Considering the Paths We Walk

December 29, 2016

Under scorching sun, Lawrence Cassidy walks home after watering Donald Dustin's cows in this Herald photograph from the early 1990s. (Herald / Bob Eddy)

I searched my files this past week for a photograph to consider at year’s end. With this season’s white Christmas, I was determined to find something wintery.

Well, the image we consider here is anything but wintery! Despite my efforts to find something seasonal, this image forced its way onto the page; it would not be denied.

On the face of it, this photograph, taken during a severe summer drought 25 years ago, seems an unlikely choice.

None-the-less, here it is. And I’ve come to see it as a fitting image as we approach a new year.

A Neighbor’s Gift

The summer I took this photograph had been extremely dry. Streams and ponds were low; wells failed throughout the region.

Driving south toward Randolph on Route 12A, I saw old Lawrence Cassidy walking in the opposite direction, about to turn onto Riford Brook Road.

I’d photographed Mr. Cassidy before, gathering sap up on Braintree Hill for Grant Flint. He spoke almost not at all. Stoop-shouldered, at about 4’ 10”, he couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds. When I saw him he always wore faded green work clothes. His milky-white skin, lined with faint blue veins, seemed stretched over bone and joint with very little flesh.

I found him fascinating.

He was waiting to cross the road just at the train tracks as I approached in my car. I stopped to let him pass, and turned onto Riford Brook Road in the direction he was slowly headed.

I parked, climbed out, and asked if he needed a ride.

“No,” he replied, gesturing up the road, “I’m headed home right over here,” adding, “just coming back from watering Mr. Dustin’s cows.”

The drought had taken out the water source at Donald Dustin’s barn. To help out, Cassidy walked over twice a day to fill a watering trough with a hose connected to an artesian well at the farmhouse.

I explained that I’d like to take a photograph for The Herald and quickly grabbed a Nikon FM2 with a 24mm wide-angle lens.

This photograph was culled from perhaps a dozen frames taken as Mr. Cassidy crossed the train tracks on that dry dusty road under blazing sun.

I found the image compelling the day I printed it. Now, decades later, it’s even stronger.

On His Way

The Lawrence Cassidy I photographed here was an exceedingly old man. I was surprised to see him out on such a hot day. I was humbled to learn he was helping with chores at a neighbor’s farm.

The elements in this photograph are few. First, reading the image from the upper left quadrant, as we would a page of script, we see train tracks, thrusting out, away from us. The long view is accentuated by the unwavering straightness of the rails, converging in the distance, flanked by telephone poles, each dramatically smaller as our eye moves away, down the tracks.

Lawrence Cassidy is not on those tracks. He follows a different path; one less precise, almost as old as the hills sweeping across our view in the same direction he is slowly walking.

The tracks will take us to Randolph and even larger communities bustling with commerce, with cacophony of life. The road Mr. Cassidy is on is from another time, an ancient time.

Mr. Cassidy is about to step out of our view. His form takes on the darkened aspect of the deep shadow cast back across the page, doubled by the shadow of the warning lights and crossing sign for the train tracks he leaves behind.

Of what do the lights warn? What are we to make of the sign of crossing toward which this old man leans and determinedly walks?

A Time of Conclusion

This photograph was taken just a short time before Lawrence Cassidy’s death.

Here, then, is a portrait of a man offering himself, as fully as his energies and abilities will allow, as a gift to a neighbor needing help. In a time of drought, Mr. Cassidy picked himself up from a shadowed kitchen chair, or day bed, from interior spaces cooled by the steady hum of a fan. He rose, went out into the heat of that drought, and did what he could to help another.

None of us know the days numbered for us, whether we will disappear from view today or tomorrow, or in another season all together.

This portrait of Lawrence Cassidy begs the question: upon what road do we choose to walk?

It’s a question especially meaningful as we approach the end of a contentious political year. As we stand at the threshold of a new year, Lawrence Cassidy’s walk reminds us of another, quieter way.

I hope your year ahead will be filled with acts of compassion and service. Surely, whether we die soon or late, this is the joyful path. May we, like Lawrence Cassidy, rise and give ourselves to life.

Happy New Year!

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