When I was eleven, we moved from Southern California to Mesa Arizona. From a house to an apartment. Most of our moving boxes went into storage until we could find a more spacious home. A few months after moving, our storage was broken into and all our belongings were stolen, including our family photos. Nothing else that was stolen was of any consequence. I can’t even think of one thing we might have lost but what I do remember is how devastated my mother was over losing the baby photos of my brother and me. She put up signs that she would pay for their return and not press charges.
There were moments over the next several years where the loss came back to us. Where I wished I had photos of my childhood to show my high school sweetheart. Or where I wanted to see this one image of my brother and our first dog. And it hurt to think I would never see them again.
My mom would tell me a story about when I was little. My grandmother would show me a photo of my mother as a child and say “That’s your mama!” and I would turn and look at my mom as if to say “Then who’s that?!” And again I felt sad that I couldn’t show my son, Kayden photos of me as a baby and see if he had the same reaction.
When Kayden was around one or two, my dads mother sent me a Christmas gift. It was a small album of about 20 photos from my childhood that she had found. I held the album in my hands as if it might not be real, half expecting it to disappear and for me to wake up. I turned the pages slowly, a lump rising in my throat. “wow” was all I could say in a small whisper. My brother and I geared up for yard work, my face smashed up against a pillow in the middle of a nap, my brother and our first dog in the rain. I turned and looked at my mom when we reached the end and we both broke out into huge smiles. “WOW!” I said again with more enthusiasm, finally allowing myself to feel the joy of the gift. Of all the things we will own in our lives, photos are among the very very few that will ever achieve a “priceless” status.
A few years ago, my friend told me that was why I was good at photographing people and relationships. Because my heart is in it. Because I value photographs and see the importance in them. That when I photograph a wedding or family, it is as important to me as it is to them. Maybe that all started because our family photos were lost years ago. Maybe it still would have been because I am sentimental by nature. Whatever the reason, my heart is in this.
Hey. Do you mind if I tell you a story? One you might not have heard. All the elements in your body were forged many many millions of years ago in the heart of a faraway star that exploded and died. That explosion scattered those elements across the desolations of deep space. After so, so many millions of years, these elements came together to form new stars and new planets. And on and on it went. The elements came together and burst apart, forming shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings. Until, eventually, they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe. There is only one of you. And there will never be another.