Computers and I don’t have a good relationship. In fact, anything numerical and I don’t either (I always wish they were colors instead of numbers!) But one thing that gives me a good feeling is the ability to delete unwanted files or junk mail. To clean things up, eliminate what is in the way of important work.
But recently I found myself deleted. A horrible feeling.
You recall those multitudinous albums of gelatin emulsion containing microscopically small light-sensitive silver halide crystals? Otherwise known as photographs? People of a certain age have scads of them. I was one of those people. I had twelve large photo albums–some leather-bound, some with lovely fabric print binding, a few vinyl, some labeled, all carefully protecting photos behind plastic acetate coverings. Nearly a century of pictures! My children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, homes, dogs, cats, vacations, weddings, trips abroad–all photographically documented for over 8 decades. A few old ones were taken by my parents in the1930s, though most by me through to 2018; after that, digital dominated and album-storage was abandoned. But there, encapsulated in a dozen albums, was my life. They’d survived 35 moves throughout 9 states. Almost.
The giant moving van that brought us to Maine the last week in November 2018 apparently did not contain my albums, or if it did, they disappeared once here. Neither attic nor a single closet in this small home to which we retired has been overlooked in search of the albums. I’d wanted to find the photo of me riding a donkey in Santorini, Greece 5 decades ago to send to my granddaughter who is interested in all things Greek after reading a series of Greek-themed books by Rick Riordan. But I could not find it nor any photos from long ago. It was as if I’d been deleted. Erased. Like computer junk mail. As if I’d never been a real person. As if I didn’t exist. As if none of the people and places I’d loved and known were real. Like Twilight Zone. I felt numb.
Now perhaps if I were not a visual person, a painter, this would not have seemed so tragic. But it was. Where were the photos of my babies? Where were the photos of my childhood? My relatives? Ones of all my dear dogs and cats? The beautiful homes I’d created over the years for our family? Gone. I said to myself one sleepless night since this tragedy: At my age should it matter? I won’t be around forever. Who else will care about these photos anyway? Maybe the kids might have, but then they’d get on with their futures, relegating the photos to a box in their attics.
Today I unexpectedly found three albums in a box in the basement’s mechanical room; none of the really old pictures, just more recent ones taken in the ’90s, less interesting. That leaves nine albums missing.
I’ll grapple with this for a while. Maybe a long while. But languidly lying in wait for the albums to appear will not do. I’ll go make some sourdough bread or croissants, paint a painting, dust the living room, do a load of laundry, pull some weeds, write this blog, edit my art web page, (www.gwendolynevans.com), phone or facetime my kids and grandkids, and get on with life. It’s what women do. We get on with it. We don’t wallow.
Sure, it’s sad. But many things are sadder–like 246+ mass killings in the US since the start of 2021. Palestinian children bombed to death. Our translators and contractors in Afghanistan likely to be killed by the Taliban when US forces leave. Immigrant children still at our borders without their families. Women abused. Dogs chained up and mistreated. Neighbors who swear as loud as their reeved up 4-wheelers. Dishonest politicians. The list goes on. Perspective is crucial. Whatever seems sad is not so sad as something else when you really think hard about sorrow. So I guess it comes back to not lingering in despondency, but being grateful for whatever good I can find, being grateful for the happy times and wonderful people those missing photos represent. In reality, joy is permanently on our hard drive and can’t be deleted.
We can never be separated from the infinite good that is God. God never deletes anyone. How many times this truth is echoed throughout the Bible! Perhaps the photo, the material image I held in my hand, is gone, but each life goes beyond visual matter, each life is in reality an indestructible, ever-lasting expression of God. This is true for mass shooting victims, innocent bombed children, translators, immigrants, mistreated women and animals, obnoxious neighbors, or deceitful politicians. And it’s true for you and me. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans: “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God…” Looking to a spiritual understanding of life, we can more easily let go of a mortal sense of things and begin to grasp the eternal which can never be deleted.
About the artwork: I’ve worked from live models for decades. Skin tones, anatomy, movement, are freshly fascinating with each pose, and draw out one’s ability to capture not just the human form, but also attitudes and feelings as this languid pose suggests.