by Father Mark Goldasich
“Is that you?”
Whenever a conversation starts like this, it’s almost certain to go downhill from there. What occasioned this question most recently was a picture of me as a deacon when I worked for a few months in Kenya. I’d brought in some slides to see if Todd, our production guru at The Leaven, could scan them into the computer and burn them onto a CD.
What I forgot was: 1) the slides were from 30 years ago; and 2) the Leaven staff has eyes. “Wow, look at all the hair you had!” “And it was curly!” “And, gee, you were thin!”
With each successive comment, my ego took another hit. I tried to defend myself by saying that I’m actually “twice the man” today that I was back then . . . but I think even that statement was misinterpreted. I had to resist the urge to snatch the slides and run them through the nearest shredder.
The above experience is the negative side, so to speak, of old photographs. You get to see yourself frozen at a particular time in history. And, for better or worse (usually the latter), you can’t escape the fact that you’ve changed in those intervening years.
But the positive side of old photos is much more important. Quite simply, they stir up memories — of often long-forgotten people, places and events — and give you a vibrant, visual history of your life thus far. You come to realize how many people have been a part of your life’s journey and what each contributed to making you the person you are today.
For me, November and pictures and memories go hand in hand. As a church, we started this month by remembering all saints and all souls. My parish in Tonganoxie, like many others at this time of year, features a “book of remembrance,” where parishioners write down the names of loved ones who have died.
The church also encourages visits to cemeteries in these days. While that is certainly a great idea, I also suggest something much easier that can be done much more often: Pray with photos.
Sadly, as the years go by and our lives get increasingly more hectic, it becomes easier and easier to focus only on the moment and to ignore or forget our past. To reconnect with history, I like to grab a handful of old pictures, sit down in a comfortable chair, and slowly flip through them. The older the photo, the more likely the people pictured there — grandparents, neighbors from childhood, parents, godparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends — are no longer here . . . having either moved on to another city or onto eternal life. That sense of loss — sometimes accompanied by tears — nudges me to pray: in thanksgiving for these people, for continued health and blessings for those far away, for the happy repose of the souls of the dead, and for courage in my own life to live the good and holy life lessons these people taught me.
Photos also have a way of transporting us back in time. As we see the scene pictured there, we can almost hear the conversations going on, feel the atmosphere and relive a part of our past. Old pictures stir up a sense of wonder and humor. Did the world really look like that back then? Did I really wear those sunglasses with the six-shooters at the edges? Did Grandma really use that small washing machine with the wringer attached to it and then hang clothes on the line outside? Such nostalgia can be soothing to the soul.
Photos can even bring families together. If you’re like me, you’ve got a slew of shots that feature “mysterious” people and places. With the holidays coming up, bring along some of those unidentified pictures to family gatherings and see if names and dates can be uncovered.
Photos can unite people over generational lines as well. They can be an opportunity for seniors to clue in younger family members on just what life was like decades ago. Pictures provide a powerful, visual link to verbal accounts.
Each day of November, consider choosing one photo from your collection as a focal point for prayer. It might be one of someone who has died or perhaps a family member or friend who is undergoing a tough time.
Or you might choose an old photo with a friend in it and send a copy in a letter to that person, recalling the experience and what you most enjoy about the picture.
Photos help us to remember our history, relish those who have shared
it with us, and resolve to create and capture memories today that others will treasure tomorrow.
Incidentally, if you know of anyone skilled in using Photoshop, I’ve got a wee bit of “bodywork” for them to do on some of my old pictures.