Photo Fail: The Story Behind the Picture

I’d like to share with you what is, undoubtedly, one of my most epic photo fails of all time.  In fact,  I actually dare you to beat me on this one.

June 2nd: Graduation Day for our first born and our nephew.  I’m emotional and excited, she’s emotional and excited.  I have a houseful of family guests for the weekend, and a party to run – tent, tables, chairs, catered food, decorations, the works.  There’s a lot going on. You get the picture.

I made sure to charge my camera batteries.  I leave earlier than everyone else to stake out good seats; I bake in the sun for 90 minutes before anyone else shows up.  I have water bottles, tissues, a snack, and coats to save seats.  I am here. I am prepared.

The ceremony starts- I cry when her show choir sings the National Anthem. I cry again when they sing “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman, all the seniors have featured solos.  I capture some video on my phone.

Then I pull out my big fancy telephoto lens and drop it on the concrete at my feet.  Luckily I was sitting, so it didn’t have far to fall.  I quickly pick it up and by some miracle, it’s fine.  I utter a small prayer of thanks.

As I look through my lens, I realize what good seats I got for all of us.  The sunburn on my neck was worth it.  I snap photos of practically every kid I know.  I’m so excited about how many good pictures I’m getting, but unfortunately don’t get a photo of the five of us together.  After the ceremony, we have to split up to get ready for the party.

The party happens, the camera gets put down.  We eat, we drink, we socialize, we have cake, we celebrate the graduates and Raelyn’s 15th birthday.

When I finally sit down much later to look at the pictures from my camera, it occurs to me that we still didn’t get a single family photo with Clare in her graduation gown.  (Sigh.)  I turn on my camera, and the screen is blank.  Black.  Nothing.  I start to panic.  I turn it off and on again.  It takes only a second for my brain to answer the question, “Am I that much of an idiot?”

Yes. Yes I am.

There was no memory card in the camera.  I’d taken it out to download photos the week before and forgotten to put it back in.

I didn’t know if I was going to cry or vomit.

I beat myself up about this one for a good long time.  I was so caught up in missing out on capturing those specific moments on film, that I forgot- for awhile- all the wonderful stories that came from that day.

The story behind this year’s Christmas card photo started about four months ago and ended with begging, bribing, and coercing.  After the graduation day photo-fail, I’d had a vision of a cute family picture, all five of us wearing our “American University” t-shirts, sitting outside on a sunny day.  In the weeks before we drove Clare down to D.C., there was an insane flurry of packing, shopping trips, and knocking off summer bucket list items.  The only photo I was able to manage was a disproportionate selfie in the hot tub, wet hair slicked back, and our faces red and blotchy.

Our road trip to deliver our college freshman began at 2:00 am.  It ended 12 hours later, only to sit in a drop-off line for 90 minutes.  Even though I’d asked everyone to have their A.U. t-shirts handy, it became pretty apparent that the state of our family was not going to stand for, or sit for, a photo shoot. We were sleep-deprived, sweaty, hungry, and just generally cranky.   When it was time for us to say “goodbye for now” (we were staying in DC for the week), I tried really hard not to cry in front of Clare’s new friends.  She asked me, “Do you still want a picture?” because she knew I did.  All I could manage to do was shake my head as the tears came.

We got together a couple times that week, and at one point I asked a complete stranger to take our photo in a restaurant (there was eye-rolling, and not by the stranger).

When Thanksgiving weekend rolled around and I still didn’t have the family snapshot I’d wanted, my family knew I wasn’t going to shut up until we all sat down for a picture.  We are showered, we are together, we are making this happen.  Oh, and please don’t wear anything with a large logo or picture on it. My plans for a festive outdoor picture were foiled by 8 inches of snow and 14 degree temps with wind chill.

I like to remind myself that there’s a story behind every picture. But we aren’t actually seeing the story when we look at the photo.  We’re seeing the moment in time that someone has chosen for us.  And there can be so many reasons someone chooses a particular moment to show us, to display. It’s up to us to recognize that there’s always more to it.

I wish I could say it’s not a habit to assume that we know someone’s story based on one snapshot in time.  I wish I could say it’s easy to take the time to learn the story behind the moment, the face, the smile, to connect on a deeper level. Our world is as complicated as it is inter-connected.  Yet all this “instant-ness” doesn’t replace the connection people can make when they truly look and listen to each other.

I recently read an article on the art of conversation. The author noted, “we must use the ratio of one mouth to two ears- there’s a reason God gave us that ratio.”  I’m learning that the story or the moment that isn’t shared can be as important, or maybe more important, as the one that is.

This is my New Year’s wish for all of us:  Take the time to really connect with people.  Of all types.  All over. And don’t stop.  Go out into the world and listen to those stories with two ears.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, with love and best wishes from all of usIMG_3058

2 thoughts on “Photo Fail: The Story Behind the Picture

  1. Pingback: Oh, You’re FINE | Gretchen L. Mulroy

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