I came across a photograph of myself recently.
I’m standing in a cave somewhere in the Philippines, the turquoise water sloshing against the rock near my feet. I remember that day. I remember getting dressed in the morning—that bikini top I have on with the turquoise trim and yellow and blue stripes (I loved that swimsuit). The short shorts I’m wearing in the picture—I often used them as a cover up for bikini bottoms. I even remember pulling those shorts on that day and noting that they felt smaller—lamenting that I had gained a few extra pounds, that I wasn’t exercising enough anymore, that I was maybe eating (or drinking) a bit too much. I even remember the blue flip flops I have on my feet.
But I don’t remember me. At least not the way I am in the photo. I never looked like that. If there would have ever been one moment when I was actually happy with my body, it would have been then—the previous year I had run three marathons and was in the best shape of my entire life. In the photo, I look youthful—tan, slim, physically fit. Yet all I remember noticing when I looked in the mirror back then were the things I didn’t like.
Memories fade with time. Now I don’t know the truth anymore. Do I trust the photographs or my fickle memories?
Another photo. This one of my going-away party from 2005, when I moved away from the United States and relocated to Korea. This is my favorite picture of that day because someone had just said something funny (I don’t remember what it was) and the kids are laughing out loud—genuine smiles. Joy oozes from this picture.
The faces in the photograph. My family. I loved them so much. Still do.
The picture shows excitement, but it says nothing about how hard it was to leave them. It doesn’t mention how I ached for the pain I was causing my mom by leaving again. It doesn’t say how sorry I was for disappointing some of the same people in the photograph. There were so many people whose opinion I valued who thought I was making a grave mistake by giving up an excellent job for another that I didn’t intend to stay at for longer than two years. How could the benefits outweigh the risks? I had no idea. Maybe they wouldn’t. I only knew that needed to go.
The photograph doesn’t mention that after the party, I spent the next several days packing my belongings with trembling hands and a queasy stomach. It says nothing of the day before I left, how as I tried to fit the last items in my bags, I rushed to the bathroom several times to vomit. I know the photo holds much truth—I loved my family and there was a lot of joy that day we said goodbye. You can see that in the picture. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Another photo. This is the one I shared with others when I first started dating my husband. We’re such a cute couple here. Back then, after he and I started dating, I shared the picture without mentioning that for my first six months in Korea, I thought he was rather dull, or that a friend of mine had mentioned in October that I should consider dating him, and I confidently declared that he was not my type. The photograph doesn’t mention that we both attended this Christmas party separately and sat next to each other just by chance. It says nothing about it being our first in-depth conversation and the day I discovered that there were much more to this man—that it was the first time I thought maybe, just maybe it would be worth my time to get to know him. The photograph also doesn’t mention that he left the party without even saying goodbye to me, which left me confused and a bit perturbed (I still give him a hard time about that).
My son was born in August of 2010. This is one of my favorite pictures—a gorgeous baby, a new mom looking down at him astounded with this precious gift. I posted this picture on Facebook. It looks like perfection.
That’s the wonderful thing about pictures. Perfection can be attained in a photograph.
My children are growing so fast, I often find myself reaching backwards into my memories, trying to draw out moments that are fading.
There is truth in this picture. My son really was a gorgeous baby. And I did find myself astounded that God would entrust to me something so precious and beautiful. I was thankful. And yet, I also remember tears—of inadequacy, of frustration, of sleeplessness, of an anxiety that (looking back) didn’t make any sense. My world was turned upside down when I had my first baby. The picture says nothing about how upside-down everything felt for me during his first year of life.
I don’t want to forget any of it—the perfection in the photo or the pain that it doesn’t capture. The picture helps me remember the joy. The pain helps me to remember what I learned—the delight that, once I got over my selfishness, could come from pouring myself out for someone else.
There’s truth in the photo. Guam has beautiful beaches and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. But absent from the photo are the feelings I remember having when I think of my early stages of pregnancy with my daughter. After the roller coaster that happened after my son was born, I remember conflicting emotions. We wanted our children to be close together in age, but I didn’t really feel ready for another. I had been overwhelmed with my first baby. And it was hard for me to get excited about it the second time around when I had barely gotten myself on sure-footing again.
Before my son was born, we spent nine months talking about names. While pregnant with my daughter, we didn’t talk about names until that last couple weeks. I didn’t bother with a nursery for her (I knew she’d end up sleeping in our room anyway). In so many ways, my pregnancy with her was the polar opposite from what it was with my son.
Thankfully, the experience afterward was different, too. The emotional roller-coaster didn’t happen after my daughter’s birth. Rather than a roller coaster it was more like those kiddy rides you take a two-year old on. The anxiety and tears never came.
I’ve been sorting through pictures, looking for iconic photographs of different stages of our family to hang on our walls. But behind every picture there is something more—something that only those in the photograph can know. And as the years pass, and I look back at the pictures that are the most aged, I mourn the loss of memory.
I forget names. And places. I forget feelings and words.
I look at a picture of perfection, and remember being unhappy, and I wonder why? Why could I sometimes not see the beauty in the moment, when I could enjoy it and soak it in.
Or do the pictures lie?
How can you capture truth?
(This post was written in response to the Discover Challenge—Memory.)