It happens every time.
People see me coming, and the smile freezes on their faces. The fear flashes across their eyes, and they're gone, ducking into a kitchen on some made-up task or into the bathroom.
You'd think I was coming at them with a machete.
But no, I'm coming at them with something they deem even more frightening: my camera.
I love to take pictures. It is a hobby that brings me great relaxation and joy. And most of the pictures in my vast collection are of landscapes and farms, much like this recent one:
But much to people's chagrin and dismay, it is not just on rides through the countryside that I take my camera. No, I bring it along to every family function. And if not my camera, then my cell phone, which has a pretty high quality camera all its own.
Contrary to what some may believe, I don't do it as a way to blackmail or embarrass them down the road.
No, what I do is an act of preservation.
My husband's father passed away unexpectedly in 2012. As part of the necessary process, we have been going through the family treasures that have been amassed through generations. Among those treasures are tins full of old photos and reel after reel of slides.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I started to go through those slides, and it was this indescribable moment. One minute we're looking at great-aunt whomever that we're not even sure if we're related to...the next minute we're looking at my sister-in-law's smiling baby face, both of her grandfathers on either side of her. It is a family treasure, that picture. And if someone hadn't been there with one of those annoying cameras, it wouldn't exist. That moment, that memory...well, it could be gone.
As we get older, our memories fade. It is an inevitable part of life. And someday, despite our protests to the contrary, we will all be gone. With us go our specific memories of people and occasions. What can we do to preserve these things? To pass on not only the stories but the feelings, the emotions, that go along with those stories?
I cannot tell you the feeling that my husband had finding those old slides. I can only tell you that I saw the look on his face, the mist that appeared in his eyes. I can describe to you that moment of silence that happened in the middle of his sentence. I can show you this picture of him, lost in remembering...and of our son, learning about his family's history:
I can show you other pictures, as well...
Showing off birthday presents
Still holding hands
The silliness of a grandmother
Over fifty years of love
One of the only times they've ever danced
Playing with loved ones
Hands held (taken by my cousin)
Nearly every member of my mom's family
My mom's hands as she preps beans
First sets of Mickey ears
My grandmother responding to her great-grandson, post-stroke
Naps with Daddy
Passing time at the hospital
Joining a motorcycle gang with Pap
Generations (taken by my cousin)
Remembering and Honoring
In five, ten, or fifty years, we won't care if your hair was a mess, if your wrinkles were evident, or if you weren't ready. We won't care if you're carrying a few extra pounds or if you were making a silly face.
What will matter is that we have that memory frozen in time. That when we look at that photograph, we can hear your laugh, smell your perfume, and feel you in the same room with us. That for a moment, we have you with us.
Only photographs have the power to do that, to give those moments back to us.
Don't run off and hide. Just smile, wrap your arm around the person beside you, and let me take your picture.