Photographing History

I’ve taken a few days off of blogging to prioritize a few things that needed to be completed in the waning days of Soccer Boy’s time with us.

Selecting clothes, buying gifts for his friends and caretakers, organizing pictures.

So many pictures.

Almost 2000 of them.

I really do hope that each one is worth a thousand words.  Mostly words about how much he is loved and how he has changed us.

I don’t know if that will even begin to cover it.

My friends and family have given me a hard time about having my camera out at all times.  And I really do.  I’m a historian.  What’s worse, I’m an English major who also majored in History and Communications.  It’s all connected, and it’s in my blood.  History matters, and it needs to be recorded and communicated with words, with images.  These things are important to me.

And this summer is my history, playing out in real time.  And it’s the history of a little boy’s life, intersecting with mine.  There will not be a “first intersection” for either of us ever again.

And unfortunately, I’m a rather mediocre photographer.  I need a lot of shots to get the one I want.  A lot of the pictures won’t be seen by anyone except us, but I’d rather have 5 bad ones to get the one good one.  And I can take a little ribbing.

But honestly, the teasing did bother me a little bit…was I being too obsessive?  Too over-the-top?  Were all these pictures really necessary?  Maybe Soccer Boy was rolling his eyes, too, getting sick of the camera.  I was starting to doubt myself.  To slow down a bit.

Until today.

Today, I saw a real glimpse into his life.

We were trying to awkwardly form a list of people he wanted to buy gifts for…translation issues made this extremely difficult.  How many caregivers do you have?  Do you have any special friends?

Finally, he typed into the translator, “I look.  I show.”

I was confused until he started pulling up a website similar to Facebook.  Sites from Eastern Europe are blocked here for several different reasons (high virus possibilities, rules of the organization, to avoid unapproved contact, etc).  But I was able to help him access what he wanted to show me: his photos.

He had ten.  His whole life consisted of ten photos.  They look like they were all taken on two school trips, from maybe two or three years ago.

But he had taken two of the pictures and put them in different programs to create a “fun frame” around it.  He had twenty pictures of two photos.

Some of his friends had a few more, but not more than 30 or so each.

No wonder he sits for long periods watching my photo screen saver every chance he gets.

No wonder he says “wow” over and over at my albums.

No wonder he giggles and points and acts out all sorts of things when I show him a baby picture of me, or an old photo of my parents or my siblings, or even one of Little Man from a few years ago.

We’ve spent hours looking at photos together, and before today, it was rather insignificant to me.  I figured he just found them entertaining, and I was happy to oblige.  One day, I showed him an album I had made for a simple vacation.  It had twenty pages.

I doubt a baby picture exists of him.  I bet he was a beautiful baby.

I knew that we were a rich country in comparison to many others, but I had not considered that sometimes wealth isn’t in money, or things, or even the creature comforts like running water or indoor plumbing and toilet-paper-capable flushing toilets.  I knew that Soccer Boy doesn’t understand what a family looks like, but I had not considered what that meant in all the corners of his life.

We have the luxury of memorializing our own lives.  We have the ability and the desire to take a photo of a moment.  We have someone who loves us enough to pick up the camera and record an expression or an experience.

We have people who love us and prove it with a thousand words each time they click a button.

I didn’t realize that I was recording his childhood.  That each click said “I love you.”  That each time he turned the camera on me, he was reciprocating that affection.

That I am worth memorializing.

I spent the last several days trying to finish up his photo albums.  I took most of the day yesterday to plow through the last of those 2000 pictures and pick the best shots to put in the album.

I made three books: one main book (with a two-page spread for each day he was here and a list of our favorite things from that day), a book with a collection of people in America who love him (each of us with him), and one special book of just the machines and vehicles he has seen on this trip.  There’s 104 pictures in that book alone.  I can’t wait to see his face when that one comes.

I thought that maybe I was going a little bit overboard.

Today, I am so glad I did.

He helped me a good bit yesterday: sitting on my lap in front of the computer, selecting backgrounds, shuffling picture configurations with a soft “nein” until he found one he liked and relaxed into me with a contented sigh.  It’s an invisible picture only I will see when I look at those particular pages.

Together we made a physical marker of a permanent bond.  As we giggled at a face or gave a mutual excited “ja!” to a selection, we reminded each other how much this has affected us both.

Soccer Boy will go home richer.  Yes, he will have lots of things and presents and special items we got for him.

But mostly he will go home memorialized.

He mattered.  He matters.  Recording his life is an act of love.

So I will pick up my camera without shame.  And if you tease me, I will just smile.  And if you’re lucky, maybe I’ll even take a picture of you.

2 thoughts on “Photographing History

  1. Dorah, if you can pull it off, you could send the photos back with him on a digital photo frame.

    • Good idea! I will have to find out if that would be allowed.

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