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Life Lessons

A collection of life lessons from those who’ve earned the wisdom.

It’s been a hard year, 2010. Not just for me. I’ve watched unemployment and divorce and cancer and loss ripple through my circle of friends and family, one after the other. It’s not all bad. Nothing like adversity to bring a community together. I’ve also found solace in the words and stories below, from those who’ve been through enough ups and downs to know that they all share one thing: impermanence.

But that’s enough from me. Instead take heed from someone who’s had a few more trips around the sun — you’ve got lots of options. And if you’ve had a hard year too, I hope you find some comfort in their words.

Intro & Design Laura Brunow Miner

Published July 13, 2010

Secret Romance

Secret Romance

My mother, who is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, had always told us that her one and only true love was our father. But we recently learned of a secret love from her past while organizing her belongings. Lieutenant Walsh sent her letters, pictures, candy and a locket — until one day when the letters stopped.

She taught me many things in life, but I learned through this recent discovery that life has so many chapters, and we grow from each of them. I can hardly believe that the no-nonsense woman I knew so well was once a day-dreaming girl … pining for a soldier who never came home.

Photographer: Lorrie Callison Watson

I used to be a college instructor, but I’m now disabled with fibromyalgia. I now stay at home and raise children, write stuff, and take pictures.

Dear @Pictory:

If something won’t be significant to you 3 days/3 months/3 years from now, don’t waste your time worrying about it now.”

I Love Lucy

I Love Lucy

After my great-grandmother Lucille died, I received this desk and chair from her bedroom — two of my most precious possessions. She taught me so many things, some silly, some important:

  • Always paint your fingernails (first stripe in the center, then left, then right).
  • Whatever you are wearing, have definition around the waist.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Match by pattern, not by colour (she was colourblind).
  • It’s okay if nobody else understands.
  • Tend to your own garden.
  • There are more important things in life than whatever is bothering you today.

I keep her photo in my bedroom and see it every day when I wake up. I miss her, but I can’t be too sad. She told me one day, many years before she died, “I’ve already lived to be 90 years old — every day I am here beyond today is part of the bonus round.” Some of us go too soon, and some of us manage long enough to share the secrets of making it all the way.

Photographer: Lis Bokt

Lis is a photographer and scientist in Michigan.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On

My father taught me one important lesson: Whatever happens, stay calm.

Photographer: Johannes Siglär

I’m a software architect living in Vienna, Austria.

Dear @Pictory:

Learning that someone’s addiction will always be more important to them than I am.”

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

My grandma, Hazel, taught me a lot in the years my family lived with her:

  • When you have a fever, or any other sickness really, nothing feels better than a cool hand on your forehead.
  • Don’t hesitate to laugh at yourself and let others join in.
  • You have no idea how much you’ll miss someone until they’re gone.

I recently had a dream in which she spoke to me clear as day. I think she was teaching me that our loved ones are always close enough to comfort us.

Photographer: Meg Messina

Meg Messina is a photographer in the lovely city of San Francisco. She adores old cameras, French bread, funny people, and ordinary moments that feel particularly great.

Mom in Me

Mom in Me

I used to think that my mother’s warmth and openness made her naive and caused her to be used by other people. And like many daughters, I resisted adopting any characteristics that were reminiscent of my mother. It was only after her death that I realized she had actually discovered the key to living. I found great comfort as I began to love the physical and emotional traits I shared with my mother. And once I began to adopt her kind and welcoming attitude, I realized she had shown me how to get through the hardest challenges in life. The truth is, the world is a bigger, more magical place with an open heart.

Photographer: Erin Reidy

Erin brings a playful curiosity and joy to each day, whether behind the camera, imagining sofas as oceans and wallpaper as knives, or while entertaining her friends with whimsical, personalized poems. She currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia with her cat, Coltrane, who thinks he’s a dog.



My grandfather taught me how to roll with the punches and never give up, even until the last breath. I learned this from an early age, when he’d get a good belly laugh by smothering me with a large bean bag until I would gasp for breath, my spindly arms and legs waving about like the tentacles of a confused octopus. He had a good sense of humor and an even greater heart, but over time his physical condition couldn’t keep up with his spiritual integrity, and we lost him.

Until the next time we talk, Grandpa.

Photographer: Scot Hampton
Dear @Pictory:

Don’t eat yellow snow.”

Man of Action

Man of Action

That’s lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut,” Lary often says. In the past two years, I have accompanied him to numerous countries around the globe, filming and photographing his adventures. We have become friends and fellow adventurers, and while on safari, he is my adopted Bush Father. I’ve watched him pave his way to success with a recipe of honesty, integrity, hard work — and charm bigger than Texas itself. Among the countless sayings he’s passed on to me; “Good intentions have the same look as nothing,” and “I can’t hear you because your actions speak so loudly.” I have done my best to follow this credo of talking less and doing more. I can only hope that it brings me one iota of the success of my friend and mentor Lary.

Photographer: Tyler Sharp

Tyler Sharp is a photographer, writer, and videographer who lives in Dallas, Texas. He attempted to remain productive during the World Cup, but failed.

Dear @Pictory:

Never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city. Never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body.”

