the art of memory making

6:49 AM

my father at the zoo with his siblings and my grandmother
A few weeks ago we were in our backyard enjoying a beautiful sunset. Up on our hill we have the most breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge mountains and four months later I still can't get enough of every sunset and sunrise. Kevin and I were kicking back in our patio chairs while the buzz of insects almost lulled us into an early slumber. The kids were running around doing whatever it is that children do on warm summer evenings such as this. The chickens were pecking away at the measly bushes of grass that pepper our disaster of a yard. And everything was bathed in a warm amber glow. And I wanted to capture... it all. I wanted the perfect photo, the perfect video that encapsulated how it all felt. The need to document it all was overwhelming.
And yet, luckily, my phone died. And there I was left with nothing but my own two eyes and ears to "capture" it the old fashioned way. Instead of fumbling with filters and settings I focused on a curly strand of hair that would habitually sweep over Birdie's temples. Every few minutes she would swat at it with her tiny toddler hand, fingernails full of dirt. I watched Teddy methodically scrape the ground with his miniature rake... Scccrattchhhh... Scrrraaatcchhhh... And every once in a while he would utter a delightful little "hmmm..." and survey his work. And all of this against the background song of the wood thrush singing her nightly lullaby.
I don't have any photos or videos of that evening but I have a feeling that the sound of a wood thrush or a warm summer evening breeze will always remind me of nights like this one. The same way that Blink-182 song instantly transports me to the beige hallways of my high school or the smell of popcorn and A&F number 8 perfume brings me back to summers at my uncle's house and turning sixteen. Strawberries and a steaming bowl of cream of wheat is my toddlerhood. Patchouli and Chanel number five is my best friend's dorm room in college. The gentle crunch of taffeta and clinking of silver is our wedding on that perfect August evening. That Keith Urban song comes on and I can close my eyes and feel the heat from the steering wheel and the tears running down my face, Tennessee in my rearview mirror but his words still so freshly imprinted on my heart.
Don't get me wrong I adore photographs and love videos. I spend hours looking through them before bed almost every evening. There's no better feeling than uncovering a box containing decade old sepia toned photographs. I love seeing my dad as a baby, my mum as a sassy teenager and my husband as the chunky bright eyed infant that he was thirty years ago. And I know I will treasure all the photos I'm collecting now. I can see myself now, in the throes of "empty nesters syndrome" tears in my eyes, gently cradling the memories of when my babies were... babies. But I'll also carry so much with me that can never fit on a 5 by 8 square of paper or in an hour of video. The way they smelled fresh from the hospital or fit into my cradle hold when I fed them, sometimes for hours on end. The way their tiny hands fit into my mine. All those looks - the needy look, the loving look, the look of awe or admiration. The weight of their tiny and then increasingly heftier bodies on my chest. The sound of their bare feet on our floors as they run around in the mornings, leaving a trail of cheerios behind them.
But I've been trying to pull back. To allow myself the gift of just being present in the moment. Not everything is meant to be recorded or documented. Some things should be reserved for our memory banks alone where we can dust them off and enjoy them from time to time. Because the most precious ones would never make a perfectly composed square or charming video. They're precious to us for reasons that can't always be explained. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and let me tell you I behold so much beauty every day that isn't "instagram worthy" or would be interesting to anyone other than myself. But it doesn't need to be. That fact doesn't dull the shine of the moment or make it any less significant. It is special for reasons that only make sense to us. I got rid of Snapchat as it started to feel like there was always a fifth person with us that needed to be fed "memories" at all times. Between photos and videos I felt like I was always somewhere else, always on the fringes of the experience.
In general I've become more aware as of late of how I spend my time, my money and my energy. Is my time and energy being used for something meaningful? Is my money going towards things that are lasting and quality and authentic? Curtailing our consumption has almost felt like a part-time job as habits that have been ingrained for decades are slowly being broken. Curtailing my consumption of social media is something I've done from time to time but I'm trying to be even more intentional this time. I don't want my life to go by and all I'll be left with is photos but no memories of what happened inside the photographs. I want the documenting to be an after-thought not my primary motivation. I want to see, smell, feel and experience something first and archive it later. Because my mind has has never ran out of "storage" and that's a truly beautiful thing.

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