“Our ignorance of history makes us vilify our own age.” – Gustave Flaubert.
This is going to be one of those blogposts.
No jokes … or ellipses.
Any post/article/speech/coffee shop rant that quotes Flaubert gets many a hackle to rise.
History ebbs and flows within you, even those of us who tend to look back a little more than they should.
Sometimes one of the waves from way back comes out of nowhere and dumps you.
And it’s a shaking up you sorely need.
I’ve just had such a shake up.
This photograph came without fanfare from my brother this morning and it took my to some necessary places.
It appears to be a family group, but it is not.
It is better than that, more important than that.
And before I go on, can I assure you that this is no “À la recherche du temps perdu” thing – I am not pining, I am not wallowing, I am not regretting. (Perhaps only regretting the Flaubert and Proust references)
I am celebrating.
I am understanding a little better.
Strangely perhaps, my first emotional reaction on seeing the photo was to the old man.
That’s Grandad Jack.
He was a neighbour to my parents who became part of the scenery before I arrived and whose friendship & love was so appreciated that my mum & dad gave me his middle name – John.
My memory of Grandad Jack is of feeling safe, hearing stories and learning from someone whose world – Canada, the Great War & more – was beyond my imaginings.
Seeing him made me realise he planted a seed of curiosity in me.
And then there’s my parents.
Looking so familiar, yet it’s far from my default image of them.
They look together and united.
And my brother.
He would have taken this picture and he got it so right, he saw it.
And then there’s me.
What knocked me over more than anything else was the feeling of unity in this picture.
The sight of blood relatives mixed with chosen loved ones creates not just a potent recollection, but a strong & necessary notion of what’s possible & needed in the present.
It is family.
And I haven’t always done family well.
And family hasn’t always been the best for me.
It’s a little better now after this.
And there’s a bit more besides as so many, many people stand or sit just beyond this simple snap’s framing.
Beloved uncles, longed for lovers, generous colleagues, core friends and those to come.
The odd thing is that I know this image was always there inside me and with it these cascading emotions which are all to the good.
I had simply mislaid its album as I stumbled through, slightly squandered and ultimately survived the intervening years.
It is now safely retrieved.
Safe and sound.