Six weeks ago, my husband gave me a roll of film (the old-fashioned kind), and asked me to drop if off at our local drug store. I received this roll with fear and trembling, as I knew its importance. My mother-in-law found it a few days earlier in a camera belonging to her late husband. It’s the last roll of film my father-in-law used before he switched over to digital. The camera and film hid in a drawer for nine years, until nearly two years after his death, she discovered it.
I have an illustrious history of screwing up important, as well as benign, errands, requests, and life events. I knew as soon as my husband gave me the roll, something would go wrong. I sat in the drug store for twenty minutes filling out the form. I didn’t like the way it looked, so I ripped it up and started all over again. I asked the cashier for assistance, then I petitioned God for help too, before I walked over to the small black abyss labeled “Photo Drop”.
I may as well have dropped that film straight into the pit of hell, because it took four weeks for the film to return. Four weeks of phone calls, of begging and thinly veiled threats. Two weeks ago, I looked into the dead eyes of the photo manager and told her these photos were the very last ones taken by my dearly departed loved one. She needed to make this happen. Not a flicker in her eyes, just a perfunctory “I’m sorry. We’ll try to locate them.”
Yes, Dead-Eyes. Yes, you will.
The photos finally winged their way back to me today. I sat in my car and I prayed images would appear when I opened the sticky edge of the package. I texted my husband. I palpitated. Then I flipped the edges open and stared straight into the eyes of my in-law’s heinous cat Rusty, resting in the arms of my sister-in-law. I looked through them and saw my son, aged three, laughing while lying on his uncle’s chest. My fourteen-year-old girl, showed up at age five, her face lit by the candles on her birthday cake. A smile as big as the north wind played across her face as she blew them out.
My dog appeared, Bailey-boy, my father-in-law called him. Bailey-boy always suckered him into throwing a knobbly blue ball around the kitchen for hours. Various photos of family members, nine years younger, popped up as I skimmed through the stack.
Like a newspaper with today’s date held up for the camera, these photos were proof of life. Proof that my father-in-law lived those days, that he looked through a lens and captured a few moments in time that he found meaningful. Proof that nine years ago, my sister-in-law still had her wedding rings on before losing them in the trash a few years later. We still can barely talk about it. Proof that my children spent a day laughing, smiling, and blowing through their grandparents lives like the wind.
I live my life with an eye to what’s next–next week, next year, next decade. I try not to return too much to the past because I feel melancholy at everything I’ve left behind. My youth, my littles, and a ridiculously awesome life lived across Europe. But, as I flipped through my father-in-law’s photos, I realized how good it is to look back and remember the before’s too. Why am I so concerned with the after’s? There is a fullness to life, when we acknowledge the ghosts of our past, present, and future. They belong to us, and we carry each one onwards. Why not embrace them all?
What do you carry forward with you to the present? What are you looking forward to in the future?