If your house caught fire, your loved ones (including pets) were safe, and you had time to save one thing, what would it be?

Before off-site digital storage existed, photographs would have been the top answer for many because they are irreplaceable. We can’t go back in time and capture those moments again.

And yet, within a generation or two, many of those priceless images become worthless and meaningless. Printed photographs find their way into flea market bins anonymous and mute regarding their history. Their unclaimed digital cousins may simply be erased or eventually released onto public domain sites where they will become meme fodder for coming generations. How can something priceless become worthless in such a short time?

Family photos are priceless to us because they are story triggers, no matter their aesthetic quality. They help us remember who we are, where we started, and how far we’ve come. No matter how well a photograph is composed, however, it is unable to speak beyond its proverbial one thousand words. We need words written, spoken, or acted out in relationship to know the full story behind the image. A picture detached from its story becomes meaningless to all but those rare, curious souls compelled to solve the mysteries the image is incapable of revealing on its own.

So where are all of these thoughts coming from? This week, I’m excited to say I’ve taken on a new writing project. I’m helping my dad write down his stories with the goal of turning them into a memoir that can be shared.

Spending so much time delving into my past and the past beyond my past has been a bit like taking a vacation from the present. It’s not where I want to live long-term, but it has been enjoyable to revisit the familiar, best-loved family stories and to hear new stories that my dad has never told me before. It has been an exercise in remembering and discovering the deeper stories behind my mind’s “pictures” of our family’s history. I’ve gotten to know my parents better, and it has been both humbling and instructive to look back at our journeys so far.

I’d like to encourage you to take some time this week to consider which stories in your life help you to remember who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. Take time to share your stories and listen to others’ stories so we can  remember our lives are not meaningless. Focus on the ones that reveal the priceless truths and mysteries behind the image you present to the world. Though we, like our photographs, may be forgotten, let us not allow the important stories that reveal life’s truths end up forgotten on a flea market table.

A picture may be worth 1000 words, but its story may be worth 10,000 more.

Photo: From my family’s photo archives.