I sat down with my wife of 35 years to look at photographs taken over the years together. As we worked our way back through the years of photographs memories came back to mind of those times. Our 2nd grandchild, our first; our son’s marriage; him and I fishing and hunting together; back through time we went. Our son’s graduation from high school; our daughter’s graduation; our daughter’s prom; back we continued on our journey.
Photographs showing us in Kalamazoo, Michigan; West Allis, Wisconsin; Germany and Korea we went. The further back we trekked, the more difficult to recreate the surroundings in the photograph in my mind. Finally, I turned a page in the 10th or 11th photo album and there was a photograph of me before my wife, before my children, before all the things that are now very important to me. I knew the photograph was me; I knew it was taken while I was on duty on my ship while in port in Saint Thomas, the Virgin Islands; but I did not remember the boy staring back at me.
Somewhere along the journey there came a time when priorities and values changed. As I looked at those photographs from forty and fifty years ago that used to bring back floods of good memories, they now were nothing more than the person who became me looking staring blankly for me to see.
Is my memory getting full to where some things have to be erased to make room for more? Am I in the pre-stages of some terrible disease that is like a lit fuse burning away the past while trying to catch up to me? I started to feel uneasy looking at these photographs and quickly picked up the next album.
There on the first page was a beautiful black and white photograph I took of my wife in 1980. Looking at the background which consisted of a wooden door only, I knew that it was taken at the house we lived in while stationed at Anjong-Ri, Korea. The house was located right inside the gate to the On-Dok-Ma-Uel neighborhood and it was the home we lived in when we got married. If asked to sketch the layout of the home, I could.
I turned the page and there was another photograph of my wife that I took when she was pregnant with our daughter. She was not feeling very well that day and was complaining that she felt ugly. I told her what clothes to put on and how to pose and then captured a photograph that showed the most beautiful woman in the world to me. In fact I remember not even finishing the roll of film, but taking the 35mm cartridge back to the base photo lab, developing the film, and printing the photograph right away to take back and show my young wife how beautiful she was.
The next photograph was of my wife and me on our second date. Then there was another that was taken after our daughter was born and we were visiting a famous Buddhist Temple. Each photograph in this album brought back a flood of memories. This caused me to think again.
Finally, I realized that the photographs from before I met my wife were pictures of me living, but without life. They were all moments capturing me existing because of my parents and didn’t have purpose for me. All the photographs after I met my wife were memories of me existing for someone else. This gave me purpose and direction and that is when I was not only living, but I had a life too.
So, to my wife, my children, and my grandchildren, I thank you because only due to you there came a time when I went from existing to living and I hope that I can be important to you for a long time so that I can continue to really live.