A few days ago I borrowed our home movie projector from my Mom so I could show our boys some films of the old days.
I am still enough of a kid to think home movies and projectors are utterly magical. There has always been something wonderful to me about the idea of the family, snug together in the darkness with a chattery little projector propped up on a bad novel, suddenly gifted with the sight to look through a time portal in our hitherto mundane white wall and see things our ancestors could see only in dreams and visions. We can see the dead living. We can see ourselves as the skinny galoots we once were. We can meet grandparents we never met celebrating Christmases and birthdays in far off times when the dust that would one day compose our own flesh was scattered on distant shores. I think it is wonderful that my three year old, Peter, can pay a visit to his own father when he was a fellow three year old. I think it bittersweet and marvelous that I can see my mother and father embrace again, fifteen years after I listened to “Taps” at his funeral. I think it delightful that, for a few flickering minutes, I am back in the home I grew up in, that my wife can hold our nephews on her lap again (they are all ten feet tall now), and that our son Luke is again toddling about in the old garden.
I have always had a bit of George Bailey in me. In It’s a Wonderful Life, George tells his uncle the three most exciting sounds in the world are train whistles, airplane engines and anchor chains being raised. I’ve always had a longing to travel and see the world. And yet, one day it occurred to me that, for 99.9% of humanity, my home is the foreign, romantic and exotic place. Many wish they could travel to the strange and distant land of America. Some have even heard of the remote and curious realm of Washington state. And some few take those strange little blue highways on the map to the mysterious and far-flung region that turns out to be our weedy front lawn. If they are from sufficiently far away and have the right sort of heart, they will regard our lawn with just the sort of delight, romance and pleasure that I would feel at the sight of a weedy field in Rome or Prague. “How wonderful to be here in this distant land!” they would say. “How delightful that such faraway places exist! Yes, there are weeds, but they’re exotic, romantic, remote, foreign weeds! How splendid!”
Home movies make me realize the same thing about time that I realized about distance. Right now is the glorious, distant golden past of sweet loves and people we haven’t seen in ever so long. The chair you are sitting on, the shirt you are wearing, the magazine you are reading are all antiques, collector’s items, period pieces, fragile with age and precious to the touch. In a few hours you will be sitting down to supper with little kids who live in the home movies and videos of the year 2040, forever filled with light and the freshness and innocence of youth. The faces of the people you know, both the ones you like and the ones who annoy you, are precious because they are all long long gone. Everything in the room around you that you thought so ordinary, every person you imagined was “just” so-and-so, is actually a wonderful apparition from the strange, beautiful land of the past. Learn to see and love that land’s beauty now, while you are still living in it. For once you have crossed the ocean of time that lies before you, you shall never be able to sail back.