What to Keep While Keeping On: The power of photographs

   Sometimes I fill my life with so much stuff, I lose sight of what is really important to me. I go through clothes constantly, scroll through social media hours on end and buy cheap products that give me momentary relief from reality.  

My consumption of these useless items is tiring, and I think it’s safe to say we all have experienced this addiction to collecting junk. Now more than ever — in isolation and cut off from the world — I believe we have tendencies to buy, take and collect anything around us to fill our lives with temporary distractions.  

I have let this type of consumerist lifestyle go on for too long. I’ve kept too many things that don’t give me any value. And I know you have too. For this reason, I am going to focus on something everyone needs a reminder of.  

I believe keepsakes are the solution to this constant consumption rut.  

I have a black-and-white photograph on my bulletin board of my Mamaw Mae. I’m looking at it as I write this. Staring back at me is a smiling young woman with a dog on her lap. This photo comforts me like no other. 

What I’ve just told you might be of no surprise. We all have heirlooms from our elders tucked away somewhere, right? While this may be true, I am not arguing the popularity of photographic mementos. I am instead analyzing the value of photographs and how their worth has changed with time.  

I  believe real printed photographs are the root of all keepsake collections, making them one of the most important items for us to rediscover. 

I see writing about the photograph of Mamaw Mae necessary since I did not know her well. She passed away when I was young, and the faint memories I do have of her certainly do not reflect the woman in the photograph. 

Despite never having a close relationship with my grandmother, I cling on to her photograph as a source of fuel. I knew she was a smart woman; I’ve seen her report cards from high school. Although she maintained high marks in her classes, she never was able to attend college.  

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to attend college. I know sacrifices from generations before me, especially from the women in my life, were made so I could stand where I am today. For this reason, a little piece of Mamaw Mae will be with me throughout my time here at Lawrence and beyond. 

While this story is very specific to my life, I encourage you to remember the Mamaw Maes in your life. Think about the memories of them you hold onto as you navigate this world.  

Do you have photographs to match these moments? Whether they’re tucked away in a journal, framed on the wall or saved on your computer, we all have photos from the past that call to us. 

I find these types of photographs to be the most valuable of all. I think we will always have a connection to photos of us or photos we take ourselves. But how wonderful is it to have a relationship with a piece of paper from a different time and a different place? 

Distant connections are extraordinary because they are so obviously our doing. No one asked me to hold on to my photograph of Mamaw Mae. That action was my choice, and the relationship I have with her is important only to me. 

While you clearly can like any type of photograph, I argue that your mind does not decide what pieces of history to clasp to. Only your heart has that power. I urge you to take a moment to think about what itty bitty corner of the past you work to keep in the present. 

Many will argue that photographs have the ability to show you everything from a specific moment. Photos can give you all of the information you need. I see the reasoning behind these statements, but I invite you not to think about photographs as whole memories.  

Do not worry about knowing all of the facts about a photograph. I do not know where my Mamaw Mae is sitting in her photo. I do not know how old she is. I also do not know the name of her dog. 

Yes, photographs can capture a piece of time and freeze it onto paper forever. But their ability to keep a moment is not what produces their value. How they make you feel is what does. 

You do not need to know everything about something in order to love and cherish it. This is especially true with our photographic keepsakes.  

Photographs are all around us. You see them constantly throughout the day, a large portion of that being caused by social media. But, if I ask you, “Which photo is a window into your past?” one in particular will come to mind. 

Do yourself a favor and find that photograph. Acknowledge its power. You find strength within that photo without understanding it entirely. That is not only valuable, but rare. I promise you, that is something worth keeping.