There must be a million million albums around the world with exactly the same pictures -- pictures of the kids as they grew from blobs of unformed clay into walkers and talkers and bicyclists and swimmers and runners ... and whatever all else. A million million albums. I know I have such albums of my kids. I delight in looking at them and try not to foist them on others ... after all, there are a million million albums with exactly the same pictures and any real differences only lie in the heart of the beholder.
And then, the other day, there it was, up out of one of those million million albums -- a picture of me as a small child. I recognized it immediately, not so much as me, but rather as an example of a picture in one of those million million albums. It was a recognition of humanity -- instantaneous and touching -- and yet in this case I had irrefutable proof -- a photo of me as a guileless, trusting, happy, wide-open being... free and easy as a puff of wind over a still pond. There was no escaping it and it shot through me like an ice pick.
All of the congealed guile or fumbling understandings I had learned between that moment and this were somehow put to shame. What I wouldn't give to give with as much freedom as I had in that photo ... with all the unfreighted easiness of a dog's wagging tail. But simultaneously I knew without knowing ... if you did it once, it was never lost and the capacity to do it again was always there.
Always there and yet the overlays between that moment and this jockeyed and jostled to be heard, to intone, to enter the spotlight and not be left bereft. "No one can go back," an adult voice whispered and yet the photo answered without rancor, "Horseshit! If you put mayonnaise on the bread yesterday, you can put mayonnaise on the bread today."
None of it had any of the smarmy lubrications that oil up phrases like "be as a small child." This was more direct and factual and inescapable and unwilling to be conned.
So much time, so much energy, so much bobbing and weaving, so much decency mixed with congealed wile ... and I would trade it all in a nanosecond for the nanosecond that was in that photo... a photo that appears in a million million albums around the world.
It was haunting.
Sometimes I think that haunting is not so bad after all.