(I originally wrote this about 4 years ago after a houseguest– once upon a time, I had those!– commented on the sheer number of photos in my home.)
They smile and gaze and beckon me from frames—large and small, simple and ornate. Some hang on the wall, others are perched atop tables, dressers, any flat surface. They are taped to my refrigerator, tacked to the bulletin board. Why so many photos? The question gives me pause. I’ve never stopped to think about it, really. I guess I am a collector… a collector of faces, of beautiful things, of happy moments frozen in time.
There are the grainy black-and-white ones that remind me where I’ve come from… a boy in fuzzy slippers reveling in the joy of a lit Christmas tree, a tiny girl shading her eyes from the sun, maturity and consternation on her face. There are the squarish ones from childhood, captioned in mom’s loopy handwriting. Two little girls in matching outfits, blond hair curled precisely. Two little girls in undershirts, frizzy hair wild from humidity and frenzied play. There is the photo in the small heart-shaped frame, capturing my sister, still cloaked in the innocence of childhood, right where I left her when I went off to college. There’s that snapshot of my parents—smiling, still very much in love—on their twenty-fifth anniversary trip to Ireland. Family photos capture our idea of ‘family’ as it evolves through the years. Sometimes there are two kids, sometimes three or four. Sometimes I can look at our eyes and tell that we belong together, sometimes I have to look a little bit deeper. My eyes linger on those family photos for a bit, the moment pregnant with nostalgia or maybe melancholy. I wonder whatever happened to…
Family is different now, as a grown up, but it is also the same. Family is looking at our profile shot on my sister’s wedding day and admitting that I was genuinely happy, though I thought I might be reduced to a weeping mess on the floor. Family is holding a tiny squirming mass in the NICU and wondering how I could love someone so much. Family is seeing six of us sprawled on New Brunswick grass and wondering how we ever got along without the littlest one—in his fuzzy bear suit and green plaid shirt, to make us smile. Family is taping up one more photo, a tiny girl with big brown eyes, and loving her, missing her, before we’ve even met.
C’s eyes stare out at me, laughing. I love those eyes, that smile. I love when he crawls up into my lap and reminds me that words aren’t the only way to communicate. B is there too… first a snuggly baby, then a skinny kid with one eye squinted shut, now a none-too-communicative adolescent. Where has the time gone? There’s an empty space next to I’s picture on the refrigerator, but not for long. I’m counting down the days until I can fill that space with a photo of his baby sister—long-awaited and loved from the start.
I share my home, my walls, with babies from all over… from Camden, Baltimore, Honduras and the Dominican Republic (and even some from Frederick). Their beautiful faces sometimes haunt my dreams and, in my waking moments, remind me that hope and generosity matter, and that my world needs to be bigger than what I find inside these walls.
I’m standing on the porch of the yellow house, surrounded by the faces of the ones I’ve come to love like family. I’m laughing with two little ones in this place where I am fully alive. I’m donning a huge sombrero, perched atop a pony painted to look like a zebra. I’m climbing on top of a huge cow statue, squeezing into a bread oven, and realizing that time and distance don’t matter when you are a true friend. Why so many photos? Not because I need them, but because I want them. Because they remind me of where I’ve come from, who I am, and what I want my life to be about.