I remember a mild early summer day spent reading an ancient copy of Under the Lilacs, sitting beneath my grandmother’s lilacs, great drooping branches of swaying purple and amethyst blooms surrounding me and scenting the air with their heady perfume. The memory never returns without the fragrance of lilacs and the sensation of pages so browned with age they felt crisp and fragile in my hands. I remember my peace, enveloped in words and sweet smells and the feeling that the magical possibilities of summer had just begun. And I recall the embracing music of security and love, as the laughter of my parents and grandparents carried from the kitchen and across the lawn to my secret lilac-veiled haven.
Deep, clear, and precious recollections like these–small moments of my life, really–float down memory’s corridors and come to me like returning dreams. I can enter and rest in them and feel my spirit and energy completely restored.
And it intrigues me that very few of these memories that gift me with such peace are connected to or evoked by photographs. In fact, I can often look at old photos of myself, of family gatherings, holidays, college friends, past jobs and colleagues, and not recall a thing about the time or place they were taken. That’s not always the case; there are photos that instantly capture and flash deep memories, but many do not, much as I may enjoy seeing them.
I’ve been taking photos since I was 9, when my grandfather gave me his then-obsolete box camera, so I’ve spent a lifetime deeply pursuing the ways film can immortalize what I love and treasure about the blessing of physical existence in a material world. I’m an extremely visually-oriented human, thrilled by all the artists and art-related posts I can follow on Instagram, where I can also share photos from our little daily round at Full Moon Cottage. But I think, especially with the advent of digital cameras and the evolving human appendage formed by smartphones, we have begun to neglect the wholly holy and deeply full moments of our lives that retain their intimacy and magic precisely because they enter and reside only in our memories, sans photographic perpetuity.
Photographs can deceive. They may obscure more than they reveal, and can now be manipulated so adeptly they reflect fantasy more than any reality. A picture’s worth a thousand words but may conceal a million. Perhaps. The constant selfies and interruptions and poses they require are excessive and, for me, can intrude upon the lasting joys of being present to a personal and sacred encounter. Every moment of our life does not require or benefit from a corresponding photograph.
Yesterday, one of my dearest friends visited after an absence of almost two years. She relocated and the pandemic has kept us apart, so I had been anticipating this visit for months. When you share more than 20 years of your life with a friend and then can’t meet face-to-face, such reunions are a very. big. deal. For me, anyway. While I’m grateful for Zoom, it will never touch the light that yesterday offered my spirit.
We were blessed with a temperate day and cooling breezes, so we could sit on the back deck beneath the maple tree, remaining safely distant and yet near enough to spend the day together, maskless, laughing, crying, sharing our stories and feelings, and celebrating her coming birthday. I’ll always remember her bright sundress, the way the breeze lifted her hair, gentled the wind chimes into music, and made the maple leaves dance. I recall how the hummingbirds darted to the feeder and rested on the tree’s lower branches, and can revisit the memory of my darling Phillip serving us champagne and cheesecake, joining us for lunch and conversation and then allowing us private time together. The day could not have been more perfect.
As my friend drove away, heading back to her family’s home, I felt the day’s joy diminish and familiar sadness tugged at my heart, as it does with such partings, especially as those limitless years of our youth telescope down towards their inevitable end. We say we’ll meet again, but realize that truthfully, the odds are not ever-in-our-favor regarding such future meetings. And, for a moment, I regretted I hadn’t taken a photo of us together, a sweet memento of a wholly holy day.
But then I realized the day had held no room for a photo; there was no moment I’d have yielded to a smartphone’s intrusion or surrendered to photography’s inability to capture the day’s joyful fullness. It would have broken the flow of perfect presence we’d been gifted to breathe together in the two years that have made sharing space and breath too rare. Not every treasure needs to be exposed to the world’s scrutiny; not every experience has to be reduced and confined to an image. Some moments can be held intact solely by the gratitude felt for them, for the peaceful and profound embrace they offer when we return to them in memories only our hearts can ever truly record and preserve.
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PS: Happy Full Moon from Full Moon Cottage! Enjoy tonight’s third Supermoon of the year. And, if you haven’t yet seen the images shared from the James Webb Space Telescope, they are enchanting and awe-inspiring!