A Picture Isn’t Worth a Thousand Words

Every one of us has probably heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Clearly, I take a little issue with that statement. Words can describe pictures and even the events that the picture captures, but I don’t think words can relay pictures that already exist. Of course, words can create pictures, but I think that the two mediums are pretty separate. The right picture(s) don’t need words to have meaning, because seeing them can evoke vivid emotions and memories that transcend words. As someone who highly values words and recognizes them as an art form, as powerful and meaningful, and also essential to human life, they’re also limiting. I love words, but it’s because I love them that I have to understand what they can and cannot do. They can create new worlds and new experiences and make you feel things, but I’ve never known words to be able to replicate an experience that already exists. Words can only achieve what they do because of imagination and creativity on behalf of the consumer. Words only serve as the skeleton to what the mind creates around it. I can tell you a watermelon is sweet, but my saying so isn’t as good as tasting the sweentess yourself. Pictures on the other hand go straight through the eyes and into the brain, which leaves a little less to the imagination, but also adds specificity and clarity. A picture of a bright red and juicy watermelon slice will probably entice you more than my writing about it. What I’m getting at is this: words are better at stimulating the imagination while pictures are better at conveying experience. This all is to talk about something that I’ve been going through yesterday and today, which is looking through old photos from when I was born up to the present. Doing so got to be really surprisingly difficult for me because of everything I was feeling while doing it; so much I felt the need to write about it. So without any more introduction, here is my experience with looking through old baby photos.

The reason I’m looking through the photos is because my graduation party is coming up and I’m making a display of “Me Through the Years” if you will. It’s a poster board with a bunch of photos taped to it. My mom has a very extensive array of baby photos. I think I’ve looked through 1500+ photos picking the ones I liked most. I’m still only up to around age 8-9, and I don’t know how many adolescent photos there are of me. I can say though that I was an adorable baby, and that’s not just because I know it’s me. I mean, for those of you who will be attending, you’ll see what I mean. I was a mighty fine looking baby. But then again, I just love babies. The photos are more or less in order, from my mom’s final stages of pregnancy through whatever age, so flipping through the photos is kind of like reading a book about my life. Every photo has a story with it and people in it and it just intrigues me because of course I don’t remember a thing about being a baby. I think my earliest memory is from when I was 2-3, but like most people, everything before that is gone. I did some math and I calculated that there’s room for 72 photos on the board, minus probably 2-4 for the title. I’m thinking I’ll leave the photo stuff out for others to look at, in addition to my yearbook(s) and my senior photo stuff that should cover me from birth through 18. But now, let’s talk about the emotional impact of these photos, because almost every photo was kind of like a sucker punch.

I really enjoy history and stories about my parents, and looking at statistics and learning more about myself. The world was very different in my early years. It was 1997, my parents were married, they had lots of friends, they had money, family was always visiting, they were young, and I was an only child. I recently thought to myself while looking at the pictures that it’s funny how so many of them happened within my house, and now the people aren’t there any more. It made me think about time and what it is, because we can’t feel it passing, and yet we occupy one space at one time. I saw my two dead dogs laying on the floor in a picture, and I could’ve gotten up and walked there, but I knew they wouldn’t be there. It’s common sense, but it really made me ponder time and space. Those words I just wrote, and the ones I’m writing now, I won’t get that time back, and while I can backspace, I can’t change what I’ve already done. Anyway, these pictures are reminding me of the “good ol’ days” even though I can’t remember them at all. I see my parents young, and my aunts and uncles and cousins young. Grandpa Quinn is still alive, everyone appears happy, celebrating my birth, taking me places, holding me, taking pictures with me. Everyone is smiling. We went on vacations all the time. My parents are together and actually seem like they love each other. It’s making me tear up now thinking that I can’t even really remember my parents being married. Half my life they’ve been divorced, but now it feels like they’ve always been divorced. What happened to that love that I see in these pictures? My parents at one point loved each other and now they’re at each other’s throats. Even as a baby, I seemed happy. I could feel my parents love for me through those photos, and even more special that they were doing it together. I don’t remember it, but I loved being an only child, because I’m placing my current feelings into tiny baby me. My cousins played with me and were holding me and they were happy. I got to a picture of my first Christmas, and the picture was me sitting in front of the Christmas tree with a bunch of presents behind me, and I felt spoiled. A baby can’t feel spoiled, but being the only child of two middle class parents meant I could have so much. I felt guilty and ashamed and I had no reason to. Why should I be guilty or ashamed that my parents cared about me and gave me so many presents? I don’t know. I miss that though. In recent years, and I’m not saying I really want it to be different, but the same amount of presents I had back then is about equal in quantity to the total we get between the three of us kids combined. I was 7 months old, blissfully unaware of how good my life was. It was almost sickeningly good, and I guess that contrasted with my current situation in life. Not that my life now is horrible, but by comparison to little 7 month old me, I just felt broken. I think I envied myself.

