One consistent feature of the homes of older adults I’ve visited seems to be their collection of memorable photos–a gallery of loved ones’ portraits. There’s not much there in the form of action shots or story-starters, so the photos may seem only minimally evocative of memories or emotions.
That viewpoint has changed as I’ve gotten older. Now I find myself occasionally lingering over my own family pictures, drawn into memories that collect around these simple head-and-shoulders shots. These snapshots expand my thoughts beyond any single event or personal characteristic. The photo subjects and I have imagined conversations that continue beyond the moment when the photographer froze reality into these biographical artifacts.
I’m especially intrigued by the facial expressions of my loved ones. Granted, they’re mostly smiles—who keeps a picture that shows Grandad grimacing? Those smiles call to mind the likely moments before and after the photo was snapped, when enjoyable interactions would have taken place. The sounds of my loved ones’ voices pop into my memory almost immediately. Their mannerisms and movements also line up, asking for my recall.
In some cases, I can remember the situation implied by a photo’s background. The setting for a family reunion, my parents’ kitchen, a Sierra lake, the school photographer’s standard background—each primes memories about conversational topics, personal characteristics, and the wonderful emotions the photo subjects and I shared those years ago.
Time with my family pictures brings the past back to life, adding to this present moment the value of memorable moments with memorable people. Inside me, God’s voice sounds, “You have been part of the long string of my history; don’t forget that I have blessed you.” So I thank God for all these photos.
All these people….
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