I have spent the weekend putting old photos in frames. Some of the photos are images of people I have never met, pictures that I found while cleaning out my dad’s apartment after his death. There are images of him as a baby being bathed by his mother in 1933, and as a toddler and as a young boy riding a bike. I see a resemblance to my own son as I pick and choose among the moments of his life long before he ever thought he would be a father. He looked happy and proud as a boy. He looked well-loved. There are also photos that go back another whole generation, of my beloved grandmother as a small girl with her own family. Pictures of her and her sisters as children and young women of the 1940s and great uncles who I barely knew who were soldiers in World War II. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother beginning their life so long ago and yet connected to me through features frozen on their faces that look a little like mine. This is the first time I have ever found traces of my genome in the form of old photos. I wish my father would have shared these with me, telling me how I am related to the adorable women wearing 1920s swim suits.
Fast forward decades- my own kids find a box of photos from the last twenty years of their childhood. They laugh and tell the bits of stories they remember from those moments- some of them come back to me as full days, that feel so vivid it seems like it should have been weeks ago, not years. I rummage through fitting them into the small holes on the board. Capturing our family as it grew up is happy and sad all at once. I always used to say when I would put the photo packets in boxes that someday when it was all over, I would take the time to frame them. Suddenly, I am here at someday.
This is one real marker of age I believe, when our past is so rich with memories that it weighs heavier than the present moment. It isn’t that I don’t have too many things to do in this day, but somehow there is pull backwards that is the part of me that can’t quite let go, the part that wonders if those were the best days of my life, now only captured in the small spaces of framed photos.
It all sounds a bit morbid or at least not positive. If there is any grace in aging it is in the letting go. The realization that lives pass in brief moments and so even as we capture what was, we move always forward into the day at hand. It takes practice and will. The truth is that I have no idea what will be caught in photos in the years to come, no doubt another generation with the same curve to the lip, or bump on the nose as my great grandmother, my father and me.