in memoriam

a year ago today, i was driving with my family from maryland to raleigh to photograph a wedding. i'd had one the night before, as well, and we hit traffic on the way and i barely made it in time. but i was coming home - to the muslim community i grew up in - as i have many times now to photograph the weddings of some of the younger raleigh generation, the kid brothers and sisters of the ones i knew when i lived here.
so i was happy, and comfortable, and excited to get started. i didn't know the two of them personally, though i'd known the groom's family for years, and i'd met him at his sister's wedding in 2011. but i met his bride for the first time when she came into his hotel room for their first look photos. she was breathtaking in her grace and youthful beauty - yusor had just turned 21 the day before - and when he saw her, deah put his hands to his mouth, over the happy grin he couldn't hide. he hugged her close, then held her by the hand at a distance, to see her dress; she wiped tears from her eyes, smiling all the while.
when you're photographing a wedding, you learn to watch for what draws your eye, so you can anticipate moments - sometimes it's the way she turns her head over her shoulder, or the way the light hits their profiles, or the way he looks at his mother. every wedding, every couple, is different, so you're always watching for what you should focus on. and what i noticed that night was a cataract of moments of love, centering on deah's overflowing affection for his loved ones. i saw how he kissed his mother while they stood for a simple formal portrait together - how he looked at her first with a smile, then kissed her forehead. i saw the love swirling between him and yusor during their first look; i asked them to pose for a "fashion-mag" style portrait - no smiling, look fierce! - and they collapsed in laughter together after only a moment, deah turning toward her. i saw deah fist-bump a friend as he walked arm-in-arm with yusor past cheering guests to make their grand entrance. so i watched for more of it - when i followed deah and yusor around the room as they greeted their guests, i took photos as deah grabbed a guest's head from behind and kissed his cheek, bursting with laughter, and pulled another into a bear hug, and posed for a grinning selfie with another. i saw the tenderness with which he led yusor by the hand back from the dance floor to the stage, or wrapped an arm around her waist as she stood on the stage above him, to whisper in her ear; i saw the steady, heart-on-sleeve gaze he gave his sister when she wept during her speech. and i noticed where it came from, when i saw deah's father feeding him by hand, or standing behind the couple seated on the stage, and leaning down to kiss first his son's cheek, then grinning at his new daughter-in-law before kissing her cheek as well. i saw deah's parents dancing with each other, in joyous celebration, and his father hugging his sister close as the evening wound down; i saw yusor looking straight into deah's eyes while he slid the ring onto her finger; i saw yusor's mother's loving smile as she danced with both her daughters; i saw the adoring looks of yusor's young cousins watching her, and i saw how she danced with them, hugged them, posed for photos with them, returning their adoration full force.
i like the speeches i hear at my weddings, because it gives me a chance to learn a little more about the couple, to learn why they're loved. i hear childhood stories, and - i'm this old, now - i imagine my own son's wedding, imagine him as a young man with a past full of love and laughter, and a future full of promise. that night, i learned a little about deah's and yusor's childhoods of love and laughter, and the bright path that lay ahead of them together, one in which they were planning on lighting the path for others as well, and i remember hoping that i could make it to this point with my kids - to see them succeed in the ways that count most, in heart and spirit; that i could raise that kind of family.
that hope hasn't changed at all... in fact, it's more urgent than ever. a year ago tonight, i saw two families who lived and thrived in love, not only for each other, but for the communities and people they served with their lives. i don't ever want to forget the lessons i learned, not from the murders of deah, yusor and razan, or the unmitigated hate that killed them, but from the lives of love they led and the promise of light they carried, which i began to learn on the day of their wedding. to love those whom God has given you to love, with all your heart; to give out of what He has provided you for the betterment of the world - what better weapon against hate, than one that makes it irrelevant? darkness is not equal to light.
support project lighthouse, in their names - please click to see how you can help further their true legacy. and please keep their families in your prayers.