The bookshelves in our house are sagging, weighted down with over thirty years of books, photo albums and other memorabilia that need a place to be kept. I took a good hard look at them today and realized that most of the contents of the shelves could be thrown out, or possibly sold for a few dollars. I don’t really need my college math text book anymore, and I might be able to sell some of the many “Compete Works of William Shakespeare” I see there, and just keep one.
The photo albums are something different, however. They are the family treasure. There is at least six lineal feet of photo albums, mostly documenting the life of our only child. Year by year they are labeled, up to the start of high school when birthday parties and other cute events started to taper off, and album making became a chore. I thought of how special those pictures were and that maybe I should copy them and put at least an electronic version in the bank vault. The house is almost ninety years old and it would only be prudent to protect valuables from fire. The thought of scanning all of those pictures was so daunting, however, that I decided to not even put such a thing on my long term list of things to do. It would be too much work.
But the truth is that it isn’t the work involved. The truth is that I really don’t want to look at those pictures. The sentimentality would be too much. To see them would mean to want to re-live them, and that is not possible. There is too much truth in those pictures, too many unrepeatable moments.
My daughter will never be a child in a highchair again with guacamole all over her face. I will never look that good in a tuxedo again. My wife will never again capture the attention of “Woman’s Wear Daily” at the Neiman Marcus fortnight in her thirty-five dollar Mexican wedding dress. My daughter won’t be a middle school student full of trepidation with her backpack as she sets out for a three week trip to Big Bend National Park. I will never again be an optimistic young architect starting out on my own in a blue denim work shirt with nothing but a pencil in my hand, a flower in my lapel, a beard and a wealth of unfunded confidence.
These things exist now only in the pictures, for they are really gone. That is the truth. Thinking back on those times would only bring too many things to the surface. Too many ‘what could be’ s turned into too many ‘what could have been’s’. Too many ‘if onlys’; ‘If only I had said…’ or ‘ If only I hadn’t said..’, or ‘If only I hadn’t gotten fat…’
So feeling guilty, I turned away from the shelves, from the past maybe, and decided the least I could do would be to flip them over to take the sag out. Someday, perhaps, I will work up the courage to open the albums and look at the past. That, or turn the shelves over again and keep looking forward.
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