Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Power of Smiles - The Power of Longing

Last Saturday I was going through thousands of digital photos and Peter W. was looking at the slide show of Leif's life on this blog. He said, again, how happy Leif looked, how it was hard to believe what had happened to him, but that you could see the downhill slide in his photos during the last year of his life. I, too, was seeing so many smiling photos of him, and it's easy to get the impression that he really was happy. I've written before about smiles in photos. Most people smile for the camera because that's what they've been taught to do. If they don't, the photographer will tell them to smile, and wait to take the picture until they do. It's not that they are always caught at a spontaneous moment of happiness and delight, or that they are really happy people in those pictures, though sometimes it IS a happy moment. We don't see all those that weren't captured, or all the times before the camera was pointed in their direction or the photographer insisted on a smile.

I've posted some photos of Leif that weren't smiling, though except for the one when he was a kid in Japan having a crying fit, he didn't really look unhappy in the photos . . . pensive, thoughtful, absorbed, perhaps, but not sad or unhappy. I do have some photos of him looking glum or unhappy, though. They aren't my favorite shots, but I am still glad to have them. They are real. Usually, I caught him unaware, or I wanted him to smile and he wouldn't, so I took the picture anyway.

The photo with this post was taken by Peter W. in San Marino in September 1979. Leif was four-and-a-half years old. We were on a trip to Italy in our old Opel Diplomat car, which I'm amazed managed the trip. It was the same trip when we visited Rimini, I think. Leif looks so huggable, but also so kind of intense.

Looking at all the photos induced an intense longing for him, a truly heartwrenching yearning to have him back again. I was overcome by it, and then I decided to think more deeply about the emotion I was feeling and discovered that he was the catalyst, but the yearning was not only for him. It was for that time of our lives. It was for the totality of the experience when our sons were young and we didn't face all these problems, when we had no worries about their adult problems and no memories of Leif's death, when we were together and happy. Peter W. says he would like to go back and do it all again, together. I know what he means. I long for the time when I could hold both my boys in my arms and hug them for all we were worth, when I could tuck them into bed at night and sing to them, a time when I knew that if they were unhappy, it would pass, a time when Peter and I were young and hopeful and optimistic about our future and theirs.

We were so fortunate when our sons were young. They were healthy, intelligent, creative, full of life and fun. Of course, they were rascals, too, and often frustrating, but mostly they were a joy, and that time of our lives was a treasure we can be enormously grateful for. We can be grateful for the smiles, the natural and the posed ones, and we can be grateful for every other expression we preserved on film, even the silly ones. They show who we were. I like that better than what we have become.

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