Tuesday, August 17, 2010

One easy way to hold onto your memories

There’s something about photos that make them difficult to discard. In the high-tech world we live in today, photographs are mostly bits of digital information stored on memory cards or computer hard drives. But for many of us, snapshots, the type you find on pieces of photographic paper, have captured the big and small moments of our lives.

So what happens if you garbage an image – is the moment lost forever? That’s the dilemma I faced this week as I began the arduous task of sorting through the hundreds, perhaps thousands of photos that fill albums, dresser drawers and closet space at my mom’s condo. The irony is that she has left this place, now living in an assisted living facility, yet her memories remain.

The snapshots are the stuff of life, photos of my family when we were growing up in Columbus, tossed together with a wide assortment of images from my parents when they were kids and shortly after they met in the 1940s.

Add to this photographic mélange our extended families – wives, children, nieces, nephews and grandkids – distant relatives and friends of my folks and you have both the photographic heartbeat of my parent’s lives and a melancholy mess!

Do I keep the blurred image of my mom, walking onto a cruise ship, someone’s hand gently resting on her shoulder? What about a black and white photo of my dad, I think, surrounded by three girls, all smiling and all sitting atop the hood of a 1930s-era Ford?

How best to handle the hundreds of photos that document family happenings and events – birthdays and bar mitzvahs; vacations and reunions; weddings, anniversaries and all those fading and blurred baby pictures of all our children?

If I toss away a photo of my Aunt Ester, a lovely woman and my father’s only sister, am I throwing away a part of my family’s life? If that’s a concern, what about the scratched and torn photos of my uncles when they were youngsters, their stories yet to be told?

Trash those photos and have I in some fashion trashed their hopes and dreams or, more reasonably but just as troubling, tarnished their memories?

I don’t think so. There are two types of people in the world when it comes to holding onto stuff – those who hold tightly and those who let go. I pretty much think stuff is stuff and that life, ultimately, is a collection of memories.

Photos, of course, are all about capturing memories, a moment in time memorialized on a piece of paper – today digitalized and stored on a chip. It’s nice, really nice, to be able to wrap your hands around a memory – that instant when your child was born, the day you walked along the beach with your honey, that really special vacation you shared with your young family when all seemed possible and you still had hair!

But none of those memories, at least for today, can be taken from me. They are packed away in my personal hard drive – my head, perhaps my heart – easily accessible.

That said, I want my family to decide what to keep and what to trash. So there are now at least six piles of photos waiting to be sorted, lots of memories and lots of blurred images. Each can decide what to hold onto and what best fits in their minds and hearts.

And I’ll allow Robert Fulghum, probably best known as the author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” to have the last word today:

“Photographs are precious memories … the visual evidence of place and time and relationships … ritual talismans for the treasure chest of the heart.”

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