It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words; however, my experience is that most of the words are meaningless adjectives by themselves: it is only when the thousand words are strung together in coherent sentences that they attempt to explain the picture. And when these sentences are strung together, they create a memory. So, it is memory that truly brings life to a picture; it is memory that tells the tale of why that moment in time was captured.
I am looking down at a picture of my first trip to Virginia. My dad and I are on the waterfront in Virginia Beach posing by a gigantic statue of King Triton, also known as Poseidon. In the picture my hair is blowing and I am wearing my letter jacket and two layers of clothes. These pictures only capture one-second snapshots of my adventure.
By itself the words I can use to describe it are cold, windy, ocean, statue, but when I recall that day I remember the awe I felt as the birds constantly hovered above me, noisily waiting for me to throw them my last remnants of fries. The wind was sharp and cutting, blowing salty ocean spray into our uncovered faces. I remember jumping and laughing as I tried to touch the oncoming waves with just the tips of my fingers, hoping not to get soaked. I can hear my dad complain about the cold while all I wanted to do was stay at the ocean’s edge staring off into space.
I desperately wanted to see dolphins playing in the horizon. I wanted my dad to realize that our trip was not a waste of time. The dolphins, I thought, would help him over his disappointment in driving ten hours for a restaurant that had closed years ago. However, the dolphins never showed, but King Triton did. A towering piece of art, the statue both intrigued and enthralled our imagination. It was absolutely wonderful. We left both happy and content.
Memory is the key to life; pictures and words are just the tools used to record memories. Because as time goes by memory fades and is sometimes lost all together, pictures and word stories are vital in preserving memories. My mother has no memory of a complete 18 month time period. She can remember childhood friends and stories and songs, but her memory for a year and a half years is completely empty. Not even a picture can help her remember those days because there is no basis on which to establish a mental connection.
That is how I know that memory is the key to remembrance. Pictures say nothing, they know nothing. Capturing the outward façade only they cannot express the joy or sorrow that lies underneath lying eyes. They cannot tell the tale of the day. Only memory can. And through that memory, word stories.
As writers we have a powerful tool that many people do not possess. We have the ability to capture memories and bring them to life for people. The best biographies and the best histories are not the ones that clearly convey fact after fact. No! Rather, the best ones are those that can transport the past moment into the present, evoking all of the sweetness and amazement or all of the tenseness and bitterness that existed at that time.
Scrapbooks are nice. They are helpful for reminding us of our past. But, written documentation of those moments is so much more powerful, so much more poignant, and so much more necessary for preserving and sharing memories. You have within you the words to take a memory and bring it to life.
Two weeks ago I referenced a news article on the Aurora shooting. I had seen pictures of the crime scene and had heard the news reports online and had felt disgusted, but it wasn’t until I read this news article that I truly felt the pain and sadness of the situation. That’s because words hold memories, and memories hold power. This memory is not mine. I had no connection to it in any way. But, as author Brady Dennis described the emotional turmoil, the confused and hurting thoughts of one of the victims, I was able to connect.
“But then he felt the molten buckshot of a shotgun blast pierce his neck and face. His left arm went limp. He collapsed onto the floor in front of his seat as chaos unfolded around him. As he lay bleeding, Barton heard the sounds of the movie yield to more primal sounds of terror. The screams of the wounded and dying.”
This is a memory.