May 29, 2024
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May 29, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Everyone knows one person who is always on top of their photographs. They take pictures at every important event (like weddings) and every non-important event (like breakfast). They print each photo, label it with detailed information (“lunch, 6/11/18, tuna salad with iced coffee”) and keep their pictures in perfectly organized photo albums. For people like this, reliving memories is an important part of who they are, and they can’t imagine ever forgetting the past. Samantha was one such person.

When walking into Samantha’s home, you would have no idea photographs were so important to her. Her walls only had a few classic family photos (baby pics, bar mitzvah, wedding), and her bookshelves contained nothing but books. However, Samantha’s basement was another story. Installed in the back wall was a five-inch thick steel door affixed with a large combination lock. This alarmed, fireproof door protected a 10-foot square vault lined with shelves full of picture albums. Like books at the library, the albums were organized and coded and entered into an online database so that Samatha could easily locate any picture she was looking for.

When friends or family members wanted to see Samantha’s vault, she would lead them downstairs blindfolded and in handcuffs, and would only take off the gear once the flummoxed guest was inside. Everyone knew where the vault was, and Samantha could theoretically have had them wait upstairs while she opened the door. However, she liked the dramatic effect the blindfold and handcuffs had; it showed anyone and everyone how valuable these photos were.

Now, you might be wondering how Samantha’s husband and children felt about this photograph obsession. Well, let’s just say they DIDN’T LIKE IT AT ALL! Although the kids really enjoyed looking at the pictures, they didn’t exactly appreciate their mother asking them 20 security questions before letting them in (to make sure they weren’t thieves disguised as her children) and then requiring them to wear gloves and a face shield when looking at the photos. Also, Samantha’s husband Lenny was a bit sick of Samantha turning every conversation into a discussion about family photos. (“I’m so happy you had a good day at work, sweetie. You know who else had a good day? Our photo albums!”) In fact, Samantha’s family was so fed up, they threatened to move to Alaska unless their mom/wife gave up the photo hobby for good! This was not a good situation.

Samantha was now torn. She couldn’t choose her photos over her family; that much was for sure. So, Samantha convinced Lenny to stop searching the internet for ice-fishing tips and places to buy sled dogs, and she told her children they could return all the long underwear they bought from Amazon. But now what? How could Samantha give up her obsession with her photographs? Aren’t memories so important? Fortunately, she had a good friend who had a good friend who had an aunt who had a boxing partner who could help Samantha out. Her name was Roberta, and she had also been as obsessed with photographs as Samantha was. So Samantha called Roberta and arranged to meet her for coffee.

The next morning, the two women met at a local Starbucks. Samatha ordered coffee for both (and of course paid), and the two made small talk for a bit while they drank. Eventually, Roberta took a deep breath and began. “So, you want to know how I kicked my photography habit? Actually, I didn’t. A fire made me do it.” Roberta then began to recall in vivid detail a house fire in which she lost a number of important items including ALL of her family photos. (Thank God, her family survived unharmed.) When she finished, Samantha looked puzzled. “So you’re saying I should just burn all my photos? Thanks for the advice, but that’s not happening.” Roberta smiled. “No dear. I’d like to tell you what I realized that helped me get over the loss.” Samantha relaxed a bit and leaned in to listen.

“You see,” Roberta began, “I was thinking about memories in the wrong way. When I looked at my family pictures, I would say things like, ‘Look how she used to be! Can you believe what he looked like then?’ I was viewing my family members as having different versions of themselves. They used to be one person, then they grew up and became someone else.

“But the truth is, when I look at my loved ones, I am not just seeing who they are now, I am seeing who they have always been,” she continued. “The silly child, the curious tween, the moody teenager and the wonderful adult are all the same person. My family members would not be who they are today without being who they used to be. I realized that when I look at someone, I am not just seeing them right now, I am seeing them always. Memories should not be for reliving the past or for missing who we used to be. Because who we used to be is also part of who we are. I learned to focus on today and not get stuck back then with what could have been.”

Well, this little speech by Roberta really did the trick. When Samatha returned home, she took the photos albums out of the vault, packed them up and placed the boxes in the attic. She kept a few important albums, of course, and those went on the bookshelf in the den. From then on, she still kept her photos neat and organized, but she made sure to take pictures of important things only. But most importantly, she developed a new appreciation for people. Samantha no longer judged people using memories from the past. She didn’t wish her husband had done this differently, that she had done that differently or that her children were still innocent babies. She learned to live in the moment and to appreciate that who we are now includes who we used to be.

On Rosh Hashanah we talk about memory. One nickname for the holiday is Yom Hazikaron, “The Day of Memory.” But can we really say Hashem has a “memory,” and what does this have to do with judgment? The simple explanation is that Hashem is counting up all of our actions to judge us, and in that way it is as if He is remembering all of our deeds.

However, there is a deeper explanation. Hashem’s memory is not a real memory because Hashem doesn’t forget. He knows everything about us at all times, and understands how we have become who we are today. Because Hashem knows that our actions result from everything that has happened to us beforehand, He is likely to judge us favorably. Our job is to look at ourselves on Rosh Hashanah and say, “How can I be the best me I can be?” Not “How can I fix the past?” Our past has passed, but it is still in us. May Hashem give us the strength to move forward as our true selves, and not get stuck in what used to be.

Shana Tova!

By Yair Daar

 

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