A friend of mine had a baby last week and I just met her on Monday. Eliza, as she is known familiarly, is lovely. While holding her I felt this strange sense that it was both a completely surreal event (I felt her kick in friend’s stomach only recently) and completely normal (we talked and laughed while she slept in the nook of my arm). I guess that is a pretty real reminder that while things often seem extraordinary and insurmountable, at some point life goes on. We slide into the groove and adjust. Eliza has changed lives (mine simply peripherally) but the world keeps turning. And someday it will seem normal or ordinary. The newness will fade. The overwhelm will dissipate and it will seem impossible to imagine life as anything but how it is now.
I think maybe that is way I am such a fan of photographs. Because they hold that moment, that event, and keep it safe. They retain the initial joy without suffering the inevitable, exponential lessening over time. And every time I look at a picture, I am transported. I was going to mention journal entries or letters or videos but they aren’t the same. You cannot help but infuse the sentiment or mood of feeling of you now into them. But a picture, there’s something inescapable about that frozen image. Something you cannot wreck or dilute.
I have two kinds of favorite photographs. First would be the massive group of pictures that capture moments in my life. Some are taken by me and some are taken of me. They are treasured because no matter how wonderfully I might tell a story or how sharp and vivid my memory continues to be (and it’s really good) nothing can share that moment in the same way. Everything else pales in comparison to that 4×6 image or that jpeg on the screen. And no one can erase it or take it away. It’s mine.
My second favorites are the amazing assortment of more historical images, both from my own family and from the world. There is one of my great uncle Dean that is always called his Irish Cowboy shot. It is the way I remember him, even though I knew him way after the picture was taken. And every time I see it, or even now when I write about it, I tear up. It has that strong of a memory. It carries with it all my love for him. As strong as ever. And there are pictures of my maternal grandfather and his WWII plane. I’m proud of him and I had absolutely nothing to do with his bravery or resilience. Whenever I look at it I think of the stories he’s told and the missions he flew. And there are countless more, the men and women who (in essence) made me who I am.
The worldly images carry the same weight, becoming personal through the time and intention I give them. I’ve always saved images, ripping them out of magazines or printing them. They serve as reminders of the world I know, the joys and the tragedies. As of late, my favorite in this series is somewhat more personal than the images of Mount Everest or a Rossetti painting. I have a sponsor sister (I refuse to call her my sponsor child) and each year at the field agent’s touch base meeting with the family, they take a picture of her. Her name is Nyasha and I’ve been sponsoring her for four years now. The organization I use is humanitarian in nature, NOT religiously driven, and they use the money for the entire community instead of only the family. I did quite a bit of research before starting up and, though it’s never enough, I feel somewhat better about my occasionally frivolous spending choices. Once I was able to take care of myself in this world, I needed to give back in some way. So, I have four years of photographs, starting when she was 8 turning 9. While I don’t really know Nyasha beyond little letters she sends about once a year, these pictures show a spunky girl growing up. And I am so proud of her. She has these amazing dreams and in a tiny way I am helping her make them a reality. I am honored to be a part of her life, this weird American that sends her funny gifts and helps her school buy supplies.
I wouldn’t think that writing about photographs would make me feel so emotional but I guess that merely proves my point. An image can rock you, stop your world in its tracks and remind you of the all the little moments that can so easily fade lest we remain diligent and passionate.
There’s a picture of Eliza and I from when I first held her. She is passed out, completely asleep, and I am looking at the camera (my friend really) with such a peaceful, open expression. It was amazing to see because I feel all whirly lately, fragmented and “on hold” in many ways. But in that moment, I was still and at peace. It didn’t last, it never can, but I will always have that picture to remind me. To prove that I was part of something greater than myself, that my life is simply this combination of moments. Grand and minute, powerful and embarrassing, but mine for the taking. And the sharing… seriously, want to come over and look at my pictures? It’s an open invitation.
May today bring you many memories (especially Isaac…. Happy birthday my friend!),
Things I’m digging this week: Dropkick Murphys’ version of The Fields of Anthenry and The American Theatre Wing podcasts
Dream Role: in honor of this post, Eliza in Pygmalion