Dear Photograph

I recently discovered a blog so stunning in its representation of humanity, so beautiful in its display of memories, and so poignant in its confrontation of the past, that I decided to feature it here. Its idea aligns so well with that of nostalgia and not waiting until tomorrow to appreciate today. The blog is called Dear Photograph, and it’s concept is to “take a picture of a picture from the past in the present.”

Dear Photograph, At the time it was not common for a man to walk behind a pram. I’m still proud of my father. ~Eva Willemier Westra

People contribute photos from all over the world and each contribution is sent with a caption that is a message to the photo’s subjects or a commentary about the time period in which it was taken. The creator of Dear Photograph, 21-year-old Taylor Jones from Ontario, came up with the concept while sifting through some old snap shots of his own. He spontaneously took a picture of one of the photos he found which was taken in the very spot where he sat. And the idea was born. The project is so remarkable because it inspires people to not only revisit old memories, but to physically revisit the location of those memories, forcing them to travel to the past to confront it or embrace it, whichever the case may be. It puts the past in the context of the present and acknowledges what is gone and what has taken its place.

Dear Photograph, It’s nice to know that we loved each other once upon a time. ~Sam

If you spend even a few minutes at this site, you will be struck with an overwhelming desire to call your parents or send a letter to your grandpa. It is painfully obvious why it’s popularity skyrocketed to 1.2 million visitors within 3 weeks of its creation. It is breathtaking. Hope you are as mesmerized by it as I am.

Dear Photograph, For one brief moment, this murky little duck pond became the most beautiful place on earth. ~Greg

Unlikely Friends

I am a people person. Far more than most. Although, I think getting older has made me a bit more cynical or selective about who I chose to befriend. But I recently found myself wondering if that is a good thing. Shouldn’t age and wisdom teach us tolerance and open-mindedness rather than keep us bound to the immaturity of judgementalism? All people, from all ages, walks of life, classes, and cultures have something to offer. We can all learn from each other if we are open enough to receive the lessons. Even from people we deem to be beneath us. Perhaps especially from them. I have learned more from my son in the two years he has been on this planet than I have from many of the “intellectual” adults I have encountered. I have learned more from old people who many would call out-of-touch than I have from some of the hippest acquaintances I have made. Some people who I may have initially thought too immature to contribute much to a balanced friendship, end up being the light-hearted relief that I crave in the middle of an otherwise stressful time. Others, for whom everything seems to come easy, who have never had to fight for their supper and electricity, may once have spawned jealousy in me, but lately inspire gratitude for the richness that the struggle has brought to my life.

Unlikely friends

This awareness of the unseen value in friendships that we might not have initially given much of a chance, came yesterday as my husband was making plans with a relatively new friend. Without being asked, I volunteered that I was not very fond of this friend. My husband was quick to point out that I used to say the same thing about another of his buddies who’s friendship I now consider myself lucky to claim. If he had not prodded me to overcome my initial judgements about that person, I would have missed out on a valuable, affirming, kind relationship simply because I was too closed minded to be accepting. Patience with people is an immeasurable virtue I am only beginning to comb the depths of. Acceptance of differences is what connects us with people unlike ourselves and these people then bring balance and change to our lives in ways our other similar, like-minded friends never could have. Friendships come in all kinds of packages and sometimes it’s the oddest looking ones that have the most valuable contents.

Nostalgia Covers a Multitude of Sins

There are moments we know, without a doubt, that we will remember fondly. But it doesn’t mean that those moments were completely idyllic or picturesque. Often times, as we dive back into our memories, they are blanketed with a think layer of nostalgia that covers a multitude of sins. Family gatherings, for instance, are often fraught with familial tensions. Unspoken but implied criticisms. Hurt feelings or frustrations. But these are not the things we remember. We remember with rose-colored glasses the good times. The unguarded enthusiasm of children experiencing things for the first time. The brash and also unguarded comments of the aged who no longer feel the need to bother with social niceties. Fingers in mixing bowls getting smacked by mammas. Christmas presents opened just a smidge at the corner when no one was looking. Or endless games of monopoly in which we seek to dominate our beloved.

But it struck me this weekend as I experienced just such a moment of pure nostalgia in the making, that it is often incredibly hard to get past the difficulties that exist in those moments so that we can see, all around us, the things we are sure to remember fondly. Why is it that we so often only appreciate things that have already passed? It is because we’re too busy dealing with the stresses of the present to notice. But shouldn’t our memories, time and time again, be a lesson to us to let go of the things that don’t matter in the present? If we can just find it in us to brush off a harsh word, let go of unwarranted criticism, or never return the slight of someone else in kind, we can remember, in the present, the love that holds us together and the joys that are the building blocks of our memories.