I got these same feelings looking at different pictures as I hit 1, 2, 3, had birthday parties with people I still see and/or know the name of and remember. My extended family is around, I’m walking, I’m living a life that I think every child deserves from birth to 18. And then my sister was born, and little 3 year old me holds her with a smile on his face. From there on, for a solid three years of photos, it was just me and my sister. We were both living the dream now. The early 2000s, happily married parents, family and friends, tons of presents, smashing birthday cake into our mouths, and we seemed to have each other. There are so many photos of my sister and I hugging (by the way, I’m crying now). A child loves so passionately and innocently, and now my relationship with my sister is so different. We’re both so different. The sister in those photos was tiny, and adorable, and girly, and innocent and just like I was when I was her ages, even though as she turned 1, 2, and 3, I was turning 4, 5, 6. I was going off to school. I was learning to be a little bit more mature and formulate my own opinions and that junk. Now, it’s like 6 year old me, but you know what I mean. Quick backtrack, I just have to say how much I hated those birthday pictures, because I felt those same pangs of guilt and shame. Why do we teach our kids to covet toys and anxiously seek whatever is under the wrappings? I hate that because I know where it leads, and still I want my kids to have that joy of opening a present. The pictures show me, my sister, and out friends wide eyed, tearing apart the wrapping paper to see what’s inside. It’s teaching us to be greedy and materialistic, and part of me doesn’t want that to happen at all. Some of me wants to raise my kids, giving them very little so they learn what’s really important, but the other part of me wants to give them everything I can possibly by them so they can experience that joy of opening a present. I was and still am kind of torn. There has to be a balance, and I have no idea where that is.

But at the same time, I know it’s going to lead to darkened hearts, and here’s what I mean, because this other photo really stuck with me. It was my five year old Christmas, so December of 2002. I look at this photo and I think I jumped a little, maybe gasped, and then I wanted to cry. There I was, holding in my hands a Gameboy. Why is that cause for alarm? Because that thing owned my life and in some way it still owns my life. I played that thing for hours and hours and hours. I got dozens of games for it, and it ruled my young life. As I got older, the Gameboy turned into the PS2, the Nintendo DS, the Wii, the computer, replacement PS2, PS2 for my dad’s house, and phones, and an Xbox360. That started me off, and I just lost it. I regret so much of what video games did to my life. Part of me wants to say it isn’t my fault; my parents got it for me and I was five. I didn’t have the ability of foresight and I hardly knew the ins and outs of right and wrong when it came to toys. But the fault goes to nobody, not even my parents. They just wanted me to be happy. They wanted to give me what I wanted. They couldn’t possibly know I would spend hours upon hours pushing those A and B buttons, catching Pokemon, saving Peach from Bowser, or that it would lead me to really bad places in the future. But that picture of me, innocently holding that Gameboy with a great big smile on my face terrified me. I know where that machine takes my life, and I just want to reach into the picture and take it away. But if I did, who knows where my life would be? What would my life look like if I hadn’t gotten that Gameboy? Would I still have the friends I have? Would I believe what I believe? It may seem like a big question because of a really small change, but if I’d never gotten that Gameboy, I don’t think I would’ve been as into video games as I was. Maybe I would’ve done sports. Maybe I’d become a popular jock who wouldn’t take a second glance at my current friends. Maybe I would have a shallow and stupid high school relationship. Maybe I would think that I had my life fulfilled with popularity and sports that I didn’t need God in my life. Who can really tell? I’m going to trust that God’s plan influenced everything that’s happened, even though looking back I see only tears, regret, and pain with regards to that, even though I loved it. Change is never easy.

