turn around, bright eyes

I did a bit of organizing in iPhoto (why not? we’re organizing everything else we own). Instead of random video clips being sprinkled among thousands of photos, I now have a nice little album with nothing but videos. Videos that I hadn’t seen in a while. Didn’t even remember I had. Maybe had never actually seen, lost in the static of so many images.

Most of the videos are of little snippets of life, caught by luck or design. Some were expected–someone’s birthday, singing a song, blowing out candles. Some were accidental–the camera recording when it was supposed to be asleep. Some were random–someone’s new house, a precocious plant, high water after a hurricane.

There was one video that grabbed me. I was walking from the back porch of my parents’ house into their back yard. Nothing special or important. Most of the family was inside, and I was stealing a few moments to capture the homestead. With me was my brother Mason. He says something off-camera right at the beginning. I answer him, but you see neither him nor me. And, respecting the video, we stay quiet for most of the remainder (he does alert me that I just walked through a fireant bed because I’m busy looking through the camera and not watching where I’m walking).

As I watched this almost 3-minute video, I tried to will the camera to turn around. To capture his face, his being, for just a moment. This was less than a year before he died, and I would love to see him, even if only a glimpse. But I don’t turn the camera. I just keep steadily, silently moving forward, and he keeps side-stepping to stay out of frame.

There’s another video, taken around the same time at a different gathering of the tribe. I’m recording our nephew Rowan, seated in one of those baby workstations with lots of things to push and poke and jingle. Mason is in the background, telling our father a story. And I’m glad to have his animated voice as the camera focuses on the deliberate movements of a six-month-old. You even see Mason briefly, mostly neck-down, in the middle of the video, gesticulating wildly as was his way.

But the camera didn’t focus on him. Why would it? Here’s our brand new nephew who will soon be a little boy. And Mason’s already grown and not going anywhere…

I bring this up not to be maudlin but just to remind myself (and maybe you) to turn the camera around. Get an image of everyone in the room. Including yourself. Chronicle all of it while still being a participant in the moment. And don’t be afraid to talk while the camera’s rolling.

They say that if you want to know what possessions you value most, see what you would grab in the middle of a fire. Or, in this case, what you’d put in your car before moving across the country. Everything I own is going in the moving van EXCEPT all of my photos and slides and a harddrive with every electronic image and video I’ve ever shot. I can live without the clothes and furniture and books and electronics. The images can’t be replaced.

Time is like a river.

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7 responses to “turn around, bright eyes”

  1. It seems to me you have images and photos in your brain, memory and heart of your brother,and those are the best because you can never lose them!
    Good Post!!

    • Thanks, Jim. And you’re right. Photos and videos are a memory supplement, and they’re nice to have around. But the memories still exist without them.

  2. Pictures serve me as the index tabs in the giant rolodex in my head.
    Helps me find my way through the fog.

    • A trail of breadcrumbs is important. They light the way back when you need them and serve as a snack when you don’t.

      I just watched you, Mason and Tohner tossing the pigskin around in Fayetteville on Mother’s Day (probably 2006). Lots of laughs.

  3. I somehow refrain from commenting on posts relating to…this. I am notorious for saying inappropriate things at funerals and weddings, partially because of drink but also because I believe that birth and death and weddings, however important, deserve less attention than they get. These are ceremonies are for the comfort of the living.

    Like a leaf in the rapids (recently fallen from the autumn tree), our lives are transitory and brief and fraught with chaos; a chaos that, ultimately, obscures the reality of the river that flows both ways: our search for ourselves and for each other. But, as we rip and float and blast down the the rocks of the river that is our lives we are, continuously, haunted by the truth that this is (after all) a one way ride that will not (probably) turn out all that good.

    But the leaf off the tree is lost already: lost, fallen…the rapids…the stream…that’s the sweet part, I think: life, the ride. We drop off the branch when we emerge from the tunnel into the light and from then on, it is all a job of work to do, a journey back to life, a leaf on the rapids, headed nowhere, headed home.

    It takes, sometimes, important loss to find out that we have very little to say about what happens and maybe, maybe, the best thing would be to just do the very best we can to see everyone, to see them and let them know that we see them and to (yeah) turn around and for just a moment, find a calm spot in the stream to say “I see you.”


    • Mason’s death provided me with a lot of clarity about the important things in life (which, had you asked me about beforehand, I would have said I already had a handle on) (I used to think I had a handle on just about everything). I realized wasted opportunities to connect and things I didn’t get right out of laziness, selfishness or a childish sense of false immortality.

      I find no comfort in marking his death, but I do find incredible meaning. And I’m trying to place it in the larger context of his life, which will be an effort I expect to exert for the rest of mine.

  4. At this point in my life, I have moved across country and back, and back again. I’ve lost many precious things I thought I couldn’t live without. Including a Mercedes. The only things I really miss are my pictures and videos. I have lost precious friends and family members. My brother-in-law 45, just dropped dead last month. My 3 year old is obsessed with photos. She carries around photo books telling me stories about each person, some she never will be able to meet. She treasures photos, especially of her Daddy who is living apart from her now. Her uncle who just passed is a puzzle for her and she has me searching everywhere for his photos. She prefers physical photos rather than the digital formats and I agree with her. I’ve always been a shutterbug but have hardly any photos of me and my husband which is the main attraction for her. Memory is fluid but photos remind me of what really happened.

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