Alexandria, VA – A Google search tells me that synonyms for serendipity include coincidence, synchronicity, and kismet.
This is a story about happy coincidences with a bit of backstory.
Backstory: My mom used to say that she could leave me playing in my crib while she took a quick run to the corner grocery store and find me still happily playing in the crib when she returned. She said I never cried. Many years later, my therapist said, “Of course you cried. You stopped crying when you learned that no one answered your cries.”
Now, still many years later, I think my mom was right. I like playing or working alone, which is why I loved working in my photography darkroom. I would spend hours, sometimes days, alone in the dark, developing film and making prints. In those days, Tisara Photography was sought after for its unique-at-the-time black and white photography. I would sometimes handprint entire wedding albums.
I listened to classical music in the dark and imagined myself as a musical instrument, a bow making music on my spine.
When photography went digital, I gave up my darkroom and took up the art of mosaics. Now I spend hours alone in my mosaic studio. And that is why I feel so fortunate for the serendipity to have responded (out of politeness) on two separate occasions to people who spoke to me when I was taking mosaic classes.
Both classes were given by retired archaeologist Gene Sterud. The first was at the Durant Center on Cameron Street, which happened to be where the Alexandria Harmonizers rehearsed. One day, during a break from rehearsing, one of the Harmonizers wandered into the room where I was working alone and asked what I was doing.
I explained, best as I could, and he went on to share that he whittled carousel horses. I was intrigued because I have long agreed with the saying that it is better to have reached for the brass ring and missed than never to have reached for it. He offered to send me a CD of carousel horses – and he did. I still have the CD but, alas, not the mailing envelope, which would remind me of his name.
Several of those horses turned into mosaics. Some have been juried into art shows, and several have been sold or, as we like to say, “adopted.” What a lesson about being open to strangers and the gifts they may bring.
Another time someone spoke to me while I was working alone was at the Art League’s Madison Street location. A woman asked where I lived and I told her the neighborhood. She asked what street and I told her. And then she asked the house number.
It turned out that her aunt (I think it was her aunt) was the original owner of the house where I now live. She said it was the family gathering place. I said it still is. Perhaps the thing I love most about my current home is how accommodating it is for gatherings.
Some months later, I answered a knock at my door. Several women had piled out of a limo. One of them, wearing a pink sweatshirt with “90” on the front, turned out to be the aunt who was the original owner. She lived in St.Louis, Missouri, but to celebrate her 90th birthday, her family had arranged a tour of all the places she had lived in Alexandria.
I was able to show them the wall in the utility closet where her family had recorded the heights of their children as they grew. Only some of the inscriptions were left — I had barely saved them from painters who had done some work for me. I’d thought it had archeological value, and it turned out that it did.
We both cried, she when she saw it, and I to see her crying.
Here’s to serendipity or synchronicity or kismet. May we be open to strangers and the gifts they may bring.
Artist-photographer Nina Tisara is the founder of Living Legends of Alexandria.