How many of you send photos in your holiday greeting cards in this age of Instagram and Facebook? I don’t send them anymore unless the recipient doesn’t go online ever; there are many photos of my family and friends – and me – visible in more than one place. But I don’t post everything. I have hundreds – no, thousands – of photos stored on an external hard drive that have not been shared with the world. I have never posted a photo of my beautiful granddaughter at the request of her parents. Rather than create a digital presence for her from the moment she was born, they opted to keep her image for themselves while protecting Camille’s option to choose, as much as possible, how her own image gets loose in the digital universe.
Even though I love sharing photos, I absolutely agree with and support their decision. There is something very special about having some images that we get to hold close, unshared and precious. There are no one else’s comments on those photos, no thumbs-up from people we barely know. These images contain the stories we hold in our hearts, unedited, unvarnished.
As I wrote the first draft of this post by hand, I sat at my desk in front of my office window. I’ll set the mood: The December sun was setting and there were hints of pink behind the trees to the west. Christmas music was on my radio; I love listening to the radio while I work. I love the interruptions by real people who are in the local radio studio as they share news and weather and traffic reports, the names of the songs and the names of the artists. Right in front of me on the desk sat the last formal photograph my father had taken. It was a photo for his church’s directory, St. Louis King of France Catholic Church in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. In the photo, Dad has on a houndstooth-check sport coat, a red and blue paisley tie, a white shirt. His smile is slight; my mom was gone by then and he was lonely. But he looks good in this picture.
He gave me this photo as a gift. There is no digital version.
I treasure this photo as much as I treasure my children’s first baby pictures. Some days, I say hello to Dad as he looks out from the frame. He’s been gone for 10 years now, but his presence on my desk is constant, solid, tactile even when the power is out. I have no last formal photo of my mom to stand beside it, but I do have another photo that I love just as much. Beside Dad, in a square laser-cut wooden frame, is one of the last Christmas photos on print film of myself, my husband, my son, my daughter, and our old dog Lucy the Westie. We took it with a tripod (Selfie stick? Pshaw.) on the deck at the back of our house when Abby was in kindergarten and Shawn was in high school. It was before Abby’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis, before we had to put Lucy down because she got terribly sick with Addison’s disease. Abby has on a headband with red reindeer antlers. Shawn is not quite smiling with his high school too-cool-for-family-photos stance. Mick is scratching Lucy under her chin. And I, who had just lost my mother, hug Abby tightly as she stands in front of me. There were so many things happening and about to happen in our lives when this photo was taken that I cannot look at it without pulling on a story thread. I love who we were then, just as I love who we are now.
These photos are staying right here, on my desk, out of the sun and out of the glare of Facebook comments and Instagram hearts, in their frames where they never disappear to save power. Right here, where they are just for me.