I was sorting through a box of old photos a few days ago and realized something. Without exception, none of the moments that have stirred me most have been captured on film. My guess is it’s the same for you.
There were some wonderful pictures in there. People I love and places I’ve been. The majority made me smile and a few made me sigh, yet they couldn’t compare to the incredible group of files I have in my head.
In the photo above, my husband and I were about to leave for a wedding. I like that shot. Neither of us has our eyes closed and we were all dressed up. Pretty good. The best moment of that night, though, had nothing to do with us, nor was it about the bride and groom. When everyone was seated for dinner, the groom stood to speak. He said during their reception, each time guests clinked their glasses as a cue for the newlyweds to kiss, they were instead going to point to a couple in the crowd, and they were to kiss. The first couple shared a passionate kiss. The second a quick peck. The third time, a man dipped his wife and planted a Hollywood-worthy kiss after he brought her to her feet. At the next clinking of guests’ glasses, the groom pointed to his grandparents. They stood. His grandfather took his wife’s face in his gnarled hands and put his lips on her forehead. They stayed there for several seconds and the love they so clearly shared filled every person in the room. I’m not sure if the photographer captured that moment, but I assure you everyone in attendance took it home with them.
When asked what they’d try to grab if their house was burning down, family photos are at the top of most people’s lists. It’s odd, really, that we treasure inky slips of paper when the moments that fill us with emotion are always available and rarely catalogued in albums. Stop for a second and bring to mind the memory of a moment when you felt truly cherished. Now one that made spontaneous laughter bubble up. Finally, one that broke your heart. If you were to flip through your photo albums, would you find any of those?
Candid shots have a better chance of capturing emotion-filled moments than the “Say cheese!” ones, but if you multiply the 86,400 seconds in every day by the many days of our lives, the chance of getting the most potent seconds on film is slim to none.
Our most joyful (and painful) moments often happen when we aren’t expecting anything to touch us in a lasting way. Yes, there are certainly times when we expect to be happy or sad, but even during those times (weddings, births, celebrations, vacations, hospital visits, funerals) it’s never the whole of the experience that stays with us. It’s the moments, and many of those happen outside the above events. You know the ones. Your baby recognizes you and lights up. Her toddler self tumbles from the sofa and your heart stops. A photo of her, decades later, holding her own daughter makes you smile, but the memory of the moment you entered her hospital room after your granddaughter was born and your little girl met your eyes with the knowing of a mother—well, that moment will forever own a piece of your heart.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” — Ferris Bueller
Don’t miss it.