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Oct 19

Frozen in Time—Then and Now

In Brief—This extension of last week’s The Mirror Doesn’t Lie is a reflection on the past and how we preserve the images in memory and on film.

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Brain and Camera as Time Machine—

The old man shuffles through the pottery studio, pausing now and then to look around, at a wheel, a glazing bucket. Everybody notices the figure, particularly the long-haired young guy clad only in a pair of patched jeans and leather sandals. As suddenly as the old man appeared, he disappears as if by magic. Was he an illusion?

An old friend who was once a young woman at the glazing table, who taught young children for many years and is still throwing pots in her mountain retreat, told me the story of an old flame who showed up on her doorstep years later. He had changed. He was not the same young man who had set her heart aflutter all those years ago. So came the inspiration for this piece.

I had a dream recently. In it there was a young woman who had touched my life and taught me about myself before realizing that I was not the guy for her. She was just as she had been, not as the passage of time would have given her the wrinkles and sags that come to us all. In the same dream, my father was just as he was when I last saw him, not as he must have been at the time of his death.

Then there’s the husband of the potter in the mountains. Though retired now and still active, he is an extremely talented photographer who spent years in television filming some of the shows that you watched and loved. Because he is so skilled with a camera (not to mention almost everything he touches), several lovely young ladies asked him to do nude portraits of them. Not pornography, I hasten to say, but art photography showing young women with lovely bodies at the most appealing time in their lives. One of the young women told him that she wanted to be able to remember in the future what she was like when she was young and vibrant. A moment frozen in time that captured an image of youth in all its freshness.

The other day, I roamed the Internet for film performers to see how they had changed in the years since their image flickered on the screen of a film I had seen in years past. As with those messages sent to you by a friend showing show business celebrities then and now, some quite shocking, I was fascinated at the changes between a child actor then and how he appears today or what the passage of time has done to that actress who once lit my fantasies. They were images frozen in my memory.

On another occasion, this old guy now looking back on a life of highs and lows began searching the Internet for information about old friends and past loves. Most searches ended in failure, but suddenly there was a familiar forty-year-old image of a former girlfriend that had been posted by her daughter who wanted to memorialize her mother who had died too young. I was both saddened and astonished at seeing a photograph I had long since forgotten. I experienced a glimpse of the past and a wave of nostalgia that reminded me of my youth.

These days, I reflect on how time’s movement alters the appearance of not just the people we have known, but of Earth itself. People smarter than I have written about the phenomenon of memory. We have the ability through memory or photography to preserve a moment in time regardless of its passage.

Whether it’s a classic shot of Marilyn Monroe, a Spanish soldier falling on the field of battle, an American flag being raised on Iwo Jima or your family album, like an insect captured in amber, that dream or that photograph is a time machine that has captured a split-second of the past.

If somebody had told that young man in the pottery studio that the old man he saw was himself fifty years hence, he would have laughed. But from the perspective of today, we can look back and see our parents or friends as they were when we last saw them. As for ourselves, we can select a moment showing us as we were then. No camera is necessary, but be warned, there may be a little distortion depending on our memories.

Tell me about the memories of long-lost friends and relatives that still exist in your head or in the album and how those images differ from today’s reality. Has the latest class reunion reminded you that all of us are changing? Does that old love on your doorstep tell you anything about yourself as well as about him? The images on film or in our heads have captured moments in time. And time moves ever onward.

8 comments

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  1. Dave Meyers

    I am always struck by the fact that most of us, no matter how many years have past, have an image of ourselves as being much younger than we really are….we all seem to be about 20 years old behind our eyes.
    My three siblings and I are barely a year apart in any direction. My younger brother (by not-quite three years) claims that he believes that he looks younger than his peer group. Really?, I think….after his two heart attacks and a cancer surgery, I think he looks far older than my sister and I, both actually older than he.
    But, then I ponder, if he thinks he looks young and I’m actually older, how must I look to others? I get a sense of that when I catch a reflection in a window or a wall mirror, and certainly when I see picture of myself or when a 45 year old calls me Sir.
    I think nature has given us a mechanism that, if only a bit deceptive, allows us to believe we’re younger than we really are. But here’s the thing…..so what? Aging is inevitable and, in spite of articles to the contrary, not reversible. But, if you feel and imagine yourself younger, act as you feel…..be young. The miladies of aging not withstanding, being younger is all about a state of mind. Marilyn and I, often after some silly banter, ask, “How old are we now?”
    I roll out of bed each morning with a myriad of aches, pains, and post stroke nerve issues. But, by all that is holy, I resolve to face the day as a capable young guy.

