I’ve undertaken a project of late: digitizing and tagging my parents’ old photo albums. Part of it is quite the walk down memory lane. But with all the smiles, laughter, and fond recollections, some of them have a dark shadow too. We live in an era of omnipresent selfies, snapshots, and video streams. These images are curated and often manipulated into a false perception of reality for public consumption. The outtakes are deleted, leaving the illusion of perfection. But perfect was a bit more fleeting during the days of film. You had to wait and see what you had, and hope some of them were worth sharing.
I think it’s natural to want to only remember the best. Bad memories are, after all, sometimes painful and by their very nature unpleasant. But it is important to remember the bad with the good. It is a reminder of how strong you have been in the past, which is oftentimes the encouragement needed when you have to be strong again in the future. It illustrates that no experience is completely bad, just as nothing is entirely good. Life is a mixture of both; you just have to keep the perspective to see it.
I remember the conferences and retreats where I got to spend quality time with dad. But I also remember the teasing about my weight and the embarrassment of not being able to do things that everyone else could. I smiled confidently for a picture in my conference shirt but was terrified by body image issues. I reveled in my high score on the simulations, but inside knew that my proficiency was due to the fact I had to focus on those topics because I couldn’t fit in the safety harnesses to do the other assignments.
It would perhaps be better if I forgot those aspects and moved forward. But, I don’t want to. I want to be able to hold on to those feelings and use them as motivation to do better. I want to use my experiences to teach kids to not be a bully, and how to respond if they are being bullied. I want to be able to tell them that everyone is different, and it’s okay to be good at different things than their friends. I want to be able to be confident in their self, regardless of their body type or athletic ability.
Likewise, it is important to remember both the good and bad of our collective history as well. For all of the glory of American exceptionalism, we have the dark shadows that spread across our nation that must be addressed. We have lessons in history that must be remembered so their recurrence can be avoided.
That is why painful recollections and somber history must be remembered. We must learn from it and do better. Always, do better.