The mind has always had an uncanny ability to pull up detailed images and sounds from the past. Many of these images and sounds are recorded with high precision despite having very brief exposure. It’s similar to how an SLR works. When recording something by memory, the mind’s shutter goes off at random moments, storing an assortment of sounds and images onto a chip, and then storing that chip in an album in the brain for later use, and sometimes, for no use at all. These memories usually include different categories of feelings or emotion: happy, sad, angry, confusion, admiration, regret, etc..etc.
My mind has worked like that ever since my early elementary school years. That could be one reason why I eventually became interested in photography. However, before all of the photo apps, fancy photo editing programs and ongoing advancement of photo technology….my main love for picking up a camera was for the memories. That was my trademark phrase every time I poked my camera in front of a friend’s face, “Hey, it’s all about the memories man.” When using the memory of an electrical device, you have the choice of storing or deleting any memory you choose, but at the expense of capturing less detail. When using the mind’s memory, you are allotted more space for detail, but often you lose the option to delete.
Of course, we can’t live our lives on memories, but at the same time, where would we be without them. I have memories that take me back to a time that was bad, a time I wish I could let go. Other memories take me back to a time that was happy, a time that I miss. Some memories are brief and randomly chosen moments when I simply witnessed another person’s reality. That moment may have had nothing to do with me but it still left me with concern and wonder, feelings I could never forget. Sometimes memories better us as a person. Sometimes memories haunt us like a demon. Memories make us who we are.
I often wonder what kind of memories my children will have as they grow to adulthood. Their minds are like innocent little sponges. Something as simple as harsh words could be enough to be a lifelong memory that they will never forget. Life is tough. Unfortunately, to journey through life without a single battle scar of the mind is unrealistic.
Back when I was 10 years old, I remember being extremely excited after opening up a pack of baseball cards one day. I had just found one of the last cards I needed to complete my baseball card set. It was the card of Montreal Expos starting pitcher Pascual Perez. With a huge smile on my face, I raced up to my father to show him the card. He held the card up close to his thick glasses, then nonchalantly replied, “Wow, that is one ugly ….(racist word)”. He then handed the baseball card back to me. His expression was blank, his voice void of any emotion, the words just rolled off of his tongue without a care in the world. I remember just staring at him, completely thrown off guard. I couldn’t understand why a person would ever say such a thing. Why would he choose to say something like that at this very moment? Why would he say that to his son? I remember thinking to myself, the world needs less people like him. Despite that being my very own father, and a memory I’d like to forget, it helped teach me something. It taught me that I can still love my father, but I don’t have to be like him. Even though that memory presented me with a positive message, it is still a memory I’ve always wished I could erase.
When I was 14, my baseball team traveled to New Midway for a game one evening . It was a high scoring game, with each team taking over the lead many times. Late in the game it was my turn to bat again. The bases were loaded. From the moment I set my eyes on the pitcher it was almost like time completely froze. Hardly able to see, with the sun glaring right into my eyes, I swung at the first pitch, slicing it down the right field line. As I was rounding first base I suddenly noticed a small white object land on the other side of the fence. I had just hit my first grand slam, my only grand slam. The sound of the crowd combined with the sight of my teammates celebrating at home plate created a roller coaster of emotions inside of me that is too complicated to put into words. A few innings later, as I placed one foot into the batters box to prepare for my last at bat, I heard a voice behind me quietly say, “It’s the grand slam kid”. I looked behind the umpire, and on the other side of the fence there was a kid wearing a New Midway baseball team uniform. Peering between the wire fence squares that made up the home plate backstop, he grinned, then nodded his head at me, as if offering a gesture of respect or congratulations. I wondered why there weren’t more kids in the world that played with that kind of sportsmanship. A random kid that I only saw for a few seconds ended up as a lifelong role model to me. He always had a place in my mind and in my heart as I grew up.
