Columnist Thomas Froese in the African nation of Congo showing a photo he just took to astonished locals. “We want to be seen and known, even as we want to know others,” writes Froese, even as in our time of convenience it’s easy to lose the sacredness of the moment.
Photo by Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese
(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, October 6, 2018)
She was a friend and it was her funeral and we were reminded how life is little more than a fleeting mist.
Moments of her life were shown. Photos. There she is — her name is Wendy — as a young girl. Later, a graduate. Then Wendy the writer and editor, the years I knew her. I found her to be a thinking person who laughed easily and from a deep place.
Wendy lived her life, in the words of the funeral’s minster, “like it was an expandable suitcase.” She always took an interest in my family’s travels. “Do you know that my parents pray for you and your family every day?” she told me once. This, before cancer led her by the hand into the long tomorrow.
Moments. They’re all anyone has. You. Me. Anyone from today’s obituary page. One moment linked to another, hooked to the next, tied to another, each holy, somehow, joining to form what is the DNA of life. So we try to capture the moment. We take a photo.
A few people on the planet might fear they’ll somehow lose their soul to a photo. The rest of us, not so much. Selfies by the millions fill our phones and float into cyberspace. We want to be seen and known, even as we want to know others. From the days of cave paintings of wild animals and human hands, this is the insatiable human need to record what happens around us.
One day a friend of mine showed me a photo of a certain woman. She was on a boat, this woman, looking relaxed and looking knowingly into the camera. And even though this photo was just a two-dimensional collection of pigments and lines, it gave a certain energy. A certain vitality.
Later I phoned her as only a reporter can: cold. “Who did you say you are, again?” she wondered. Later still, funny enough, I’d marry this woman. Then, eventually, you’d read things about her, like this. All because of a moment. A photo.
Now hundreds of family photos fill a row of digital frames in our home, our best shots from here and there. Many show the children. I recently added our 500th. It was something. I felt like Frank Mahovolich, the hockey player, celebrating his 500th goal. I remember his photo in the paper when I was a kid: Frank, puck in-hand, grinning ear-to-ear.
I’ve taken photos of people who have laughed in fantastic astonishment at the sight of themselves captured, somehow, on a tiny camera screen. Poorer parts of the world, as you might imagine, don’t have easy access to cameras.
Conversely, the rich world is living in a golden era, or at least a remarkably easy era, of capturing the moment. Yes, we’re now free of photography’s old technological limitations. Even the first digital camera, invented in 1975, weighed a cumbersome eight pounds.
Fly to, say, East Africa, and what you’ll hear coming out of the mouths of children during their Sunday morning worship is this: “I thank God for the gift of life.” Over and over. The gift of life. It’s what people say when they’re so intimate with life’s uncertainties.
Or fly to another time and place and hear the same thing from this continent’s Pilgrim Fathers, and Mothers, along with the American Indians, the Wampanoag First Nation, at that first Thanksgiving. There they all are in Plymouth, almost 400 years ago now, families and friends, old and new, taking stock of even hard times and still giving thanks. The previous winter had killed 45 of the 102 pilgrims who’d recently travelled over the Atlantic on the Mayflower.
Of course, nobody had a camera to capture that moment, the togetherness of that first Thanksgiving. They recorded it in other ways. But I wonder, if they could somehow look ahead to our time and place, if they wouldn’t encourage us to do the same: to give thanks for simple moments given, for better or worse, with a certain reverence. And wonder.