The chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee late March 19 expressed grief over…
Photographs, memories and appreciating the time of our lives
On a narrow wall that defines our kitchen from our dining room — it might be 2 feet wide — hang three photos of our children, starting with our oldest at the top and working our way down to No. 3. Each black frame has three panels: a black-and-white headshot in the middle, and in black paint pressed on white paper, their left and right handprints on either side.
Judging by the age of their little faces and the size of their little hands, I took the pictures 10 years ago, give or take. I printed the photos, pressed their handprints and wrapped each as a Christmas present for my wife, and for the last decade or so, there they’ve hung, facing the dining room table, perfectly level, with the space between them just so. While they are 17, 14 and 11 now, they’ll forever be 7, 4 and 1 on that wall — memories frozen in time.
I’m immensely proud of those three photos, with one small caveat: We have six children.
I’ve been meaning to add photos of the second wave of kids to the wall — they’re 5, 3 and 1 now — but time has a way of zipping on by. And also — and this is the real reason I haven’t completed the project — I can’t quite settle on the best way to update the series and maintain cohesion. If I take photos and handprints of the three newest kids, our now 5-year-old and 3-year-old will look older than the 11-year-old, who, again, was 18 months or so in the original series. And if I take a whole new set of all of them, there’s no way the handprints of the oldest three will fit on a 5-by-7 sheet of paper. And so I’ve been paralyzed a bit by the lack of a satisfying conclusion, so there they hang, perfectly imperfect, three instead of six.
The problem goes well beyond that single wall of photos. While pictures of the major milestones in the young lives of our oldest three sit proudly in frames scattered throughout the house — baptisms, birthdays, kindergarten graduations, first Communions and others — you’d be hard-pressed to find any photographic evidence of the littlest three. The photos are there, certainly, and in great abundance, taking up an overwhelming amount of available space on computer hard drives, on our phones and backed up in the cloud. But truly, how often do we stop and sift through these endless, unedited and uncurated digital warehouses? Not often enough, certainly — not even in these meandering days we find ourselves in.
It’s been nearly two months since life has slowed to a crawl. Our once-packed spring calendar has been wiped clean, and, as as a result, we’ve crossed a great deal off of our list of projects to do around the house. But the photos that we promised ourselves we’d order? The engraved frames with the baptismal dates of the littlest three still sit empty. All those smiles? All those memories? For now, they are just pixels stored by the megabyte, waiting for us to make the time and give them life.
The other night, my wife and I took a rare walk — just the two of us — and we were chatting about how, for all of the awful things that have come about because of the coronavirus pandemic, a silver lining has been the abundance of time that we’ve been given to spend together as a family — just the eight of us. Perhaps I was being overly dramatic, but I told her that when we’re old and our memories have faded, when we think about the absolute prime of our lives, it will be this moment — right now — that jumps forward.
If we were to take a snapshot of our lives a little more than a year ago, our baby wouldn’t yet have been born. And in a little more than a year, our oldest will be away at college. It’s a narrow window, and we’re trying our best to realize that this, truly, might be the time of our lives. Given this awareness, we’re trying our best to make as many memories as possible — to freeze this time as best we can.
And years from now, I hope our walls are as full of love and laughter as our hearts are.
Scott Warden is managing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.