“The Picture” by Barbara C. Reed
As a child, I would have known the answer to that question and would never have had to think twice.The answer to what I would grab would always have been one particular photograph.
Now I have given several people copies to keep in case of a disaster, since you can’t tell when your life will be suddenly turned upside down.
I had a twin brother named Bruce. This was before IVF made twins almost commonplace. He died when we were almost five months old. In those months of our shared life there was only one photograph ever taken of us together, shot soon after our birth, still at the hospital. After he died, people didn’t mention Bruce much in my family. Although I was very shy as a child, whenever anyone said something, even just in passing, about our family having four children, I always stopped them and said no, five. We have five children in our family. FIVE.
I had custody of that one original photograph of both of us for as long as I can remember which is kind of odd for a child to have. Or maybe not, because I certainly did keep it safe.All of this was before scanners could be found in some homes.
Someone gave me a tiny inexpensive camera, for which I was so grateful. I tried to take pictures of the picture of us, but they didn’t turn out. If I was ever in an office of some kind, I tried to Xerox it: not good. I could not let it out of my sight, even when I was told that it could be reproduced with accuracy. This was my most precious possession.
It helped me with the fact that my twin was rarely mentioned. He had lived for months, but his life seemed forgotten. I swore I wouldn’t forget his short life. I hungered for some memory of him. When I asked questions about him I was told simply that he had died of “crib death.” For years I didn’t even know where his remains were (I do now, though). No one ever took me there.
I never had that sense of immortality that some people have. This was the person who shared the womb with me. If he could die, I certainly could. Sometimes I stared at the picture and wondered what he would have looked like. Would we be best friends? I felt almost certain that we would have had a unique bond.
If he had been forgotten, couldn’t I? Couldn’t anyone? The picture stayed with me and helped me deal with other bereavements.
That photo proved that he had existed, even if people preferred not to mention him. That photo somehow helped me know that I was alive.
Finally in the digital era I was able to get the original copied without it being taken away from me. I took it to a digital photo place, and insisted on accompanying the manager when he took it to the back to copy it. It never left my sight. Other people probably have pictures that are just as meaningful to them.
On the OPR website, I have seen obviously big events, like weddings, and graduations. But others are just as poignant, snapped in ordinary life, sometimes apparently taken with the casual certainty of another day. Snapped of just someone laughing; not just christenings, birthdays, milestones, but just a moment casually spent, shot with probable certainty that life would go on. Two people sitting on a couch, unaware they’d been photographed, people relaxing on a porch, dancing at a party–Sweet moments in life, and in my book, as important as the birthdays and so on.
And then everything is turned upside down.
I’ve read that fragments of photographs have been found over two hundred miles away from their homes. Compassionate people set up locations like in churches for those little pieces of memory, usually for people they never met, nor ever would meet. This kindness reminds me of the good part of humanity, of giving to other during what may be the worst single event of their lives, when that memory of a loved ones laughter, no matter how damaged, can be treasured even as a fragment.Other strangers then work for hours, for free, to help reconstruct that moment in that life before that must now seem so very dear, who sacrifice to help with no glory and very little press.
This should change. These amazing artists, the individuals who pick up that piece of paper off the road and find out who to give it to, these people in churches and elsewhere who collect the pieces of pictures, companies and libraries who provide space and supplies, all deserve to be celebrated. In frustrating times I like to think of all of them, with that—something—that is goodness that can be in people without reward or recognition.
I can only imagine my grief if a tornado or flood or earthquake had ripped my picture apart and distributed the pieces as if they were trash across hundreds of miles.
In this recession, there is so little “extra” income and so many good causes, it is hard to know who to give money or volunteer time to if you are able.
OPR is not flashy. I have rarely seen any publicity, and I think they deserve it, beyond any doubt, and deserve our donated time and dollars.
I have struggled with Cancer, Graft vs Host Disease due to bone marrow transplant, and now a rare auto-immune degenerative disease. My time is indescribably precious to me. Everyone’s time is precious to them: I may just be hyper-aware of it.
It is my choice and my honor to spend a little part of my time creating and donating artwork for OPR to auction for fundraising.
Photographs are just so important.
They remind us of where we come from.
They remind us of who we love.
And they remind us of who we are.
Written by Barbara C. Reed,
All rights reserved.
Barbara C. Reed is a former digital effects artist for Disney, and a photographer.