Faces in the Wind
Even before the invention of the camera, people have found ways to immortalize their loved ones through art. People and our traditions were first known to us through the oral storytellers, the written word and the paintings and sculptures left behind – letting the subject in some way live on in not only the memories of man but also to the visual eye.
With the camera we were able to capture not only the history of our world but also our family’s entire lives, from the moment of birth, to sweet posed smiles and such simple things as a child rolling on the grass with the family pet. When a child was told “You look just like your Aunt Betty”, a picture could be pulled out of the family album to prove the point. Artists honed their skills until they could capture the very essence of another human onto canvas but with the camera, everyone became in their own way an artist. Family history was given a new dimension and their story could be told through film.
My oldest brother died years ago. He lives in my memory and my heart just as if he were still here. I can still see his smile, the sun glinting on the gold of his hair, and the way his blue eyes would crinkle with an ornery thought, even his voice is still clear to me – every little detail has never been forgotten. But without pictures, I would have no way to bring him alive for my children. They did not know him, yet they can talk about him and feel they knew him in some way through my stories and the photographs I have of him.
I have always had a fascination with paintings of people and with photographs. I can look at anyone’s albums with great enjoyment. I am not one of those people who cringe when someone brings out their family photographs. To me, it is history, and I love history. Our history is our future, and basically, the generations of our family are the only inheritance we leave this earth. Who we are, who we have been, and what we teach our children, guide the future of mankind. How we depict what was – in many ways guides how life proceeds. I look at the Bible, which began basically as the history/saga of one family, one blood line, and see the impact it has had on mankind, good and bad. Pictures of people are almost sacred to me – I feel their presence lingering through the picture, just as I feel the energy left behind in buildings of all who have lived there. I have never liked a new house because to me….it is so empty.
While I was moving I went to the county landfill to do as we humans do and throw out all the “extra” stuff we litter our lives with. While unloading my trailer a wind came up and I noticed some photographs blowing around. As one came near, I saw a face -a child’s face. My boys and I caught the photograph and then looked to the pile the pictures came from. As we gathered them up, I realized we were looking at a families’ entire life carefully recorded in photograph after photograph. The pictures ranged from the 1930’s to the present. We saw joy in activities and each other, thanksgiving dinners, birthdays, and a strong relationship between children and their grandparents. We saw their smiles, their tears, and their devastation in the photographs of a four year old boy – from happy smiling, freckle faced baby to his final pictures…lay out in silence in his tiny coffin. I cried to see his beautiful little face in death, and I cried to see his life, thrown into a trash heap, discarded in the piles of materialism we humans surround ourselves with.
I sat with this family’s life clasped in my hands for some time wondering how their history came to be thrown callously in the local dump. Had they all faded away, and the photographs were thrown out with all their other belongings, or had the “inheritance” they left the present generation been so negligent as to create a generation who cared nothing for their family or it’s history? Had someone’s bitter, angry hearts so hated that they attempted to dispose of who they are in this way? Or was it an attempt to cleanse themselves of old memories? I knew I would never know how or why, but I did feel that in some way – I needed to bury these people again. At least the one’s I knew had already left this place. So I put the pictures in a sealed container and hoped that maybe someday in the future of this earth, the container will be un-covered and once again they will live, even if only as a mystery of whom they were, or as an educational study on how we lived; a relic, a piece of history, for future humans to see and wonder over with the same fascination some of have as we wander through a museum.
I just know if we do not teach our children to hold anything sacred, or to have any family pride, or love, or reverence for life…we all will be eventually nothing more than faces in the wind, lives untold, forgotten forever on an empty planet where even our energy will eventually fade away. The pictures themselves are not what are of great importance; the life of those depicted holds the value. The photographs only serve to show that value to future generations and help teach them to value each and every person within their own part of history.