Chance Encounters Change History
I’ve recently completed what turned into a multi-year project, the scanning of my parents’ old photographs. They sold their house up north to live year-round in Florida, and left behind several plastic tubs of photo albums. Silly me, I took it upon myself to volunteer to scan and digitize them for posterity’s sake. I figured if I didn’t do it, and do it soon, nobody else would, and the pictures would continue their degradation in their albums.
What I didn’t process at the time is what a massive undertaking this project would be. Thousands of photographs later, and my iPhoto is chock full of my family’s photographic history of the last 50 years or so.
What I also didn’t realize is the amount of emotion that would be involved with seeing all of these old photographs again. Pictures of grandparents dead and gone, my parents as (very) young adults, my sister and I as infants…. it made me realize how quickly time is passing, how much things have changed, and how much they haven’t… These old photos have made me realize how much I miss those friends and relatives who are no longer with us, and how much I miss the innocence and care-free spirit of childhood.
While this scanning project has been a time-consuming pain in the ass, it’s also made me feel so grateful that these pictures still exist, and hopefully will continue to exist in digital form, or whatever form pictures will take in the future, to remind us of people and times gone past, and to serve as a pictorial history of family for my children and their children down the road.
I scanned these photos more or less in chronological order, so it was like watching a highlight reel of my family, starting with my parents way back before they had met. Watching how their separate lives eventually met up and became one tripped something in my brain, a realization that everything we know, everything that’s ever happened, everyONE who’s ever been born, occurred due to split second moment in time that could have had innumerable results. The tiniest variation in each event that’s ever happened could have, and would have, changed subsequent events in unimaginable ways.
Take this picture for example: this is my dad and my grandfather (my mom’s dad) playing cards. These two guys, from all accounts, played cards together a lot. They seemed to really get along and enjoy each others’ company. But they never would have met if my mom hadn’t gone to a party at a friends’ house one cold night in 1967. A party that just happened to have in attendance a buddy of another friend, a guy that turned out to be my father. Somehow that night, something happened, something clicked between these two strangers from completely separate worlds. A chance encounter, some words exchanged, a little flirting, and just like that: a new relationship is born in the world. It’s happening right now. Millions of people in every corner of the planet are meeting other random people, and the course of history is changed in a billion different ways, both big and small.
If that man and that woman hadn’t met that fateful night, there wouldn’t have been a wedding in 1968, and in 1969 I wouldn’t have been born. And Ken and George wouldn’t be having that game of cards over a couple of cold beers.
And every moment is linked backwards through time: My mom wouldn’t have been at that party if her parents hadn’t moved across the state because of my grandfathers’ job in the early 60’s. And every moment is linked forward through time: If my grandfather hadn’t moved the family to this town over 50 years ago, my mom wouldn’t have been at that party in ’67, wouldn’t have married my dad in ’68, and had me in ’69. And I wouldn’t be here to call this lovely little town home. You can follow this chain of events back to the dawn of history, and forwards infinitely into the future… it’s all a bit “It’s a Wonderful Life”-ish. It’s mind boggling to think about how literally every single moment has such dramatic events on every moment to follow, for all time. Whether you call it fate, or destiny, divine intervention, or just the sheer randomness of a chaotic universe, what we do right now, today, will have consequences later today, tomorrow, and 500 years from now that we can’t even imagine. Had I not been in band in high school, I would probably have never met that cute clarinet player who later became my wife, and my two beautiful children wouldn’t be here today.
Every one of us, for whatever reason, are here because of those chance meetings between strangers that somehow, miraculously, turn into relationships and then turn into families. And we’re lucky enough to live in an age where we have the technology to catch some of those fleeting moments that add up to what we call our lives. I’m obviously glad my mom and dad met at that crowded (probably beer-soaked) party on Bostwick Lake way back when, and I’m glad my grandpa and dad got to enjoy all those cribbage games together. But just as importantly, I’m glad I have photographs of some of these events to pass on. I’m going to take care of them the best I can, because once these people in our lives are gone, the photographs and memories are all we have left to remind us of them, and of those common, yet somehow amazing and incredibly important, everyday moments in their lives that, though they didn’t realize it at the time, have shaped every single day since. In this particular case of this one group of people in this one collection of photographs, they made me and my family. I can’t wait to see what random chance encounters happen to my children that will shape their lives into the future. Those moments are out there, unseen, waiting to happen…those that came before us have set the process in motion.
p.s. Take pictures. Take lots of pictures. Don’t pose them; capture the everyday moments in your life between those people you love most. Save them, back them up a hundred different ways and protect them. You won’t regret it. At the very least, in 25 years you’ll have a good laugh over the clothes you’re wearing today.