There were few upsides to lockdown, but it’s worth pausing to celebrate those that do exist. For me, it meant I could finally get round to those niggling jobs that my hurly-burly life had always prevented me from tackling—such as sorting out my photo albums.
I realized that during lockdown I could upload my digital pictures and order prints online. I think we all now appreciate the joy of a much-anticipated package coming through the post, don’t we! And, because I had so much more time, I could really savor leafing through my older snaps, the ones that had languished in boxes for decades and had never made it to the elevated status of being lovingly put in an album.
I had no idea how unimaginably joyful it would be to stride down memory lane with these packets of photos. True, there were many subjects with their eyes closed, or out of focus or overexposed, and occasionally people were blurry because they’d moved just as the camera was clicked. But, despite all these distractions and flaws, these photos were perfect.
At a time when it was tricky to look forward with any certainty, I found it great comfort to look back. Reflection is not something I’ve ever devoted much time to. I write a novel a year, I have family, friends, support charities, and enjoy lots of hobbies. I’ve always been someone who asks, ‘What’s next?’. Now, I discovered that taking time to remember what has gone before is incredibly cheering and worthwhile.
It was a joy to recall brilliant holidays spent on beaches and busy theme parks when my son was younger, my husband’s hair darker and my stomach firmer. Placing photos carefully in albums felt like a ritual, a homage to times that I’d perhaps taken for granted. I re-lived parties, significant birthdays, nights out, and trips to exciting cosmopolitan cities. In the past, I’d breezed over so many rich experiences, always too ready to dash onto the next thing. These memories underlined my good fortune.
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I was careful not to allow my gratitude to slip into anything like longing for the past. I didn’t want to resent the curtailed present or—even worse—despair about the future. The past is gone and while it’s always very tempting to romanticize it, I resisted doing so.
In this challenging period, I recalled other tricky times in my life, and I remembered that I’d got through them. My photo albums reminded me that I’ve survived a divorce and a period of being a single mum. In the past, I’ve lost dearly loved friends and family and overcome health problems. The thought ‘even this will pass’ kept coming to me, which was a huge comfort. I am resilient and my old photos showed me that.
I also found I could be kinder about myself than I had been when the images were taken. My response to seeing myself in a photo has always been self-criticism, but I could be more forgiving of the girl in these dated snaps. I didn’t hone in on my funny hairstyles, my chubby babyface, or flat chest the way I most certainly did at the time. I looked back and felt a real affection for the naive, sometimes awkward, not fully-formed me. I now see that my clothes were fab, my baby fat cute, my crazy hairstyles fun. What I looked like was not that important, as I concentrated on what was happening in the photo and allowed happy memories to spark.
I’ve promised myself that from now on when someone takes a photo, I won’t worry about wrinkles or unflattering angles. I’ll simply appreciate the fact a special moment is being captured and immortalized. I’m so glad my hilarious 80s outfits were!
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