himself.

Film photography is developed in near dark. A dim “safe light” is used during film and photo development. For color photography, the safe light is particularly dim. After awhile, our eyes would adjust to the darkness and we could see enough to do the tasks at hand. Too much light and the photos would be lost, forever, in the case of developing the actual film. Too little light and we would have risked accidentally touching the film with our fingers or pouring chemicals all over the counter. Having just the right amount of light was critical.

My dad switched to digital photography many years ago. Digital photography is so easy when it comes to transferring the image to photographic paper or more frequently, to a computer screen. My dad’s illness has caused me to reflect on my childhood and the times I spent in the darkroom under the safe light.

An important aspect of keeping balance and peace is knowing how much light to put on different aspects of my experience. I don’t want to live a life of denial but I also don’t want to live under the harsh glare of international, national, and personal realities. And some light looks backward to the past, which cannot be changed or to the future, which has not yet been experienced.

A main message of mindfulness is to focus on the present. However, this is not an absolute. There is a degree to which reflection is helpful as is planning ahead. Light must be shined in those directions, as well. The suffering occurs when we get stuck or when we believe that the past absolutely defines the present or that the future can be absolutely predicted.

Light goes many directions. It is also important to consider how much we reveal to others about ourselves. Over the holidays, I have been gathering information about my dad’s health as well as my own. I have also provided some information to my 19 year-old daughter about the possible impact of my health problems on our financial future. (To make a long story short. She was home from college, acted like our money grows on trees, and she needed a dose of reality.)

I recently had some genetic testing done. I am still trying to comb through the results, but the testing uncovered some genetic markers for heart disease. I also had some fancy blood work done as well as health and fitness testing. I have a more nuanced view of my health. This has helped me refine my efforts to focus on what I can change to reduce my risk of a recurrence of heart attack. The recommendation to lose weight, that was a no-brainer. But I got estimates of my specific metabolic rate as well as how my body metabolizes fat and carbohydrates during exercise. I also learned that although my cardiovascular health is strong along a number of indices, when I get close to my maximum effort, I do not use as much oxygen as other women of my age. Actually, at that point, I am slightly better than the average 70-80 year-old. This is consistent with the difficulties I’ve had at high altitude over the last few years as well as the asthma I’ve long suspected that I have. It is high time to get that checked out. I have dramatically changed my diet and made slight revisions to my exercise plan.

The testing was expensive. My insurance ended up not covering the most expensive part of the assessment. The rest of it I knew up front that it would not be covered. I do feel like I have a better grasp on my potential reality. I don’t know how this picture is going to turn out but I think I got the light level just right.