Think for a moment about the photos you throw away…versus the ones you put in a photo album, or reprint as your annual holiday card, or frame and hang on your wall.
I’ve been going through photos this week. Our daughter needs some for a project she is doing with me. My computer wallpaper needs changing up. The Costco Photo Center was taken off-line a month ago so I am trying to recreate several folders worth of carefully selected pictures that were stored there. In addition, a whole raft of folks have asked to see more photos from our time away…
…but none of them, for some strange reason, want to see all 3541. Go figure.
So, I have been sorting and editing and cropping and discarding – and remembering. Because photos are nothing less than a harvest of memories. And, I am beginning to believe they are a very perceptive mirror of what matters to us. The ones we take ourselves and the ones we inherit from family or are given by friends. The entire corpus, taken as a whole, reflects unerringly our priorities, the way we see the world, and who we are in our deepest, most authentic self.
After all, most of us are not professional photographers. The pictures we keep are not part of our lives because they are fine art, but because they are story. Our story. Our soul and spirit made visible. Our love and joy manifest in image.
There is a wall of photos in our home that has evolved steadily over the past three decades. It is the very first thing that goes up in every home we live in. I stop and look at it every day (every day) – sometimes more than once; I never get tired of it. Those images are an anchor and a blessing that delight me, ground me, comfort me, and occasionally bring tears to my eyes. They are all – every one of them – pictures of people we love. There are a couple of group photos, but they are almost exclusively pictures of one or two individuals. And I can tell you the story behind all fifty-eight of them. They aren’t merely ‘good’ pictures or flattering pictures of these beloved folks; they are pictures that capture everything we love about each person. Each picture resonates with humor, or courage, or joy, or playfulness, or passion, or intelligence, or confidence, or yearning, or skill, or grace, or authority, or wisdom.
My grandmother kept postcards that people sent her from far-flung lands…and she would open the album she kept them in and look at them often, perusing snapshots of cities and countries she had never visited. I never saw her take them out and read the message on the back; she just looked at the pictures. I realize that I have no idea what called to her about those unfamiliar environs – perhaps looking at distant landscapes provided a moment of peace; or perhaps a dream of a life that included more travel, or more adventure, wider horizons, strange cultures. One of the exchange homes we lived in during this sabbatical has one framed 8″ x 10″ photo from each of the exchanges that couple has done over the past two decades. I don’t know how they chose the one from each exchange, but the selection produced a stunning set of pictures. None were people. Two were wildlife and the rest were all places. ‘Place’ was obviously very important to that couple.
As I have been sorting my own photos, I have been noticing some patterns in this harvest of memories. There is a cohesive quality to the moments I pause and gather as images, a consistency to the moments I choose to hold in this way, that runs like a strong cable as far back as I have pictures. It is revealing in a way I have never stopped to consider before, and I think those patterns and choices and values which undergird my life so strongly may provide some wisdom and guidance as I ponder the paths that lie before me.
So, I invite you to do something this week. I invite you to find a stash of photos somewhere in your house and start leafing through them. [Feel free to use this opportunity to toss any that are out of focus, or that you can’t identify, or that are full of people you don’t recognize. I don’t normally encourage multi-tasking, but the rules are meant to be broken once in awhile.]
Pick one that catches your attention. Don’t think about it too much, just let your heart respond to one that makes you smile, or that awakens a long-lost memory, or that makes you sigh with longing. Then sit with that picture and remember the story, the moment. Recall it as concretely as you can: where you were, what time of day it was, who else was there, how old you were, the scents, the sounds, the feeling of that moment.
Then ask yourself why you keep this picture. Pause and feel what it evokes for you – happiness, pride, sorrow, wonder, anger, comfort, regret. Did you take this photo? Or did someone else? Is it unique, the only picture that exists from that time? If so, what was happening that you have only this single photo? Is it a picture of yourself? Alone or with others? What does it tell you about you (at the time or now), about your relationships (then or now)? Is it a person or place you love? Why? What is it about this picture that captures that love? Was it an important event? Why was it important? Does it remain important because it marked a change in you that is still part of your life today? Or do you wonder why it ever mattered to you? (Why did it matter?) Where are you in the picture – not physically, but emotionally, spiritually, psychologically?
There may be nothing nudging you to pay attention to 300 or 800 or 1502 or 3541 photos from your life right now, but maybe you would like to look at one or two each day this week and see if you notice a pattern. The pattern is there; none of us keep totally random objects for no reason. But whether you see the pattern or not, I invite you to (re)harvest some of the memories and see if they still provide food for thought or nourishment for your heart or guidance for your journey.
May it be a time of learning and integration.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2015 Immram Chara, LLC
NOTE: The first photo is one of the panels from The Great Tapestry of Scotland which we got to see twice while on sabbatical.
Also: And speaking of photos, two sets of Lughnasadh cards (florals and sacred spaces) are up on the website Store [click here]. They can be ordered from my Etsy shop [click here]. And the Lughnasadh Give-Away will be announced on Saturday.