There is a photo I run across every year around this time. I will not post it here, because no reader would get the same feels as I do. It is not a spectacular photo. My two grown daughters are sitting at the dining room table working on a gingerbread house. They’re not looking at the camera. There’s nothing special about the photo, except it stirs up many emotions within me.
It was the last time we spent the day together as the family they were raised in. Well, that’s not exactly true. We spent Christmas together the same year, but I know now that my ex was texting his girlfriend throughout our family celebration, and while I still appreciate many good things from that day, I can’t really consider it as truly a family day. But that day in October was just our family (as far as I know, and I think I’ll keep it that way!).My ex and I had moved to a new house a few months before. The girls and each husband and boyfriend-now-husband spent the day with us. The girls wanted to do some fall activities they remembered doing as they were growing up. It was a gorgeous day. We made decorative pumpkins, and they put together a pre-pieced gingerbread house. We played games, relaxed outside, and ate homecooked favorites together. It was an uneventful, beautiful, relaxed, memory-making day.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to rewind to that day. I’ve moved through the mayhem and am in a healthy, content place. I love the memories I’m now making with my family. Our family looks a little different than it once did, but the snapshots we take now have something in them that I deeply appreciate and treasure. Photos catch a moment within a season.
Each of us might look at a photo from the past and think
- If only ___________ was still with us.
- If only I still looked like that/could still do that.
- That was so much fun. I wish we could get together and do that again!
But those moments caught by the camera are intended to be recalled and kept in the context. Each moment is part of the journey. We’re living in new moments now. Remembering is great, even essential, to keep the context of our journeys. We need to see the highs and lows. We need to see the change and endurance. We need to see the challenges and growth. Not to duplicate but to remind us of where we’ve been and what’s in front of us.
Many of us take/share more photos now that we carry our cameras (phones) with us. But it is often the share-worthy ones we keep. We need to remember each snapshot embraces a richer moment than we cannot fully understand in each person’s photos. What happened just before and just after the photo was taken? Who was mad? Who was struggling to make it through the day? Who just told a hilarious joke? Who has pain they’re hiding? Who has a secret—good or bad? The people in the photo have a richer experience when they look at the photo. They remember more of the situation, and their emotional response is deeper than someone scrolling through a social media feed. It might have been a wonderful moment in time for the person who posted it but a terrible moment for someone else in the photo because of the broader context of the day.
I suppose it’s not just about keeping our photos in context but, even more so, keeping our memories in context. Just as we can use a plethora of filters to touch up our photos, we can do the same with our memories. We can brighten the memory and downplay the struggles we were experiencing at the time. Or we can dim the photo because we are trying to rewrite the past to make the choices we’ve made since then make sense to ourselves and others.
Keep the context of the photos. Let them tell stories that embrace the context. Appreciate the moments you’ve had. Never let them distract you from focusing on your opportunities today.