I pulled the memory card out of a broken camera (another story) this morning and realized the pictures on it are about 10 months old from a trip to Myrtle Beach. Chuckling at myself for a moment that I’d never moved the pictures to a computer, a thought occurred to me. It was a trip I remember fondly, and while I was sick for most of it I had some great experiences. Being as nostalgic as I am, why was I apparently in no hurry to store these photos?
I recalled a conversation I had with a coworker a year or so ago about experience. I’d told him that a personal principle I try to live by is to let life change me. I can be stubborn, but I believe that nothing outside the core of who you are is set in stone (and even that can change). We’re all the sum of our experiences, and in my opinion if I’m exactly the same man ten years from now that I am today it’s a sign that I didn’t do enough living those years.
Photos are a gateway into the past, but they function mostly as a window. Even if pictures are worth a thousand words, it’s not a story. You can see what you looked like then, what you were doing, and can repeat the awe of a perfect sunset or a funny moment. But the picture doesn’t tell what you were thinking then or how the experience affected you. The picture may help you remember how you felt, but if that part is already clear to you the rest may not be something you need.
Sometimes, I pondered, the experience is enough.
That’s not to say I’ll never go through those photos, but right now there’s no part of me that’s curious about them. If the point of the trip were to see a bunch of cool, exotic places then maybe I would be. But that trip seemed significant in other ways for me. I discovered things about traditions I wanted to carry on (visiting Hard Rock cafe in every city I travel to that has one for one), and it was a turning point of sorts for my career. What I could glean from pictures seemed insignificant in the moment beyond what the trip itself represented and seemed to mean at the time.
The trip represented a time of promise, of things of come, and of piecing together a new direction. There was no singular moment to point at and say “Ah, that’s where it happened.” And even when promises we make ourselves or that life seems to make us don’t carry out like we thought, moments like this are still relevant. When it works out it’s a fond recollection of a start. When it works out differently, it’s a poignant reminder of both where we erred but also of that feeling. Hope grips us in a particular way, and many things are possible when snuggled within it. The mistake we make is letting the fact that things resolved differently than we’d hoped be remembered as failure. Instead it should be an inspiring tale of what changed in us and how, despite that aspects of it are sometimes bitter, we are better for it.
Related to a learning experience, I think often the lesson we take away from something outstrips the value of details on a big picture level. And that, I think, is how I choose to remember that time for now. A saying that seems pertinent with this is that it’s the journey that matters, not the beginning or even the end. We are the sum of these journeys. To follow the analogy of mementos of a journey, sometimes the reminder of a magnet on the fridge is what we keep, not the gift shop we bought it from.