My favorite wall in my dining room is a little stretch between one doorway and another. There is the requisite bookcase (the size of my collection requires that I have at least one in every room, including the hallway and the kitchen) on top of which I have artistically arranged some candles and a fancy chessboard. Next to the chessboard sits my favorite picture in the whole world: my maternal grandparents in their Sunday best, walking down a street.
It’s a black-and-white picture, and to this day, I’m not entirely sure how they had it taken, unless annoying photographers who frequent amusement parks and force $20 pictures on unsuspecting passersby used to lurk around street corners as well. Nevertheless, it’s elegant and catches its subjects in such youthfulness, and it appears to have taken place in the rare period where my grandparents were both married and childless. Many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins agree with me; it’s a treasure.
But it’s not the only old picture I have of my family. Above the bookcase, on my favorite wall, is a collection of old photographs of those same grandparents as well as my aunts and uncles, and my grandmother’s old house to which I owe many of my childhood memories. And across the room, on another tiny strip of wall between two doors, are more recent, but still old pictures of me with my brothers, my cousins together on their couch as children, and my aunt sitting with baby-me in a kiddie pool at my parents’ house.
I love looking at these pictures and getting lost in memories of times that I wasn’t even old enough to remember. Each picture houses a hundred unanswered, and sometimes unanswerable, questions that I like to sit and ponder periodically. The candid smiles as well as the posed group shots have a timeless magic for me, and they remind me that my family is a part of the world’s history as much as it is a part of my personal identity.
That grandmother died two summers ago, and the poster boards and PowerPoints we made for her memorial service are the reason I even have these pictures. But there were more that we scanned and reprinted, of my great-grandparents, my mother’s cousins, and countless relatives whose names and relativity have been lost with time and memory.
Looking at those pictures does nothing for me. I know in my head that these people are my flesh and blood, my connection to the past, but their smiles and lives caught in seconds don’t mean to me what I expect them to. In fact, looking at pictures like that just makes me sad.
I feel inadequate when I cannot drum up any sort of emotional attachment to these people, without whom I might not even exist. But more than that, I fear for my own pictures—those on my favorite wall as well as all the rest that cover my apartment—that one day, not very far off, they will mean very little to anyone.
In theory, this sounds pretty depressing. It butts up against the widely professed notion that a person can be immortalized through art, and only reemphasizes the metaphor of a human life as a flower that begins to wilt as soon as it flowers, and once it is withered and dry, will never come again.
But flowers are beautiful, and so are these pictures. The transience of a beautiful thing is only sad if we focus too much on the future and forget that we have all the time right now to enjoy those things that will lose their flavor in time. I feel that photographs, flowers, birthdays, and puppies are all wonderful galleries of the transient that, while they may serve other purposes too, also firmly ground us in our present reality, lest we get too wrapped up thinking of what’s to come. That is why that wall in my dining room is my favorite wall, and why I am so thankful when picture frames go on clearance at Target.
Mary Margaret is a 2013 English, history, and secondary education grad who went rogue and became a Social Worker in Pennsylvania’s Child Welfare system. Specifically, she works as a caseworker in the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network finding families for children and educating the masses about foster care, adoption, and permanency planning. She made it over the grad-school hurdle with gold stars and warm fuzzies and is on to the next big adventure: the unknown of adulthood. Her major writing dream right now is to finish her science fiction novel that explores the concurrent futures of child welfare and artificial intelligence.