The Box: Old Photos, Memories, and Meaning Making
We are moving, and by we, I mean my two teenage children and myself. We got this. But first, let’s pack. Pack all our belongings, prized possessions, and treasured memories into boxes to be hauled off to our next abode.
Let’s start from the beginning.
For the last 20 years, I have packed and unpacked my life numerous times.
Out of my college apartment back to my parents’ home. Out of my parents’ home into my in-law unit near Lake Merritt. From my in-law unit near Lake Merritt to my boyfriend, then baby daddy, to husband’s house on Taylor Road. From Taylor Road to the yellow house in my hometown, so my parents could watch not one, but two babies. From the yellow house to the brown house to the condo near my old middle school, and back to my parents’ house with two kids. (I promise this story is not about living with my parents.) From Mom and Dad’s house to the apartment on the hill, to here today where we pack it up to our next place to call home.
All in a box “to the left, to the left.” (Thank you, Beyoncé.)
This story is about “The Box.” This box is an old cardboard box that carries albums of photos ranging from circa 1993 to the early 2000s. Photos. Printed from film and disposable cameras. What we did before the invention of digital cameras and the iPhone.
The box originated when I packed up my belongings after college graduation. The box has been carried from San Diego to the Bay Area and every place I lived where I originally packed it. It has photos of old high school friends, memories from some of the best times of my life, and my first love whom I stayed with into my 20s.
Countless times I pulled out photos to share memories with those whose pictures are in it and often thought about getting rid of the box. I mean, ask yourself…why do you hold on to old photos? (If you do this, which many of us do.) They are photos after all. Countless pieces of paper with photographs printed of times I will never forget. Why must I hold onto these physical versions of memories already inside my head?
Perhaps I took Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing a little too literally. Many times, I had the urge to hold these photos close to my heart, offer gratitude, and lovingly throw them into the nearest dumpster to ease myself of the burden and space they’ve taken up in my life.
After all, I’ve been blessed with the experience of marriage, divorce, motherhood, travel, friendships, loss, healing, and personal growth. My life is abundant.
When my first love and I broke up, I remember saying, “Never look past what is right in front of you.” I said it to him not knowing it was me who should have been taking my own advice.
This week I was standing in my bedroom, staring into an empty closet with only one thing left on the shelf: “The Box.” The box full of memories, heartache, and longing. Longing not just for what could have been, but for what I missed all along that was right in front of me: her. Me. She is Me.
The routine usually goes like this: Prepare to move. Pack up my room. Find the Box. Stare at the box. Take out the box. Open the box and mindlessly pick an album to flip through, but not for too long.
And that I did. But this time I flipped through photos and looked, long and hard, at photos of myself—of the young lady I once was.
The girl (17 or 18) was pretty. Correction—she was beautiful. She looked kind with a broad smile, dimple on her cheek, slender shoulders, and long, curly hair. I looked at her as if I did not know I was once her. And then sadness hit me right in the heart.
Sad for my younger self, knowing how long I lived my life thinking I was not pretty, attractive, or good enough. Heartbroken, knowing what this girl lived through, feeling this way about herself and never sharing it with others. Hurt, knowing how many years would pass before the girl in the photo could see her own uniqueness and beauty.
Wishing to go back and tell this young lady that just because the world didn’t validate her beauty for her did not mean that she lacked beauty. She never lacked a thing; she was always enough. Hopeful, knowing that I have the power and tools of my own now to teach my son and daughter how to believe in the beautiful and amazing human beings they are.
My younger self did not grow up surrounded by other kids who looked like me. Most of my life, I was too insecure with my wide nose, bushy hair, and not having “the look” that attracted the opposite sex. I did not see I had so much more to offer the world:
Courage and strength to stand in my convictions.
Grace and joy whenever I move across a dance floor.
My laugh that fills a room.
Warmth, comfort, and assurance for others when we share an embrace.
Back to “The Box”
Once again, I could not do it. I could not dispose of the box when opportunity presented itself. The box, until now, served as a source of bittersweet memories and regret, many that I struggled to let go of. I’m still not ready to let go of this box and will take up residence on a new shelf in a few short days. I may never let go of the box. It seems to trigger so much learning and profound insight every time I pick it up.
What I know to be true is no matter the circumstances that happen in life, good or bad, know that you were born to be here and to take up space in this world. Your face is meant to be seen, your voice is meant to be heard, and your heart is meant to be held.
When those memories are conjured up by that thing, song, scent, touch, or picture (we all have something), pause and observe it, ask why you are connecting the emotion you feel to it, unpack the memories, make meaning, and understand the story in yourself.
When you find the answer, embrace it because it is part of you—all parts that make one whole you.