And now we go into the territory of the third Smith child being born. It was the same story as everything above. Family is always around, loving parents, opening presents, the three of us in the bath together, smiles, smiles, and more smiles. I held my brother with love, and if I’m being really honest, today I would be reviled to lay a hand on him. I look back at my 6-7 year old self and I envy him. He loved his siblings. What happened to me? What happened to that life? Why do my parents have so few friends? Why do we not see our extended family more? Why do my parents not love each other any more? Where did my family go? Where did the joy go? I don’t know. I can’t answer any of those questions. All I can say is that I miss innocence. I love my life for different reasons now, but while I so badly want to be an adult, I really want to be a kid again. I want to go back to a day when my family was together and full of love and smiling. I know some people would try to assign blame, including my parents. That’s one thing they’re doing right now, and it’s painful. I don’t want to assign blame, because it just happened. It’s in the past. I don’t want to understand why it all went wrong. I wish it hadn’t gone wrong at all. My first two dogs Cooper and Casey died. We got another dog who we had to put down when he was 2-3 years old. My parents got divorced. My grandpa died. Alcohol took a toll. We got Lulu. My mom had major boyfriends Jeff and Ben. I got my ferrets Cloe and Cedric. Cloe died. Cedric died. I lost friendships. My relationships with my brother, sister, mom, and dad all crumbled. I miss being a kid. Starting around age 9, life just decided I wasn’t going to have it easy any more. That’s all I’m going to attribute it to.

Now I’m full on bawling. I feel like typing this will somehow be able to show you how I’m feeling right now, so forgive me when I say I’m sorry for crying. These photos are good photos. Most of them aren’t sad, and I think that’s why I’m crying now. They remind me of happy times, and I guess I’m not as well off now as I thought myself. I have a lot of good things to be thankful for in my life right now, but underneath that, I think I’m still broken and shattered. Underneath all the fancy clothes and makeup, my skin just covered in scars that I’ve been ignoring and picking at. I miss being happy.

Okay, I’m sorry for all that really depressing stuff, but I had to get it out. I don’t know who I could say this to. But let’s go back to those photos. From after I turned 9, my sister turned 6, and my brother turned 3, I of course noticed my development, and my siblings’ development which kind of freaked me out too. My sister is SO different now. My brother used to be skinny. But anyway, the photos after that seemed to fall into a pattern. First day of school photos, middle school and elementary school graduation photos, Christmas tree hunt, Christmas, pumpkin patch, pumpkin carving, Easter egg dying, and sometimes birthday parties. Those were pretty much all the photos we had, but we did have some big events that were recorded. Lulu, my cousin Nicole’s wedding, the occasional vacation, my prom, my graduation, my sister’s homecoming, and that covers 95% of the photos. I saved a ton of the photos I liked, even if they’re not going on my poster board. They’ll either go in my slide show, or they’ll just be for me. Here’s my cousin Connor when he was I think three, about three years ago. DANG! Is he six now? Nooooo he’s so cute, he can’t grow up. Ugh, here he is.

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So about Connor. This’ll be my last thing before ending the post. I’ve got a lot of photos I love to put on display, and I’ve explained my connection to the photos, so I’m pretty much done, but I love Connor too much to not let the world know how adorable he is. So, little cousin Connor. I was there for his first birthday party, but like I said, this photo is of when he was three. We were staying with my aunt and uncle, and they have three kids. One of them is Connor. So we stayed in the same house for a while, and it was awesome. Connor took a liking to me. We were hiking up a mountain trail and he got a little scared of the rocks and he would get tired, so I have a picture of me walking with him, holding his hand. Another few photos show him sitting in my lap and standing in front of me, but he’s even cooler. I played lots of games with him, but his favorite was taking pictures of each other. I wish I had them still. I taught him how to take pictures with my phone (and not to put his fingers in front of the camera) and we sat and took pictures of each other. He loved taking pictures of me. I loved taking pictures of him, but I let him do more photography. I have a lot of memories of that trip, and Connor was there almost all the time.

Man, I love that kid. I want to go see him now that he’s five or six. Ugh, that can’t be real. I can’t believe it. I don’t even know what he looks like now. Before I go to college, I want to make one last trip to see everyone. Alright, well thanks for reading this post. By the way, the picture for this post is one of my favorite baby photos. This post is really important to me, so thanks for your time. Apparently, pictures are worth more than a thousand words. 3,102 to be exact.

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