There is great debate about where the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” originated. Where it came from isn’t what’s important - at least not to me. It’s true. And I experienced it this week.
This past Monday was my mom’s birthday. I thought a fitting way to mark the day would be to finally drag the box of old black and white 120 size film negatives from her side of the family off the closet shelf, set up the scanner, and see what was there.
What I found was a view of my mother I never knew existed – photos of her childhood, teenage years, and young adulthood. (My parents had both been married before and lived half their lives before they met, married, and had me. I knew next to nothing about my mother’s pre-1950s existence).
In last week’s blog I shared how my maternal grandmother painstakingly filled in detail after detail of her family’s lives in between the lines in her Bible, for which I am most grateful. But to now have images of my mother in those moments to go along with those facts – what she was wearing, where she was, what she was doing – is stunning. To see her young and carefree, (wearing makeup, jewelry, and a two-piece swimsuit!), without the weight of the world on her shoulders (yet) is a complete 180 from the mature, tempered by experience, no-frills, do-what-you-need-to-do mom I knew in the second half of her life.
I’m still processing this, and right now I have a million questions.
Born in 1911, she died just one week shy of her 86th birthday in 1997. I’ve tried – with limited success – to wrap my head around what it was like for her to experience all the innovations and changes that took place during the arc of her lifetime: Electricity. Telephones. Automobiles. Agriculture’s move from horses and hand labor to tractors and combines. Women being granted the right to vote. The Great Depression. World War I. Pearl Harbor. World War II. Antibiotics. Television. Space travel. Computers. Rock and Roll. Disco. And more.
What was it like for her personally to move from oil lamps – I still have some of hers – to electricity? How important was it to her to be a member of the first generation of women who were allowed to vote? How did all of the technology shifts she witnessed impact the rest of her life – the part that included me?
I wonder – especially after seeing her in her youth – what her hopes and dreams were. What did she want to be or do when she grew up? Where did she want to go in life? Did she ever get to do any of those things?
I want to ask her, “How did you do it?”. She never talked about them, but I know there were a string of painful losses in her life before I was born. Especially now, as I process my own loss, I’d love to hear how she dealt with hers. And I wish she was here to hug me and tell me I’m going to be okay.
I’m curious about the timing. I had no idea these images existed. What I expected to find was negatives of photos I already had. To instead be given a glimpse of the part of my mom’s life I knew nothing about – and never expected to see – was pure gift. I’m wondering about the significance of finding these particular pictures at this particular time in my life and what the Holy has in mind with this act of grace.
While I sort all this out, I’m hanging onto my initial reaction: gratitude. I was grateful to find them, and these images of my mom also prompted memories and gratitude for all the things I was blessed to receive from her. There isn’t time or space to list them all; here are the most important ones: her legacy of faith; her insistence on integrity, responsibility and determination; taking the time to teach me to cook and sew; instilling in me an appreciation for beautiful things. Thanks, Mom. For everything. And Happy Birthday in heaven.
Who in your life do you need to give thanks for today? If it’s possible, tell them.
And what unexpected gifts of grace have you received recently?