Whenever I finish a photo book I tend to feel a little nostalgic for a while; it's both beautiful and heartrending for me to scroll through all...hundred thousand (or more ?)...pictures that we've taken over the years. Inside those many, many bits and bytes are memories of my big kids as babies (and they were all such sweet babies), of the adventures we've taken, the places we've lived, people we've loved...and people we've lost. Our successes and failures are recorded in those pictures.
One picture that I came across yesterday while I was hunting for orange pictures was a picture of little Rachel, who had scribbled all over herself with orange felt pen (marker). It was washable. It wasn't a big deal. But in this picture she is crying. And I know it's because I chided her too harshly.
I mean, I'm kind of a big "we colour on paper" kind of mom. But still...she was just a baby.
I wasn't a perfect mom (I'm still not).
So plenty of my failures are recorded in those pictures as well.
But I'm so grateful for all those many, many pictures we have. Name a single generation that has that sort of gift—to look back visually on practically every day of their life. At times, for some, it might be considered a curse, I'll grant you that. But mostly I think it's beautiful.
So it was serendipitous that our lesson for church on Sunday was on journaling (something you may have guessed I'm also fond of). We're currently covertly video-calling into our ward (with permission), since Zoom access has been disbanded, since the pandemic is "over" (but only over-not-over as we're learning; we had a lovely couple of weeks this summer with numbers in the hundreds, though we're now back up in the thousands, on par with the "first wave" and quickly gaining on the second), so I'm the Primary/Young Women/Sunday School/Relief Society teacher for our little class. (Andrew is the organist, so he's going in person; Rachel is vaccinated and the YW class president, so she's been going as well; I'm vaccinated but (a) I have four unvaccinated children, two of whom fall into the "pre-existing condition" classification we so easily write off in our society, and (b) I'm pregnant and thus more high risk). Anyway...
I got to sit and teach my kids about the importance of record-keeping for an hour. And it was great! At least...I thought so.
I really liked this quote from President Wilford Woodruff: "While walking in a rapid stream we cannot tread twice in the same water. Neither can we spend twice the same time. When we pass out of that door, the work of this meeting will be closed to us forever. We shall never spend the time of this evening again. Then should we not keep a record of our work, teachings, and counsel which we give in this meeting? We should."
So we talked about that, along with one of my favourite scriptures, Alma 5:26—"...if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?"
We talked about our memories and how they work and how we can help them to remember the things we want them to remember. Benjamin brought up a Brains On episode about memory that he listened to that said that it's easier to recall bad memories than good memories, which certainly seems to be backed up by scientific research (Brains On is pretty good that way). I was pleasantly surprised by his comment; often his comments seem a little off the wall, but every now and then he makes such a beautiful connection to things. And this was an excellent connection!
We talked about what kind of things we need to write down—the good experiences, the count-you-blessings experiences, the funny things, the joyful things. That way when we review our journals we can be reminded of those things. Otherwise we'd be more inclined to forget them. This doesn't mean that our journals need to be dishonest and ignore all the bad and hard things in our life. We should definitely write through our hard times as well because life isn't perfect. But we really don't need to be reminded about the hard times because we're hardwired to recall bad experiences. That's how we learn, after all (through hardship and failure). But remembering the good things, well...that's precious.
President Wilford Woodruff counseled "keep an account of the dealings of God with you daily. I have written all the blessings I have received, and I would not take gold for them."
We practiced revisiting our past feelings by going through photo albums and sharing memories with each other. A lot of the memories were good. Many were hard. Some were both.
Pleasantly, over time, I've found the hard memories get easier. We talked about that when we got to pictures around the time of Grandma's death. That can still be hard, but it's honestly much easier than it was at first. When we think about that time, or look at pictures from that time, we recognize that we feel better now than we were then. And that's nice.
So sometimes it's nice to realize that you don't feel so now.
Other times it's nice to be reminded that you do feel so now.
It's nice to look back at family pictures and think about how much we loved each other then and how much we love each other now. It's nice to remember the many things you've been blessed with in your life—all the kindness and love and laughter and hope.
I had the kids pull out their writing books (for school) and write down some things they were thankful for and we sang a bunch of songs together, with Miriam at the piano for many (including Zion Stands With Hills Surrounded because Zoë really wanted to sing that one because she hadn't before and it "looked beautiful").
I meant to have each of the kids choose a scripture story to tell about and have us discuss feelings surrounding scriptures, but we totally ran out of time (so we did that for FHE tonight), but what we did was enough.
My final quote from Wilford Woodruff is:
"Some may say [journal keeping] is a great deal of trouble. But we should not call anything trouble which brings to pass good. I consider that portion of my life which has been spent in keeping journals and writing history to have been very profitably spent.
If there was no other motive in view [except] to have the privilege of reading over our journals and for our children to read, it would pay for the time spent in writing it."
The same thing goes for going back to look at pictures, which is a luxury President Woodruff did not have (at least, not to the extend that we have today). I don't regret having written down anything (even when I look back at what I've written and wonder what in the world I was thinking or laugh about how naive I was; I just consider that growth (which is something we all do)). And I'm so glad for the many, many everyday pictures we have. The ones that show how imperfect our life is (with messy background and mismatched outfits) because I like thinking that my memories are of the real us.
Anyway, this was all just to say, with my apologies to William Carlos Williams, that:
I have flipped through
that were on
my hard drive
you were probably
would never resurface
they were beguiling
and so warm
PS. One last connection that I'm going to make here, but which I wasn't exactly planning on making here when I started writing this, was that I went to my mom's cousin Rita's "celebration of life" today (via zoom; God bless Zoom) and I just loved what her daughter (which one, I'm not sure...because I can't remember (I'm sure my mom will chime in with that information) said in her talk, which she directed at Rita's many, many grandchildren. The whole talk was beautiful, but I simply loved that she made a point to say that "Grandma wasn't perfect. She got frustrated and lost her temper a lot."
Frustrated, temper-losing Rita is certainly not a Rita I know.
But I was so glad to hear them remembering her well, acknowledging that she had faults. Not focusing on them, but certainly not overlooking them. Her good qualities were certainly what was being celebrated (and Rita had so many good qualities), but it was just refreshing to have that very honest remark thrown in. Rita wouldn't have wanted to be put on a pedestal (even though she probably deserves it, honestly).