Before I was born, my parents had three children, Grant, Clay, and their little girl, Paige. My mother and father knew they would observe my two brothers, Grant and Clay, relish the pleasures in their healthy lives of throwing footballs and baseballs, going to college, developing successful careers, and finally getting married. They also knew that my sister, Paige, would only be able to find pleasure in watching her favorite television show Sesame Street, putting stickers on her yellow bowl, and resting her throbbing head. She was not born as fortunate as my brothers, she was born ill.
Paige was born with a brain tumor that covered a third of her brain. In her brief three year life, she experienced more excruciating pain and suffering than many adults will experience in the course of their entire lives. While my brothers crawled around the house carrying toys and stains on their clothes from the outdoors, she could only carry her yellow bowl, a bowl she needed to vomit in. With each passing day, Grant and Clay grew stronger and began the stages of walking while Paige grew weaker and lost her ability to crawl. My parents knew that the closing of her life was a few weeks to a few days away. On September 24, 1987, my parents could see that this day would be Paige’s last. So, they turned on a recorded program of Sesame Street and Paige passed with the Cookie Monster and Big Bird by her side.
My parents endured an overwhelming amount of grief with the loss of their child. However, four years later, some of my parent’s emptiness would be filled by a healthy and spirited daughter: me, Shelby Paige Dietze. I never met Paige I only have a few photo albums filled with pictures of her to learn from. Though I never met Paige and have only seen pictures of her, the strong bond I feel to her is more real than the keyboard at my fingers or the chair I sit on. She will always be part of my family. She’s here when I feel completely alone surrounded by so many brothers and she’s here when I experience the deepest or most insignificant of pleasures in my life.
I believe in photography. I cannot hear her voice, or hold her in my lap but I can look at a photograph of her toothlessly grin as she sits in a rocking chair wearing a frilly dress. I can also see her toothless grin as sweet watermelon juice runs down her chubby cheeks and arms. I can ultimately see that she experienced pleasure. Knowing that there were moments of joy in her life of medicine, doctors, and suffering is enough for me to feel contented.
There is no limit or definition to pleasure. It can be big or small, strange or funny. Paige found it in stickers and cheerful Sesame Street characters and I find it in photography. We can experience pleasure even when life events interfere with humanity’s best laid plans; Paige has shown me that.