Today, December 25, I decided to use my free time (since my wife and I no longer celebrate Christmas, or accept presents) by going through a box of photos that's been sitting on a shelf in a mostly unused closet for, I don't know, forever. Or close to it.
At first it was bittersweet to pull out old photos from the envelopes that contained prints and negatives, which, young'uns, was how people got what their camera had taken back in the distant days when rolls of film had to be developed.
Having turned 70 a few months ago, it was both pleasurable and painful to see how much younger I looked when, not surprisingly, I was much younger.
Pleasurable, because many photographic memories brought a smile to my face. For example, this photo helped grease the skids for my relationship with Laurel after we started dating in 1989 following my separation, and then divorce, from my first wife.
The initial time she came to my house Laurel saw this photo sitting on a shelf.
She said, "Oh, you used to have a beard! I like men with beards." I instantly resolved to grow it back, having shaved it off, leaving a mustache, after believing that attracting women in my newly single life would be easier if I didn't have a beard, since I'd read somewhere that most women don't like them.
But Laurel did, so this photo helped jump-start our relationship, since she later told me that when we first met, she thought I looked too conservative.
Which was true. Letting my hair grow longer, adding the beard back, and allowing Laurel to choose (or strongly advise, pretty much the same thing) my clothes dealt with that potential problem.
Other photos, though, got me to thinking that my life must have been much better -- happier, more carefree, more interesting -- in the past as compared to now.
After all, now I have a chronic bladder problem that makes it difficult for me to travel long distances. So looking at photos of trips to Washington, D.C., Fiji, Hawaii, and other far away places caused me to long for the younger Brian. Until...
On a dog walk late this afternoon, when getting out in nature tends to settle my mind and see things more clearly, I realized that the photos I'd spent hours sorting through and putting into albums all showed me (and others) smiling, doing fun stuff, looking like we didn't have a care in the world.
But obviously this wasn't the full picture of what my life was all about back then.
I didn't have any photos of arguments with my first wife, nor of the tense times following our separation. I didn't have photos showing me bitterly disappointed when a reorganization at work left me demoted, supervised by someone I thought was incompetent. And I found zero photos memorializing my anxieties over whether we'd been raising my daughter correctly, when she veered off course several times in high school and college.
(I'm pleased to say that fairly soon after graduating from the University of Arizona, she got on the right track that has brought her much success and happiness in her adult life.)
This realization that the photos I'd been pouring over were nowhere close to an accurate portrait of my life from high school up to 1990, when I got married to Laurel and she took over our photo album duty, doing a much better job than I ever could, produced a big sense of relief in me.
It's a frequent criticism of Facebook and Instagram that most people only post photos that make their life look oh so wonderful. However, this applies to old photos as well, taken long before modern social media came into being.
Doesn't someone taking a photo almost always say "smile" to their subject? How often have you heard, "Show me how you're truly feeling right now." In my case, never. Thus photo albums almost always contain highly selective vignettes from our past.
Which probably is as it should be, and will always be.
I doubt people will run and get their camera, or smart phone, to create a photographic record of their suffering, disappointment, pain, despair, and such. Or even of ordinary moments, where nothing special was going on other than daily life.
Maybe this would be good to do. It's just human nature to want to look on the bright side, even though this provides an incomplete view of what life is all about.