How could we know
which illuminated our days?
The joy too strong to feel
until it was
no longer there to disturb us.
- David Whyte
from "Letting Go," Everything is Waiting for You
Humans aren't much good at living in the present, and though I know doing so would make me a happier, more content person, most of the time, I fail. Oddly, sometimes viewing an image in retrospect gives me more joy than I remember experiencing the moment it was taken.
My Christmas gift to myself this past year was to go through all our photos taken since Nettie was born and order prints for albums and framing. Outside of ordering a few prints for the grandparents here and there, we had not taken the time to print any for ourselves, and didn't even have any framed photos of Nettie around the house. I knew it was going to be a big task. There were over 5000 photos on our hard drive (which I recognize is not a huge number by today's standards), and I wasn't sure how long it would take me. I started in June, and really got serious in October.
Unfortunately, the process was slowed by the fact that we chose to use a popular photo processing service that did not end up functioning well with our sometimes spotty Wi-Fi connection. So often a naptime's worth of work (that's the common currency for stay-at-home parents, right?) was lost to a few seconds of internet interruption. Seriously. As if I need MORE reasons in my life to cry during naptime.
I stayed with it, though, weeding through months and months worth of images, and in early December I placed an order for over 1200 prints. I was so relieved. About a week later they arrived, and I excitedly opened the first envelope. Hmmm. I opened the next envelope. Mmmmm. And the next. Huh-uhh. The fourth and fifth and twelfth. Noooooo. I had chronologically uploaded the photos, and in the cart, they appeared that way, but in the printing process, presumably because our camera re-uses photo numbers each time we delete the old photos, the prints had been re-ordered, all the months mixed. Disappointed is not a big enough word, but then again, I realize this isn't an actual tragedy. So let's stick with disappointment and I'll keep trying to be big about this.
I had pictured myself leisurely spread out on the rug, watching Pride and Prejudice or Little Women, something familiar and comforting, as I brainlessly slipped photos into pockets and wrote cute little captions. Oh mama, bury that idea. Along with the dreams of 7:30 bedtime and "mommy and me" yoga sessions and "fun and easy" toddler art projects. So I shut the photos up in a cupboard and didn't look at them for a month.
I pulled them out a few days ago. Net was safely out of the house for a few hours so I dug in. Photos were spread across and stacked in piles covering the 8 by 10 rug, where I hunched over them with burning eyes, trying to make sense of things. I did not have the heart to start a movie. I just sat in the semi-dark, frantically sifting through the mess. Sadly, I discovered that along with being completely scrambled, I was missing many photos from the first six months, which must not have uploaded completely during one of my interrupted sessions. Back into the cupboard went the photos.
The fun part of this story is that I DID get some photos in frames, and put them up in our upstairs hall, where I've long wanted to create a family photo wall. I'm so pleased with it and Nettie really enjoys seeing and talking about all the pictures. And the photo saga has given me a lot of incentive to keep up with our images as we empty the camera so that I NEVER HAVE TO DO THIS AGAIN.
It also got me thinking about memory. I heard a while back that many of our memories, especially childhood memories, are invented through photos. As in, we don't actually have an independent memory of some events; instead, we invent a memory to correspond to a photograph. Usually we don't do this knowingly. It's just something our brains do. You can read more about this "fake memory" here. In the same vein, seeing photos reinforces our (actual) memories because it triggers the same neurons that were involved in creating the experience captured in the photo. So photos are so valuable in preserving memories.
The last two years have often felt very hard. But the photos we have say differently. They show me that nearly every day since Nettie was born, we have documented smiles and laughter, and countless times, pure joy. I can't change the past two years, but I can shape my memory of them. I can choose to revisit some of the best moments. I see them every morning as soon as I get up and before I go to bed at night, and they remind me to be grateful for what I've been given.