I’ve been looking at a lot of pictures lately.
I have fourteen thousand personal ones on a hard drive at home, dating back years.
I have just seen, and seen again and again, the hundreds that were taken by professionals, family and friends at my daughter’s wedding last month.
I have revisited pictures of my father on the nineteenth anniversary of his death, the now fading images still conjuring up sights and sounds and smells from decades ago, some of them so real that they are almost hallucinatory.
I have been bombarded with online and onscreen images of sporting events, victories by long-dead competitors in long concluded contests, reminding me that this year’s installment of the Belmont or the U.S. Open or the World Cup is not too far away.
I have laughed out loud (something I rarely do) at pictures of my children and grandchildren in some silly pose or acting out, word for word, some scene from a recent movie or show.
I have wept silently at pictures that I took myself, or others took, of row upon row upon row of pristine white crosses on grasshopper-green grass, a testament to a struggle now relegated to history, but enshrined forever on wind-scoured cliff tops and in sunny valleys or under Spanish moss-draped live oaks.
Pictures evoke memories.
Pictures remind us of triumph and tragedy, decisions wisely arrived at and mistakes unwittingly made.
Pictures pull us, gently and unavoidably, back into the life that we once had, the good old days that were not as good as they seem now, the ideal and the unreal and the times when everything seemed right, if only for the instant it was caught by the photographer.
Pictures give life to memories.
Pictures objectify the past.
Pictures help us hold on to something that we desperately do not want to lose.
What do the best pictures really do for me, personally?
When all is said and done, the pictures that draw me in, time and time again, the ones that hook me, spear me, grab my soul and make my eyes moisten with the warm feelings of a thousand summer days, are the ones that make me feel.
The picture of Payne Stewart as he pumped his fist after sinking the birdie putt that won him the 1999 U.S. Open. (He would die in a tragic plane crash only four months later)
The picture of my granddaughter, mouth agape with absolute delight, as she blew bubbles on the deck behind her house.
The picture of my daughter walking down the sandy “aisle” at the beach on her wedding day, and the memory of her soft exclamations as we topped the dunes and saw all the people waiting for us there.
These are the pictures that make me feel alive and human and present in my own life.
What else do pictures teach me?
We all have a limited time here, some shorter, some longer. We can revisit the past, wallow in it, be consumed by it. We can fret and catastrophize and be paralyzed by what the future holds. Or, we can choose to be present in our own lives, to feel every little bit of emotion, good and bad, happy and sad, that comes our way.
We can consciously look for, and find, as many of these intense, emotional, real-life moments as we possibly can and revel in them.
None of us is guaranteed tomorrow.
All of us can grab the now, feel the present moment, enjoy it to its fullest for what it is, and be very grateful that we were here to experience it.