While looking for something else in my storage unit the other day, I found two packs of pharmacy-developed photographs from last century. I grabbed the envelopes without opening them until that night after dinner. One of the gems was this one:
I never thought I’d see this image again outside of my own memory, due to the loss of most of my family photos years ago.
And then there I was, sitting in silence with Shawn, staring into the faces of my deceased parents.
My mind took off:
They look older here than I remembered them looking in this photo. I can tell that it was taken at the Hebron Community Baptist Church, and, judging by their clothes and the fact that my mom is actually wearing makeup (a very rare occurrence!) I’m guessing it was either for a wedding or a funeral. Or it could have been for an Easter Sunday. The colors make sense. But that guest book in the foreground…
After trying to assign a timestamp, I then tried to assign mood:
Wow, they both look so unhappy, or at the very least uncomfortable. I wonder how soon after this he was diagnosed? Hell, I wonder if he already had cancer when this was taken…and who took the photo? And how did it end up in this pack with others that are not related?
Then, some time later, I was remembering my old friend Tom Foley, and the occasion of us taking in a gallery showing of some local photographers’ work. He – a deeply gifted photographer, and framer too – was growing impatient with all of the chatter from other attendees and what he thought of as an overanalysis of the photos. He turned to me and said, a bit under his breath, ‘Forget all that and just look at the goddamned photograph. Do you like it? Does it move you? Yes or no?’
Yes, I love this photo. And it moves me. Very much.
So, I took Tom’s advice. I let go of all the need-to-knows and the questions and the attempts to make sense and assign meaning, and simply looked at the photo, which had been buried for years in the bottom of a cardboard box, now in my hands at my kitchen table, and I finally let the waves of memory and grief wash over me.