    1. Don Bay

      Until the operation, I felt far younger than my calendar years. Pride goeth before a fall, they say. Now, I look in the mirror and see an old guy who looks his age and I never feel the way I felt just three years ago. Oh, well, that’s life…but the brain is still functioning so there are compensations regardless of what the mirror says.

      As you say, how we feel about ourselves is largely a state of mind. Fingers crossed that your brother continues to think of himself as younger despite your assessment of him. And may a good dose of silliness give us the vigor we need to make every day shine just a little brighter. Keep rolling out of bed each day with the good thoughts you have. With your talent and attitude, you are well ahead of the pack.

  2. Brenda Frye

    Oh, that is just beautiful. I found myself reflecting back on images of many people and wondering what changes may have made for them. In fact, your story has encouraged me to seek out many friends and family I have missed over the years. Yes, many have moved out of this lifetime and into the next all too soon, therefore, we should appreciate what we see in the mirror and enjoy every wrinkle and scar we see.

    1. Don Bay

      Here’s hoping that you can renew the contacts with friends you haven’t communicated with in a long time. No doubt they will love seeing/hearing from you. As for departed relatives and friends, alas, we have only the pictures of them we carry in our heads. That may be fortunate or not, depending on the circumstances. Fortunate, I hope. There are always those photos in the album.

      We have dear friend, Anne, to thank for this piece. Had it not been for her recollection, this piece would not have been written. So thank you to Anne and thank you for such a wonderful response.

  3. Jim Newton

    We are lucky to have pictures of those long ago times because memory is about anchoring and adjustment. Something is put into memory and as the years go by our memories change with our experiences. Pictures don’t change so those visual memories stay the same. How do we remember a conversation? Depends on how long ago it took place and what has happened over the years to change the memory.

    Lovely reflections Don. I would love to sit with you and reminisce again.

    1. Don Bay

      As far as my own memory is concerned, my experiences have not altered the pictures of people I carry in my head a bit. They remain the same as when I saw them last. Photos lock those instants for as long as the photos last.

      As for conversations, humans tend to massage those memories to protect their own egos. I agree that our memories of a conversation that took place in the past may or may not be accurate. How much those conversations change depends at least on time, the need to protect our own egos and honesty.

      I’d love to be able to reminisce with you about our past. While our memories may differ—sort of like Rashomon—you are still the Jim I last saw. Lucky you!

  4. Donna

    this blog was especially timely. Roger and I recently celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary and spent time looking back at our wedding album and also at the album from our 50th wedding anniversary.
    The wedding album showed photos of the wedding couple (us) and 10 attendants.(including ushers, candle lighters and bridesmaids) Of those 10, only 5 are still alive – sobering realizations. We are still in close touch with 3 of the 5.
    The anniversary album showed us how much we have changed in just the last 10 years -not so much in looks (although that too), but in life style. We are more free to just stay home, or to travel, and we do a lot of both. We really enjoyed re-reading the messages from our friends, and sadly noting that even many of them are no longer alive.
    I was amused by your comments on conversations. I notice that when Roger tells someone of a happening or conversation in the past, his version is usually different from mine. I used to correct the details in the middle of his story (he magnifies some of the details) but am learning to just let him enjoy telling the story; perhaps the details don’t matter.

    1. Don Bay

      About those conversations…each person remembers a past conversation in a unique way. Roger’s remembrance differs from yours in the sense that his is more subjective (assuming he was a participant in the conversation) while yours is more objective as the listener, but both remembrances have been massaged by the years. But I don’t want to get into this dispute since someone is bound to get bruised by taking sides. I will say, however, that you are wise to let him tell it as he remembers it.

      Those photos of the wedding album are a time machine that can carry you back to a time when you were still innocent and lacked the wonderful patina you both have today. As someone who greatly values the friendship we have developed in the years since the reunion in 2001, the pictures I have in my head are of you and Roger from when we were last together, but they are colored by the many email exchanges we have had since. I am richer for knowing you. Thank you.

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