There is something magical about a photo album. Have you noticed that when you sit down and begin to turn the pages of a family scrapbook how the world falls away and you are transported to another place? It feels like time travel. Everything vanishes and suddenly there is your childhood home, you in school uniform on your first day at Saint Peter and Paul and here you are holding a Little League bat and there again blowing out birthday cake candles and always the eyes captured wide with excitement. More amazing still are the images of ancestors: grandparents and uncles, aunts and parents posing in military uniforms, in front of Christmas trees and wearing weddings gowns glowing from the past in surprisingly current eye-ware.
My mother is recently widowed. While staying with her for a few summer weeks, one of my projects is to go through containers of old family photographs and begin some kind of organization process. I open a musty box and suddenly, there wrapped in disintegrating tissue paper is a photograph of my great grandfather in a military regalia. Here, my Grandmother’s travel journal from her honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls, there, a letter written by a woman my Godfather fell in love with during the war and who did not wait for him and everywhere, postcards from Santa Fe, Lake Louise and the Hawaiian Islands. As I unearth this buried treasure my mother tells me stories of these people whose blood runs through my veins but who are virtual strangers to me. She struggles to recall the specifics of their romances, heartbreaks, diseases and triumphs.
The ghosts leave behind only fading paper. Their passions, bankbooks, adventures are all gone. I wonder about the brevity of human life and the extraordinary amounts of time we spend in anxiety. How often do we miss the sunset, the ice cream or the music because we want it all to be different, better or more? How frequently do we nourish the grudge, regret the past or attempt to control the future? Has anyone ever really harnessed the future? (And if so, who are they? And where can I find their Twitter?) What if, in the end, that which is significant are the moments we were truly honest with others and ourselves? Is it possible that the only eternal possessions in this life are the prayers, the dancing, the cheering at the home runs, the singing and the moments we actually said the words, “I love you.” What if long after our stories are forgotten, the only thing that remains, is our love, the generosity and our open heart? And everything else ……. just fades away ~