Christmas thirty years ago, I never pictured it.
Christmas thirty years ago, if you could picture it, was just the three of us, a newly single mother watching her two young children sit in front of the camera for their annual holiday portrait, an insert to the family Christmas card.
Back in the day, portrait studios were located in the “big box stores”. Closer to the holiday when I usually scheduled our photo session, multiple procrastinated families like mine crowded the couches waiting impatiently for their name to be called, as photographers were unfortunately behind schedule during the final weeks of Christmas.
I doubt any young mother pictures it, and I was no exception.
I didn’t think of it, I didn’t imagine it.
I wasn’t in denial, I just didn’t picture it.
I doubt most of us picture it although it’s happening to us all.
The only picture that mattered to me thirty years ago were those of my little boy and girl dressed in their holiday best.
An annual gift wrapped up as a Christmas portrait that only a mother could truly appreciate; a parent’s attempt in preserving the Christmas faces of her children as a keepsake to reflect on when the passage of time caught them growing up.
I never pictured it until thirty years later when I opened up a packed box of my mother’s belongings, finding a stack of clippings from my old column she saved, stumbling upon a specific column that took me back to the portrait studio where I picked up my children’s Christmas pictures for the holiday season that year.
EVERYONE’S LIFE IS A STORY WAITING TO BE TOLD
By Lori A. Alicea
No telling how many people cross our path and we never know their name or story. Faces are everywhere. Crowded streets; busy stores. We rub shoulders, but barely make eye contact. We all have a story, but who takes the time to wonder?
Waiting for my purchase at a local Photography store, I got my first glimpse of him, an old man with downy white hair, possibly in his eighties, sporting an old flannel shirt and yellowed jeans, wearing shoes that had seen better days.
This man didn’t see me as he entered the store, but I followed him around with wondering eyes.
Sitting close by, the exchange between the old man and clerk was audible. He inquired about the special. By his casual appearance I assumed a future appointment was in the making. Assuming wrong, he reached for a coupon from his pocket for a portrait taken that morning.
Directed to the sofa by me, we both sat in silence. I could hear grandpa’s labored breathing. I watched grandpa’s wrinkled hands folded, as if in quiet prayer.
In that moment the words to an old song began to play in my head, “If a picture paints a thousand words”. In that song I began to wonder about the words that painted this old man’s portrait.
Father? Husband? Friend? Lonely? Happy? Rich? Poor? Who was this person? Surely he belonged to somebody. Was grandma alive? Did grandpa have kids? If so, do they call? What about his dreams? Fulfilled?
Encouraged by a mutual smile, grandpa and I engaged in conversation.
Grandpa told me he was having his picture taken to send in cards to his family. Grandpa said he didn’t know how long he’d be around, and wanted everyone to have a picture to remember him by.
What a beautiful man, what a lovely idea. An old man with a story, a book destined to be a best seller, a picture of a thousand words.
I wish I had an extra hour to hear the “rest of his story”, but the clerk was calling my name.
I purchased my pictures and turned around to leave, but stopped long enough to smile at the old man and bid him good-by. Grandpa smiled back and wished me the same.
Weeks later I wondered about grandpa. Was grandpa’s picture a delight to whom ever received it? Was grandpa’s picture a reminder to spend more time with him? Did grandpa’s card get lost on the stack of other mail?
My questions will remain unanswered. But that day an old man reminded me no life should ever go unnoticed. That each life is a picture of a thousand words, a story worthy to be read.
Thirty years ago I was in my late twenties and the eighty year old man in the story could have been great-grandfather.
Thirty years later and I now thirty years older, the eighty year old man in the story could have been my father.
You never picture it when the “second hand” of your life’s clock is ticking down the minutes.
You never picture it when you’re blowing out another candle on your birthday cake.
You picture it through the lens of the old photographs taken of you in your twenties, thirties, forties and those fifties, soon to open a new chapter in my sixties, when you wonder:
How can it be that so much time has passed since my young children sat in front of the Christmas camera, kids who have grown up themselves and are now taking pictures of their own family at Christmas.
We must picture it that age can’t be controlled any more than the weather.
But you can number your days; to keep watch and value the life you have been given; to not waste our minutes and hours on matters that don’t matter.
“Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.”
Psalm 39:4 NIV
…What is your life?
You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
James 4:14 NIV
In twenty years I will have attained the age of the man in the story.
Twenty short years and beyond;
I need to picture the impact I want to make with my days and live it in front of the lens and those I am sharing my life with.
Might the story of my life and the story of your life boast a best seller.
Might the story of the old man in the Photo store cause us to be more vigilant and read between the lines of those we rub shoulders with; even strangers we share a couch with for a few brief minutes while waiting, because:
… an old man reminded me no life should ever go unnoticed.
That each life is a picture of a thousand words, a story worthy to be read.