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A long time ago I worked in an art class for the elderly at a nursing home in San Francisco (I was nobody important, I just cleaned brushes and made sure there were clear tables for the paintings to dry on). At the time, I didn't really enjoy it. I remember feeling deeply uncomfortable surrounded by so many people who were very clearly nearing their end, while I was bouncing around the room with ease. I didn't like being around people who were noticeably different from me in a way that neither of us could ignore. It made me anxious to address their realities, and in effect, our dissimilarities. One day, for reasons I can't remember, I got the nerve to bring my camera in and shoot some of the people I'd been working with but hadn't gotten to know at all. I talked to this man while his shaky hand painted the scene that everyone who doesn't know what else to paint does—a grassy field with flowers on a sunny day. At one point in our conversation he said to me, "If you want to be good, you've got to make sure you were nice to people."

I look at these pictures sometimes and try to remember that. It's easy to be made uncomfortable by what we don't understand about each other...but if you want to be good, you've got to make sure you were nice to people.

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