My mom recently gave me a shoebox crammed with fading and creased photographs, or what we used to call “snapshots.” These were just a few of the numerous pictures my late stepfather kept tucked away in his vast collection.
There were snapshots from my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary, an uncle proudly posing in his WWII air corps uniform, an old dog named “Jet,” and a comical group snapshot of my mother and her cousins from the late1940s. I reminded myself that they too were once young and fun loving, though lower middle class and facing an uncertain world. Then I discovered a snapshot I had probably not seen in more than 40 years, and it caused my heart to flood with memories and to roll over with emotion.
A Day At The Beach
The snapshot was in color, so it was well into the era and the wonders of “Kodachrome.” I don’t remember who took the picture, but it was a semi-posed photo of my friend Randy, his sister Lisa, and I. We were on the beach, and it was in early August, between my high school graduation and first semester of college.
Randy and Lisa were the son and daughter of hard-working Russian immigrants. Their father, an engineering and electrical technician, had played a vital role in the development of navigation systems for aircraft. Tom’s parents were extremely proud to be Americans. Though they were not wealthy people, they embraced the American Dream. They built their own home, took meticulous care of their Lincoln and had saved a nice nest egg.
Randy was as technical and even more advanced in his mathematical skills than his father. His college major would be engineering. Randy was not a man of many words, and in most ways, he was my opposite. I am an enthusiast of words and creative things. I am passionate and very involved. Randy liked to put parts together and to fix electronics and motors to perfect running order. I could not repair a radio or an engine. I put clever sentences together, and I could tell a story.
Lisa barely made it through high school. As I remember, she had gone into a nursing program but did not become an R.N. She was a nurse’s aide. Though Lisa was a few years older than Randy, and me emotionally, she seemed more adolescent. I could tell she was emotionally a young girl. I felt like a brother to her.
Let’s Keep In Touch
The three of us had part-time summer jobs, but on that August day, Randy and I ran and played on the beach like five-year old’s. I can close my eyes and smell the salt air, and hear the gulls. I remember how my body felt when I was body surfing; I can feel the sun, the sand on my skin and I can smell the lotion.
However, at the time, the day itself was not especially noteworthy. It was a fun day at the beach with a bit of a sunburn. A few weeks later, Randy and I would go off to different schools. As many people do, we promised to keep in touch; however, nothing would entirely be the same after that. We drifted as friends sometimes drift.
I remember returning home from school the next summer. A small miracle had occurred. Lisa had met and was engaged to a man, a much older man named Gary. He worked for the town driving a plow and a dump truck. He was a volunteer firefighter. I met him only once, and that was at a BBQ.
Gary was what you might call a “sweet man.” He was kind and loved Lisa. I was happy for her. She was still silly and was very much a girl when talking about Gary, but I thanked God that in this sometimes-cruel world she found someone who accepted her.
It was two years or so later that I received a call from Randy. He told me in measured, technical tones that Lisa had suddenly died of a brain aneurysm. He surmised her mental status may have always been affected by an aneurysm. I said all of the “right things.” Randy told me that Gary was heartbroken and severely depressed. I did not know what to say. I was busy with college and plenty of “clutter.” I hung up and mindlessly did not let emotion penetrate me.
The matter-of-fact day, with Lisa, Randy and me running on the beach and through the waves is nothing of historical importance. After I put the faded, 40-year-old snapshot back in the box, I unashamedly wept.
I loved Randy and Lisa, and I didn’t know how to tell them. They were good friends, and I did not appreciate them enough. As many of us do, I spent many years endeavoring to flourish, accumulating items that the world set as benchmarks for our success. Disappointedly, I also reminded myself that I authored a bestselling book titled Enjoy The Ride that challenged people to live more for today. I wrote that abundance was the result of appreciation and not accumulation. Funny, as I recalled some of what I had written, I also reminded myself that it is one thing to write a book, it is another thing to live it.
We are given every moment on this earth to renew ourselves. We are given each moment to love those close to us. A day on the beach may hold wonder beyond imagination, don’t shelve these moments as inconsequential.
I learned a valuable lesson from that snapshot. I reminded me how fragile life is and how important it is to live in the moment because we never know when that moment will be taken away from us.