For the past few weeks, the residents of Coldwater, the village in which I live, have been sharing old photos of the place on Facebook. The photos offer new insights into the history and shape of Coldwater for newer arrivals like myself. For long-time Coldwater citizens, they’re a blast from the past evoking memories of their younger selves and what life was like in the past.
Sharing photos is a relatively modern thing, but visual records of the past are not. Ancient sculptures and cave paintings reveal what life was like eons ago and even give us a glimpse of the individuals that might well be distant relatives of ours.
These ancient carved or painted records, pose a bit of a problem that is shared by many of the photos Coldwater residents post on Face book. They may well reveal to us a face from the past…
…but the name? Not always. In fact there are a whole series of pictures shared that all share the same caption: “Does anybody know who this is?”
Funny, isn’t it? The amazing technology that is photography captures perfect images of people, but it doesn’t tell us who they are. Unless their names are printed on the photo, or there is someone alive that can recognize them, the images can be of virtually anyone and, despite the permanence of the physical record, the impermanence of human memory leaves them forever forgotten.
There’s a certain sadness in being unable to name folks in a picture. We know they were real people, that their lives had meaning and purpose, that they had families, friends and connections to a community but they could be anybody…
…and are, in effect, nobody.
That sadness points to a need for us to be known and a desire to be remembered. I know that one day it might be my smiling face that remains nameless and that all that will remain of me might well be that image. It’s a strange feeling that reminds me of how impermanent we all are and that in many ways we only exist because there are people who know who we are.
There’s comfort knowing that our Creator will never forget us. The one God in whose image each of us were created will remember us forever, and one day we will know God as well as God knows us. While nobody may remember who is in the photo shared on Facebook, the life of the person we see still had meaning and purpose and may even have played a role in shaping our own lives. And if one day ours is the forgotten face, it is only in the memory of our fellow humans. God will never forget the name that should go with the face…
…or the value of the life that face represents.
Published previously, March 14, as part of my weekly “Thoughts” for my congregation, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Coldwater.