Messages in a tube

On Thursday I began to think about writing an entry on photographs. I had in mind a particular photograph of my older daughter. The piece was to be about how a photo of a little girl is only that. It carries with it no emotion, no context, no meanings. But when I think about the picture, I remember that it was taken in Wiesbaden, Germany, on May 9, the day before her ninth birthday. She was dressed in a pretty dress and had a too big ribbon in her hair. Her look was melancholy.

“Rachel,” my mother said, “Why are you looking sad; we are celebrating your birthday.”

Rachel responded, “I’m sad because I have the chickenpox and my birthday isn’t until tomorrow.”

“But you know why we are celebrating your birthday today,” my mother said.

“Yes,” Rachel replied, “because tomorrow you are going back to America.”

As I remembered the interchange, I too became sad. I felt my daughter’s impending loss of her grandparents for an indeterminate time. I felt my own loss of them from my life.

And that was to be the article, about the difference in perceptions and feelings that people have about their own photographs until…

Yesterday when I was dressing, I took my mother’s locket and put it around my neck and fastened it and had another memory. She was visiting us and wearing the locket. My youngest son, Akiva, asked to see the pictures inside. She opened it up and there were pictures of Ben and Rachel, my two oldest children, her oldest grandchildren. Akiva asked where his picture was. My mother said, “You are right, Kiwi (her nickname for him); I am going to get another locket and put Sammy’s picture and your picture in it.” I am sure she meant to do that, but she never did.

And then this morning, I began to understand what was happening. While riding the stationary bike at the gym on Thursday, I saw a show on the Hallmark station called “The Locket.” It was about a young man whose mother dies and who later forms a connection with an old lady who helps him with his priorities in life. She has a locket with a picture of herself and the man whom she had loved which spurs a story of her lost love. It is through her pictures and films of her life that the pathos of lost love comes through.

I realized that I had been affected on several levels by the film—by the loss of the man’s mother, by the pictures of life gone by, by the locket.

And then I began to think about the fact that at my age I have fairly well-developed defenses. Defenses strengthen as the years go by and very little creeps into the subconscious on it own, yet here I was being affected by a movie I had seen just part of on television while I was doing something else.

And then I began to think of all of the people who think that limiting a child’s viewing of television or movies is unnecessary. How much could it affect them? Well, I am more convinced than ever that it can affect them. The children themselves may not even be aware of the messages that are absorbed, but they are there.

A long time ago I began to think that there are images and concepts that pollute the soul. I still believe that is true. I think that most parents want to protect their children from the truly evil and deranged, from blood and gore, from things that are not ennobling. What I think now is that a bit too much caution is a lot better than not enough. Guard their souls and yours. All of us are vulnerable.

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