photographs and memories
In a previous post entitled "writers & ritual," I fessed up about my own daily, pre-writing routine. For those who did not read that post and do not care (or have time) to click on the link in that first sentence, I'll give you the brief version: every morning, before I've composed a single word, I get myself coffeed-up and comfortable in front of my laptop and navigate to the online edition of our local paper, where I read the obituaries. I won't go into the "whys" of that ritual; for that, you're going to have to click on those blue words above. But now you know. I've bared my soul.
I've found the most fascinating information in that column. By reading through the life histories of the deceased, I've discovered plot ideas for my fiction, locations, and a wealth of names: Mozel, Maizie, Beulah, Winkie. I keep a file of these nuggets in a drawer out in my office. On occasion, I'll print out an obituary simply because the words written in that small rectangular space made me miss a stranger, made me wish I'd been a friend to that face and name.
While straightening my office yesterday, I went to put that file back in the drawer and a small square of paper slipped out and fluttered to the carpet. Picking it up, I saw the obituary of a woman named Lillian. She was nearly 100 when she died and she left a vast line of descendants behind her. But the thing that struck me as odd about that woman's memorial--both when I printed out the obituary and again yesterday--was the picture above the name and death date. Lillian sat straight and stared determinedly at the camera, with no hint of a smile or warmth of any kind, and held up ... a coffee cup.
I'm puzzed by Lillian's mug. What message was she trying to convey? What were her descendants thinking when they chose that particular picture for her obituary? I have to believe they had other pictures of the woman. What was it about this one photo that made them all nod and say, "Yup. That's Mom, all right."
I started thinking. If the paper put captions to these pictures, what might Lillian's say? "Lookee what I have here!" was the first thought to cross my mind. She looked fiercely proud of that mug. But after thinking of and rejecting a half dozen others, I've settled on this caption: "I'm sure gonna miss my coffee."
I felt kind of sad staring at that picture. I thought, "Aw, Lillian ... tell me your life amounted to more than this."
Listen up now, those of you in my life with photo-selecting rights: you're going to really upset me if you choose a picture like that for my obituary. I want no pictures of me holding the dice at Bunco, no pictures of me playing Spades on the computer, no pictures of me knitting or talking on the phone or petting the dog. Please ... catch me hugging a child or laughing with my family or reading my Bible or worshiping. Capture one of those moments on film, and you have my permission to attach that photo to my name and death date.
Your turn. What would you like us to remember about your life?