The Way We Were
I have a growing pile of photographs on my desk. Once in a while, I sift through the stack and note my glaring absence in them. The few photos of me aren’t so hot either. Unless I pose, which I do not particularly enjoy, I am simply not photogenic. I am the one whose eyes are always red (from the flash) or white (from being rolled up into my head). I am the one who’s always laughing her brains out or stuffing her face with huge chunks of food; whose cheek always grazes the edge of a wide-angle shot. That’s me. And that’s why I don’t have a lot of candid shots of myself.
Things changed a little when I became a mother. Ah, the wonderful world of photographs! I took pictures like never before and allowed myself to be photographed with unusual abandon. I suddenly wanted my kids to have tons of pictures of me with them. This way, I hoped, they would always remember how much they were loved. Unfortunately, documenting the life and times of our family isn’t high on my husband’s priority list, so coming out of that closet didn’t do much to ensure my continued presence in family albums. To look at the actual photos, one would think my children didn’t have a mother. This worried me for a time, until I consoled myself with the thought that at least they have a vibrant, ever-present, extremely photogenic dad. Hah.
I’m not complaining. Not anymore. I’m proud to say I’m over feeling sorry for this under-photographed face. I’m past the point of begging to be photographed with my children. I no longer scurry to catch every little ray of sunlight that touches their hair. It’s not that I’ve lost interest. These days, I would rather be in the moment than behind the camera, trying to capture it. I’ve decided to spend more time being present in my life than somewhere outside, trying to document it.
Today I would rather sit through the impromptu puppet show, watching intently as my son weaves a story only he understands. I am lulled by the innocence of his little boy voice, completely lost in his world. I laugh with my baby, seeing every tooth pushing forth from his gums, feeling the weight of his chubby cheeks as they expand to express his joy. And I am lost forever in the depths of indescribable contentment. Everything comes alive. The images move replete with sounds, smells, and impressions. I am reminded of things I didn’t even feel at the time: leaves spraying patterns on a wall, warm little fingers seeking my own, or even a stab of pain reflected on innocent eyes and the overwhelming agony that floods my soul, knowing I inflicted it. These are images and sensations I call upon anytime. Always, they flare up in vivid, multi-dimensional detail, weaving my senses together in an intricate dance.
How could I have thought my kids would look through the family albums and feel only my absence? I was always there. Behind the camera, yes, but on a deeper level, I am embedded in their souls. Instead of running off to find that little image-recorder, killing the flow and spontaneity of the moment, I have spent precious time cradling one or giving the other the gift of my rapt attention. I did not artificially create a moment but allowed it to be, growing in and around us. I’ve finally come to the elusive yet elementary realization that they do not need a truckload of photographs to remember me by. They will sense me in things they don’t necessarily see—the smell of me, the feel of my lips on their heads, the smile in my eyes, the flutter of my fingers on a sweaty infant nape. In my eyes they will recognize an infusion of affection, gratitude and wonder. I know this because I make every effort to be fully present in their lives. Beyond that, how can they not feel the love their father and I cannot contain? Why would they need such a vast collection of memory aids when we are alive in them, always and forever?
We spend so much time trying to document our lives so that we can, in our old age, relive special moments or make sure that our children never forget how we were with them. Isn’t it ironic that in the here and now, we think nothing of putting a lens between our eyes and the living space in which the special moments happen? Think about what is lost then. We distort the most vital element– that of being completely there body, soul and spirit.
We are so involved in turning our memories into tangible possessions that we miss out on the little things that keep them alive in our hearts. What photograph can capture everything that makes a moment? Being there. Really being there. That’s what the most exquisite memories are made of.