What would you do if you knew that ten seconds from now, Johnny Depp himself would walk right in front of you?
Our instinct in such scenarios is to perform a draw, like they did in the wild West. But instead of reaching for a Colt .45, we feel for our trusty weapon of choice, the iPhone 6S, or the Galaxy S7. When I decide to capture a picture on my iPhone, I have the process affixed into my muscle memory: Hit the home button, swipe up from the lower bezel, hit the camera icon, point, focus, shoot. Cowboys had to have that kind of motor learning back in the day, or it could cost them their life. And if we don’t have it, it will cost us a memory.
But maybe it won’t.
In fact, when I look at this picture, I see only one woman who is truly soaking up the memory of seeing Johnny Depp walk right in front of her. She is the one circled in red. Some may call her oblivious, or old-fashioned. But I admire her deeply. As the man to her immediate left fumbles to open his camera, and the lady in scrubs with a pink phone looks into the air hoping her phone catches him, our elderly friend, wise beyond her years, smiles and watches.
I am not going to pretend that capturing photos for ourselves and sharing photos with others is bad practice, because it’s not. I love to scan back over old pictures, recalling to mind the people and events and times of my past. I love to laugh at pictures I had forgotten existed, and tear up at pictures that contain what I miss or love the most. Perhaps it is the impulse to be seen than to see that is the issue. We have shifted how we think about memories from something to be kept to something to be shared. Again, this is not to blame Instagram, but only our false Descartes-like mindset, “I post, therefore I am.”
Many memories, whether momentous or mundane, are best remembered when we are fully present. I do not believe it is by accident that we often remember more small details about our childhood than we do our most recent memories (at least, this has been my experience).
I remember the routine occurrence of getting home from intermediate school on a normal weekday, putting down my backpack and hurrying over to the kitchen to grab a drink, before making a bee-line to my basketball court. Its floor was made of dirt, with a slight hump in the middle and a protruding tree root just above the low right block. My goal was weighted down with water poured into a plastic basin, and just above the backboard was the overgrowing foliage from nearby trees. This terrain didn’t slow me down. I kept a record book of an NBA season as I would embody various teams and athletes, facing off against myself, keeping statistics for fun while practicing my jump shot for practice. With every missed shot, I changed possession to the other team. I remember how good “Kyle Korver” was at hitting the 3 in my yard, how trades affected gameplay (as I got real-time updates from SportsCenter in the mornings), and how much better “the Sixers” were in Conroe, TX than in Philadelphia, PA.
There are no pictures of this. No Instagram Stories to capture those moments. But they are embedded into my brain. They’ve outlasted many memories I hoped to remember with a quick picture.
When I travel to a new place, it is good to take pictures of things that I have never seen, and even good to share those pictures with my friends and family. But am I being sucked, body and soul, into the screen? Am I not paying attention to what I hear, what I touch, what I taste, what I smell? Memories were never meant to be confined to a .JPG file.
Pictures are worth a thousand words, but moments in which we find ourselves totally present, alive, and living are worth ten thousand. If Jesus made room for retreat, privacy, and quiet devotion, so can we. Continue to share pictures. Continue to post your stories. We social media users love to see what you’re up to, and if we don’t, we can always hit “unfollow.” My only plea is to not find your identity in the posting. There is so much life to be lived out there. Go be in it.
Don’t be so immersed in capturing the moment that you miss it altogether.
Be the elderly woman leaning over the rail, watching, waiting, living.
And how could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back–if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?
— C.S. Lewis