Settled In

Settled In

My great aunt and uncle never had children, and treat me more like a grandchild than a grand nephew. They’re retired now, and spend their days in North Alabama enjoying their lake and crossword puzzles. When I got married, they advised to never get too comfortable anywhere and travel the world whenever you can, something they had always wanted to do but never got around to. Now, because of their health, they can’t travel long distances. I’ll always remember that advice to keep exploring, because you never know where life will take you.

Photographer: Matt Pensworth

Matt Pensworth is a Southeastern born and bred web developer and photographer currently living in Portland, Oregon. He is a film advocate who thinks film photography is alive and well.

Pursuit of Happiness

Pursuit of Happiness

Shortly after I graduated from college, my grandfather and I were on a walk and I was complaining about a girl who had moved away to San Francisco. He stopped, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Well then what the hell are you doing in Portland? Get down there.” He uprooted his life in Wisconsin to be part of ours in Oregon, and even though he wanted nothing more than to be close to all of us, he reminded me that the right people are worth following. This photo was taken a few minutes before I married that California girl.

Photographer: Sean Madden

When not at work helping put the pieces together, I mostly hang with my awesome dog Porter and much awesomer wife Jasmyn.

Keeping the Faith

Keeping the Faith

My grandmother always tells me the same story about her marriage’s inauspicious beginnings. She didn’t even like my grandfather, but he was madly in love with her. She turned down his proposal and he looked her straight in the eye and said: “If you don’t marry me, I’ll kill myself!” She believed his heated words, and they married. Of all the things she taught me, this is the most precious: Sometimes you need to believe — in other people and in life.

Photographer: Rachele Maggiolini

Rachele is a 27-year-old translator and journalist living in Italy but constantly dreaming about New Zealand.

Career Counselor

Career Counselor

My Gran is a wise woman who spent her life working in many jobs — but something she said when I was only nine or ten always stuck with me: If you are going to work for the rest of your life, make sure it’s something you enjoy doing. Luckily for me I’m now following her advice by taking pictures.

Photographer: Paul Bence

I am a professional photographer specializing in events and portraiture who (as I hope is obvious) loves what he does. Originally from South Wales, I now live in Earlsfield in South West London with my wife and a cockapoo called Leonard.

Dear @Pictory:

My grandfather Frank Ewbank told me to draw a circle or a line in my sketch book everyday … I found out it was a great lesson.”



My grandmother was born in Vienna and forced out by the arrival of the Nazis when she was 15. She has downplayed the psychological impact of these events, but I know they shaped her. She’s shown us that even from the worst possible depths of human behavior, good can arise. Her positivity and enthusiasm are contagious.

Photographer: Sam Bloomberg-Rissman

I’m a photographer located in Los Angeles. I like people.



For more than sixty years, Art Wall has cottaged on Maple Lake in Haliburton, Ontario, Canada. This elder of the lake spent a lifetime as a Navy officer, teacher, father, grandfather, and a good friend to so many. Long before environmentalism was trendy, he taught all who swam, paddled, or skated on the lake that it is a privilege, not a right, to enjoy the earth’s water.

Photographer: Terry Rice

Terry Rice is an associate director of creative services at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada.



She refused to be called grandma, and insisted on being called Patito. She was an artist, psychologist, and adventurer. Patito dyed my hair blue when I was six teaching me right then and there that everything is temporary. There was always something mystical about her: even her departure was magic, like a flawless disappearing act.

Photographer: Michelle Lesser

I am a student in Austin.

Baptised in Darwin's Bathwater

Baptised in Darwin’s Bathwater

Stuart lives in his late parents’ house on the outskirts of town. Alone and somewhat isolated from the world around him, Stuart has taught me one lesson above all: to love the small, precious moments with those close to you. It’s the one element of life that can never be regretted. For him, the warmth of remembering sustains the coldness of present days.

Stuart has watched as so many loved ones have returned to the earth, and yet maintains an air of gentle understanding about the rhythm and pattern and tempo of mortality. “I was baptised in Darwin’s bathwater” he told me as we discussed the afterlife and his resolve about the natural cycle of life’s twists and turns. “Love is the eternal where we are not so in the physical.”

Photographer: Jim Mortram

Jim is an award-winning photographer living in East Anglia, UK.

Dear @Pictory:

Slow down long enough to notice the people around you.”

The Beauty of Darris

The Beauty of Darris

Three years ago, Mrs. Darris and I met through ElderServe, a program at Ouachita Baptist University. She was quick to love me. I took a bit longer. I watched as she cared for her husband with dementia, and also as she showed her affection for me. She taught me that loving someone takes many forms, and means more than you can ever know. After goodbyes were traded, she would say, “I sure hope my love doesn’t push you away,” and my response was always, “I don’t think it ever could.”

Photographer: Emilee Wade

I am a first grade teacher and photographer from Gilmer, Texas.


After goodbyes were traded, she would say, “I sure hope my love doesn’t push you away,” and my response was always, “I don’t think it ever could.”

—Emilee Wade, above


My grandmother is true class: strong and uncompromising, yet kind-hearted. She lost my granddad a few years ago. Watching her grieve has illuminated that you have to actively live life and build community around you after a loss, because there’s no other way but forward.

Photographer: Grant Blakeman

I’m a designer and web developer living in Boulder, Colorado. And I don’t take enough photographs.

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