A while ago, my dad emailed me this picture:
With the craziness of Christmas, I didn’t have time to fully appreciate what I was seeing until today.
I sat down and really looked at it, a group of people I share blood with, in a basement I spent so much time in as a child. Almost 50 years and 750 miles separate me from the moment. My grandma sold that house years ago, and some of the people in this picture have been dead longer than I’ve been alive.
I called the kids so they could look at the picture. “This is a picture of Grumpy as a teenager,” I said. They crushed against me, jostling to get a good view of the computer.
“Oh my gosh! Look at that dog! What’s his name?” (Sniffy, and he’s possibly the fattest cocker spaniel I’ve ever seen)
“Which one is Grumpy? Is he that one right there?” (Yes. “Right there” being the not-awkward-at-all 14 year old in the plaid shirt and glasses.)
“Where’s Grandma? Is that her?” (Not in the picture, and no, that’s not Grandma, that lady in the white shirt is your great-grandma.)
“Where’s Grandma? They didn’t even know each other yet, did they?” (Don’t know where Grandma was at this precise moment, but she and my dad did, in fact, know each other as children.)
“They had cameras back then? For real cameras? Or is this, like, part of a movie?” (Yes. Real cameras. Not a movie. Though there is film from this time period floating around in various family members basements)
Amazingly, despite being part of a culture awash in visual images, I never get tired of looking at photographs. Particularly group shots like this. I love looking at the clothing, the setting, the body language. I love looking at how close the people sit to one another, where their eyes are looking, the expression on the faces. There is something about a group of people that makes me pay attention to each individual more than I would if the shot showed only one person. We express so much of ourselves in our relationship to others.
I know three of the people in this picture have passed away. Another one of them, my grandmother, is so far gone with Alzheimer’s that her ability to form new memories is almost completely non-existent. But I look at this picture, and I feel hope that in God, nothing is really lost. While we have to content ourselves with photographs, the hearts and souls, the thoughts and memories of our loved ones are constantly in God’s keeping. There in the heart of God, my grandmother exists as she was intended to exist, even if the image we have of her now is distorted by dementia. Mae and Otis, pictured here and killed in a car crash before I was born, still exist through the will of God.
There’s a line in Clarence J. Enzler’s amazing work, My Other Self, that reads: “I know you not only as you are, but as you have been, and as you will be; and I know all of this NOW. There is no past or future with Me; there is only the eternal now.”
The closest I come to grasping even the tiniest bit of what that means is by looking at photographs. Then, I get a brief flicker of understanding that all of our lives are spread out before God like a photograph. But unlike me looking at this one taken in Berkley Michigan in May of 1965, God is not a spectator. He is the one who set the scene, who created the light, the people, the very air everyone drew in before saying “Cheese”. He was there. He is there. He’ll always be there.