I recently sat down with someone very special, and went through her photo albums with her. Although they weren’t my pictures, and I wasn’t in any of them, it was still a really powerful experience and I really enjoyed it. Looking at pictures isn’t just looking at pictures. When someone goes through their photographs it can be a really personal experience, evoking memories which can cause some strong emotions. You’re not just looking at someones pictures, they’re taking you on a journey with them through their memories, their experiences, their life. That’s what makes it special.
This might sound silly to you. It’s only pictures, I can hear you thinking it. But think about this for a minute: To just sit, with a hot drink, and go through a photo album with someone on a grey afternoon, listening to the excitement in their voice when they’re explaining a certain picture, or watch their face light up when they see a really good picture of someone who’s no longer around. To hear them laughing, either at themselves, or at someone else, or giggle while they’re saying “oh, that was when…”. To have the embarrassing pictures snatched away and hidden while the person goes bright red. When someone’s feeling a bit low, a little bit down and needs a pick me up. When you think about that side of it, it’s suddenly not so silly is it?
It’s not just pictures though. The strangest, most abstract things evoke memories. It can literally be anything. A belt. A diary. A scribbled love letter from school. All of these things are normally put in a box in the attic, left to get dusty, and mostly forgotten about. It’s when you get the box down, dust it off, and sit and go through it. For a couple of hours you can travel back in time.
Our experiences make us who we are. They define us as people, and they teach us. Memories are born from experience. We document those experiences and we tag memories onto them. It’s human nature. There’s all sorts of things we have to remember. From big things like birthdays and anniversaries, to the smaller stuff. Did I pay the phone bill? Has the dog been fed? Is the front door locked? Have I got milk in the fridge? Little, irritating everyday things. So the stuff we can’t keep in our heads, mainly because we don’t have room for it, goes into other things. Dusty boxes in attics and photograph albums kept in cupboards. If we let those things go, do we eventually lose the memories they bring? Do we forget about that trip to the theme park? Do we forget what that person looked like when they were younger?
You can make new memories, write new chapters, of course you can. But that’s just it. They’re new. Fresh. What about your 21st birthday party? Or the best night out of your life? What about the older memories? The chapters that were written in another place and time? Possibly when you were someone else? You can try to remember them, but after a while they’ll fade, and if you don’t keep hold of the things you associate with them, you’ll forget. I’m not saying people should dwell on the past, I don’t. I’m very much looking forward to the future. But everyone has a past, everyone has a story. We don’t just appear. To forget that story, to not share it with someone, to not allow your book to be read by someone who cares about you, or someone you care about, to me is a crime.
I can keep going but I’ll wrap this up by saying this: We can try to run from our past. We can try to block it out. Pretend it didn’t happen. At the close of the book though, would you like to be forgotten?
So go phone a friend, put the kettle on, dust the box off, and take a trip, the results might surprise you!