For the past of couple years, this photo frame has hung on our living room wall. Occasionally a guest glances at it, pauses and takes a second look, furrows their brow and says, “are those stock photos?”
Yes, stock photos. In my living room. My easy-breezy explanation is at the ready: they look so happy, those people. I like them. I named one of them.
A few years earlier, I had bought a similar photo montage frame and filled it with pictures that assembled the pieces of my family life and Mark’s family life into a visual whole. Mark and I had come together after entire lifetimes lived, having created families that were as distinct as each leaf on a tree. I had been a family of four, and then after my divorce, three. Mark was a family of five, and then after his wife died, four. We were making a new family of seven. Our families had morphed and changed, a rug pulled out from under each of us, leaving old photos of families smiling in a frozen and lost place in time. I felt compelled to try to knit the pieces of people, place, and time together to make something coherent. A photo foundation to build upon.
I carefully culled photos from each of our lives, taped them into place, and hung the frame on the wall. A few months later, Mark’s oldest son, Michael, bumped into the frame, sending it crashing down the stairs. I practiced deep breathing and not making meaning of this. I promptly bought a replacement frame, and I immediately hung it on the wall until I could find the time to put in our photos.
Time passed, a lot of time passed. The project remained unstarted. Eventually I found it entertaining, and left the frame up because I thought it was funny. And then, as it happens, I grew attached. I would sit on the couch and look at the stock photos. Friends smile in the sun. A quartet accomplish a synchronized leap at sunset. Best friends play under an umbrella. A trio stands victoriously at the top of a mountain.
I had been through a lot of changes over the past decade. The difficult dissolution of a difficult marriage. Raising children along their less-than-seamless paths from youth to adulthood. A new partner, a new neighborhood, new stepchildren, a new role. I had made it through challenges unique to many, and quite unique in their particular combination. Despite this, or maybe because of it, I felt pretty strong. And despite that, I understood and accepted the crystal clear meaning of my holding onto these stock photos of strangers frozen in the undisturbed happiness of wind and water and life. These people required nothing of me, reminded me of nothing, and would never change. I liked that.
When Mark and I came together, I had such a strong desire to have life be comfortable for all of us. For fragments to create a whole. I wanted to fast-track the successful blending of our families, as if by putting photos in proximity could smooth some challenging edges of the meaningful development of a blended family. But as with most things, blending progressed at a pace independent from my desire to have it be so. It took good days and bad days. It took boredom and excitement. It took arguments and apologies. It grew in time, and was strengthened by the trust needed to support each other through the trauma of Mark’s seizures, his confusing changes of personality, his cancer diagnosis and treatment and recovery.
Someday, I will take the time to carefully select photos that represent the family we have become. We now have years of memories, more than could ever be represented in photos filling one frame. For now, my stock photo friends can stay, a reminder that oftentimes, time is exactly what’s most needed to create the next new beautiful thing.