This is the worst picture I have of myself – I’m pale, 40-pounds overweight, and wearing a hat that somehow looks even more awful than the balding head it’s dolefully covering. The shot was taken in the summer of 2003, which means I’ve had 16+ years to delete it from my archives.
So why haven’t I?
Because when I zoom out past the periphery of my own vanity, the scene gets drastically better. I’m standing on the shore of a small lake in Southeastern Idaho with my sister who, as always, looks gorgeous. My wife is holding the camera and our kids are splashing around in the water with their cousins just outside the frame. If I could zoom out even more, you’d see my parents smiling back at us from the beach, along with my sister’s husband and their first grandbaby. The sun is out, the weather warm. We were, in that moment, happy. Carefree. And whole.
We didn’t know it then, but my sister was about to take on a losing battle with cancer. Over the next 18-months we helplessly watched the disease steal her away from us. Piece by piece. Because that’s what cancer does. It slinks in and robs us of our strength, our joy, and our hope. And the few pictures I have of us after this one show less and less of my sister until, eventually, they don’t show her at all.
So I keep this picture to remind me that time is important. And that I am deeply flawed. I wasn’t always the best brother when we were younger, or, hell, even when we were older, but I always figured I’d just make it up to her later. Now, I can only try to be a better uncle to her kids, a better friend to her husband, and a better son to our parents. Then someday, if I’m lucky, she’ll welcome me back to her side and be proud that I’m her brother.
Even if I’m still wearing that hat.