When I was 19, I was working part time at a grocery store one cold and rainy fall evening. It was late rush hour and already dark outside. The store was busy with many customers stopping in on their way home from work. In the midst of all of the traffic around the store, I heard the sound of an upset child. The screaming continued to get louder and louder. It was finally so loud that I had to see what was going on for myself. I spotted a middle aged mother pushing a shopping cart with a toddler in the front seat. The child, who appeared to be 2 years old, maybe younger, was having a complete panic attack. Maybe the child had not been feeling good or possibly just exhausted and extra cranky. I remember the mother would push the cart six feet, stop to hold and talk to the child for a moment, then push the cart another 6 feet and do the same again. At different points all around the store I saw this woman off to the side, trying to control an incredibly upset child while attempting to continue her shopping. Each time I passed the mother I noticed how her patience was wearing thin. Everything she did had absolutely no effect at calming her child. I started hearing tears in her voice. She stopped in a far corner of the store and completely broke down. In complete frustration and tears I heard her begging the child to tell her what was wrong. She stood there, holding her screaming child against her chest, alone, helpless and in tears. It bothered me. It bothered me that she let herself get to that point. It bothered me that nobody lent her a hand or even a shoulder to cry on. I wanted to help, but my first thought was what could a punk 19 year old grocery employee do for her? I didn’t know anything about kids yet. I just knew I never wanted to be in her shoes. To this day, almost 20 years later, I still wonder if that mother and child’s day got any better, if they made it home ok.
From time to time I have moments with each of my boys, moments when I feel like I can hear the sound of their very own shutter going off in their head. I truly believe that the more happy moments captured by a child’s shutter, the happier they will grow into adulthood. Whether it’s having conversations with my 6 year old while laying on the backyard trampoline and admiring the stars in the sky, or just simply sitting in front of the computer and singing songs with my 4 year old, sometimes the smallest of all things can send our children off to bed at night with happy thoughts.
One night I invited my son Evan to join me in running out to pick up an order of Chinese food. It was extremely humid outside and a giant storm was getting ready to come crashing down. The storm broke out seconds after we paid for our food. We stepped outside of the restaurant and decided to wait out the storm before trying to head back to the car. We stood under the overhang of the restaurant and just listened to the thunder and watched the rain slam down across the shopping center. The storm continued to come down harder and harder. We finally sat down and shared an egg roll while watching rain explode off of the ground and water flow down the streets. After having a nice conversation, we finally gave up and decided to make a run for it. While tripping over giant puddles and basically having an ocean of rain dumped on us, we made the best of our situation. We laughed, screamed and goofed off in the rain until we finally reached our car and quickly jumped in. We were soaked from head to toe. As we shook it off and got the car running the storm immediately stopped and the sun came out again. My son and I just looked at each other in disbelief. We then started laughing, laughing so hard we couldn’t even catch our breath. Whenever reminiscing about memories, Evan often mentions that evening. I knew on that very same day that Evan had just spent some quality time with his father, time he would never forget. I heard his “happy” shutter go off. Those are the moments that count.
Although few and far between, there are also moments I hope my boys can forget, but inside, I fear the damage has already been done. Several years ago I got into a huge shouting match with my often confrontational neighbor, a shouting match that almost ended in punches being thrown. I’m sure Rylan and David were far too young to remember that incident. As for my oldest son, Evan, I could see the look in his eyes. It was like déjà vu. His expression reminded me of myself on the day when my father had made that comment about the baseball card. I felt like those two minutes between my neighbor and I had been permanently branded on Evan’s memory with an iron. To this day I still regret every second of it.
“Please don’t dwell over that memory too much son….“Superdad” or not, every father still makes mistakes.”
We are all built from memories, some good, some bad and some random. The bad can scar us, but also, sometimes educate and toughen us as well. In the end, my goal is to raise three boys who go through life with the good memories far outweighing the bad. If something positive could come from that incident between my neighbor and I…..hopefully it will be my son telling himself that even though he loves his dad, he doesn‘t always need to be like him.
~ I Love You Boys ~