Making Space

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Last week I was walking to the post office at lunch when a man rushed over to me and asked if I would mind taking a picture for him. Unlike that other university in Virginia, there aren’t too many (read: any) famous rotundas designed by former presidents on our campus, so this was a slightly unusual request. I was immediately curious.

The picture that he wanted was of him and his parents standing in front of a sculpture on the lawn of one of the galleries on campus (see above). His father proudly explained that he had graduated from the university in the late 1960s and had been one of a small group of students who had helped install the piece. I took several photos for them and spent a few minutes listening to his parents memories of the campus. I learned that they lived in Florida and were on the way to Philadelphia to visit their grandchildren. The father had asked his son to stop, so he could show him the sculpture, which he had never seen.

I still smile thinking about this five-minute interlude to my afternoon. The father full of pride. His wife clearly soaking in some lovely nostalgia, as she grabbed his hand and squeezed it in hers. The son excited for this glimpse into his parents’ life before he was a part of it, thrilled to have captured the moment.

I imagined that maybe the son’s plan was to grab a quick bite just off the interstate and keep pushing through. That this detour into the city for art viewing and lunch at one of his dad’s old favorite restaurants wasn’t on the itinerary. In my made-up story, I found myself feeling so grateful that he chose to stop.

It’s so easy to be busy. To have agendas and stick to them. To worry about time schedules and expectations. And yet, years later, when we find that photo of our parents holding hands in front of an artistic stack of round red brick on a sunny afternoon we’ll be grateful we disregarded our original plans. That we made the space in our crowded lives for a moment that could never be recreated.

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2 thoughts on “Making Space”

  1. When I was doing oral history our biggest roadblock was always photographs. In general we don’t think about taking a picture of a house or a completed project so that we have a memory of it for later. We’re in the moment. It’s something that exists so seamlessly that our minds don’t call it out as an exception. We will remember what something looks like, how hard it was to make, or how it felt to stand beside it, but without a picture it is really hard to *show* anyone else that memory.

    I sat in so many homes as people tried to explain how their house looked fifty years ago. Tons of pictures of sitting around the table or Christmas tree, but not a single snapshot of the actual house from the outside. Plenty of images of happy people smiling at the camera, posed. But none of candid moments holding hands, hugging, or relaxing.

    As a result I take a lot of pictures. Stop. Enjoy the moment, but also take a snap shot! Even blurry ones tell tales many years from now!

    1. marychrisescobar

      I love, love, love this comment. Gathering oral histories has got to be such a fascinating thing (at least for writer types).

      I used to be that person who was all like – savor the moment, you don’t need a picture, but I’ve really come to understand the value in photographs to trigger memories. As much as you think you’ll remember every detail when someone is gone, you learn that you won’t and you’ll cherish those snapshots that bring the moments back.

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