In preparation for a family gathering, I was recently pawing through a shoebox of photographs, looking for one in particular, and muttering my usual refrain: “Someday, when I have more time, I’m going to get organized. Really I am. And this time, I mean it.”
My fingers sprinted through images of toddlers running through sprinkler spray, the sun gleaming above; then a dented canoe I don’t even own anymore; and finally a son at a junior high school awards night, his expression saying he was indulging his mother (me) while she clicked the camera shutter in a pre-cell phone era.
All of these moments are well-preserved in their own 4x6 piece of time, yet not a one of them was the exact moment I was looking for.
I kept searching though, certain the perfect family photo I was picturing in my mind — the one where the boys looked handsome and I looked well-rested and we were all smiling and whoever was behind the camera knew how to focus the lens — actually existed. And not just existed, but existed in this very shoebox.
Instead of finding it, I put my hand on another photo, pulled it out and looked at it for the fraction of a second, and slipped into a wormhole.
I could feel my son Luke’s baby-fine hair slip from my hand and his body slip from my lap as he ran down a hiking trail, exclaiming with joy, “I running!” There was Owen too, his older brother, just up ahead and already climbing a tall red pine, oblivious to the scrapes on his knees and elbows. That solid weight on my back must have been Will, still at the age where he traveled in the blue backpack on my shoulders, his laugh deep for a boy so young.
The sensation of the boys’ younger selves was so real, that even down in my damp basement I felt the warmth
of a long ago sun, smelled the pine woods all around, and heard the echoes of their young voices as they explored the forest.
My Grandma Link, who died a decade ago, used to love to say, “Where did the time go?” as if she were looking for a missing sweater. I don’t know about all of time, but I sure would like to know where that one single moment went. Where exactly is that moment on the trail at the Sand Lakes Quiet Area? While I’m at it, I’d also like to know where those four people, that young mother and her three little boys, got themselves to. They feel so real, like I could reach out and put my hand on their shoulders.
I think the truth is that time is a lot like my disorganized shoebox. The one full of photographs. It is jumbled, random, pine-scented, and magical. And wholly impossible for me, you, or any human being to organize.
But don’t let that stop you. Go ahead and dig down through it, anytime you like.