As a child, I recall standing in the Petrified Forest in Utah. I was awestruck by the magnificent trees– all frozen in time. My mother was ordering my siblings and I to pose for a picture. She was about to take her 80th picture that day, and it was over 100 degrees. We patiently stood in a row as my mother fumbled with her camera and disappointingly exclaimed, in a sentence that seemed to escalate in pitch, “It’s not working! Oh, come on! What is wrong with this stupid thing?” This had become somewhat of a picture taking ritual. We would stand in formation. We would smile. The flash would never come. And, from a distance, my father would calmly state, “The best pictures are the ones you take with your mind.”
Just last week, I was standing in my Grandmother’s house for what would be the last time. Decades of memories flooded my mind. At once I could see all the pictures I had taken with my mind as a child. I saw my Grandfather snoring in his chair. I saw the house where I learned how to be a sister, a daughter, a grandchild; I saw the little girl that I once was danceing to every Cat Stevens song and learning the words to Puff the Magic Dragon; I saw my aunts teaching me how to put on make-up and braid my hair. I saw the house where I learned what it meant to be part of an enormous and loving family. In what seemed like an instant, I saw a thousand images. I remembered every silly debate, and, every quiet moment we ever had in that house together.
That day I helped my mother empty closets, and sort through old family photographs – snapshots of my family frozen in time. Over the course of several days, members of the family would come for some keepsake of the beautiful memories created in that house. And, of all the things one could have taken – the jewelry, handcrafted by my Grandfather, the wine glasses, the trophies, the books, the photographs – my father took an old box of songbooks used by our family every Christmas I can recall.
My father was so content with finding just that old box of songbooks because he knew that this Christmas the books would be passed out again, and we would sing together just as we always have. And, for maybe the first time in my life I understood what my father meant by the phrase, “the best pictures are the ones you take with your mind.” This I believe, the spirit of a family cannot be locked up in a box; it cannot be captured or petrified, nor should it be. It must be carried forward and passed along by hand.