This weekend found me and my family in a very small town in northern Mississippi where my husband was participating in a reunion concert for a local band who’s first gig occurred 40 years previous. It was astonishingly beautiful. Already, I remember it warmly. But I do regret allowing myself to be taken up with some of the stresses that surrounded the weekend. Some of them were silly stresses. Some of them serious. But none of them will factor into the beauty of the memory. What did it matter, in the long run, if the hotel room was old and small? Or if my sick son was a bit whinny and slept in my arms for most of the concert? That, in and of itself, will bring a smile with its memory. Was it really justified of me to feel somewhat jealous of the time I didn’t get to spend with an old friend when he was surrounded by family, friends, and a girlfriend he doesn’t get to see often enough? Should I have allowed myself to embody the stresses of those around me who were prepping for the concert or dealing with their own family tensions? Or should I have been an oasis for those same people – a stress free zone to refresh their mind and spirit? Of course, none of these difficulties compared with the wonderful beauties that the weekend afforded. Such as the constant bombardment of strangers telling me how wonderful my husband was both as a person and as a musician and how much they appreciated his help over the last several months. Or seeing the pure excitement on my son’s face, despite being sick, as he watched his daddy play in a concert. Or witnessing old men relive the passions of their youth with unrivaled enthusiasm and the support of their home town for their endeavor. And seeing a mother dance with her grown son, my friend, as though no one was watching and imagining myself and my son, who was sleeping in my lap, dancing in their shoes in the not so distant future. This is the stuff of life. All the rest is not worth remembering, and so, it is not worth dwelling on.

“Our Kind”

Today I am humbled and inspired to gratefulness by an unexpected encounter that I had with some gentlemen working in the yard of the vacant house across the street.  When Aiden and I went outside to turn on the sprinkler and play in the yard, Aiden immediately became enamored with these workers and was desperate to investigate further.  “I go see them, Mommy!  I help!” 

I was hesitant because I didn’t want to get in the way or seem like we were gawking.  The men were not just doing yard work.  They were demolishing an enormous deck that enveloped much of the back yard.  I’m sure the last thing they needed was a two-year old staring at them, asking odd questions, and insisting he help, right?  But then I remembered the many other encounters I have had lately that have so inspired me to engage people . . . to give them the opportunity to share their lives, their passions, their work with someone who is excited to learn about them.  So I led Aiden by the hand across the street.  I was not disappointed with my decision.  The men, who, until that moment, had been quietly engaged in their back-breaking labor in 100 degree weather, stopped, looked up, and smiled.  They immediately began addressing Aiden as “little man,” inviting him to sit on their tractor and speaking to him about what it means to work hard.  It was like something out of an old southern novel.  I couldn’t bear to see them working so hard in this desperate heat, being so kind to my son without offering them something in return.  So I went home and brought back iced tea and popsicles.

I was greeted upon my return with phrases like, “Thank you kindly, ma’am!”  “You’re too sweet.”  “You’re gonna tempt me to go find an easy chair.”  As the conversation blossomed, I discovered that the men were brothers.  Two of TWENTY children born to their mother, who is currently 89.  There were 13 boys and 7 girls that grew up together in Pocahontas, MS.  The older of the two gentlemen, who didn’t look a day over 50, if that, said he was 70 years old.  And still working hard every day.  “What would I do with myself if I stopped?” he asked.  He recounted as he pried floorboards off the deck with a crow bar, sledgehammer, and brute strength how he was trying to teach his grandchildren to be eager workers, but “they just aren’t raised like they used to be.”  But he always let them help whenever they were willing.    The “younger” brother bragged about his family and seemed ashamed to need the help of his older brother, but explained that he has had health problems and just can’t handle it alone anymore.

The longer we spoke, the more filled with respect I was.  These men were humble and kind.  Lived a simple life, worked hard, and made no excuses.  They knew the value of family and earning their keep and would not give up even in the face of age and adversity.  Yet somehow I find myself worrying on a regular basis about things like money and time and health, when in reality we have plenty of all three.  It is amazing how perspective can change one’s outlook. 

As we were getting ready to leave, the younger brother mentioned off-handedly that he “thought sure it was [their] kind that lived across the street . . . black folk, that is.”
“But you know,” he said with a grin, “you’re the first people to come visit us in all the years we been workin’ this yard, so I guess you’re our kind after all!”