It was November. The day was crisp and cool. The trees were half bare and the dried up leaves scuttled along before us as we walked the almost-a-mile to the park.
Life had been rough lately. A week earlier, I had lost our fourth child to miscarriage. After some time alone to mourn, I was ready to embrace the world again with my other children. We were supposed to be meeting friends at the park that sunny afternoon. As it turned out, our friends had something come up and couldn't make it, and couldn't get a hold of us to let us know in time.
It was OK. In the middle of the day on a school day, the park was deserted except for us. I sat down on a bench near the playground and sent the kids off to play.
Autumn is my favorite time of year, it always has been. Something about the feel of the air, that electricity like a static charge, the musty dirt smell of the leaves.
It's a melancholy sort of time, a sentimental season full of memories. It makes a flutter in my stomach and a thrill in my soul.
On this particular autumn day, I had forgotten my trusty camera. I usually have it with me to try to record all those beautiful childhood moments, those silly faces and fun new places. But on this day I had forgotten it.
So when my son started doing something I wanted to take a picture of, I had to do something else.
Maybe it was that sentimental feeling of autumn. Maybe it was the immense emotional state I was in due to my recent loss. Whatever it was, I was inspired to form a mental photograph.
The day was sunny. The park, filled with oak trees, was littered with brown leaves. Squirrels scurried around in the background, burying nuts they'd forget all about long before winter came. My son, age seven: dressed in jeans, a red t-shirt, navy blue jacket. Hair freshly buzzed short, giant green eyes sparkling as he played.
He stood under a nearby oak tree, a large stick he had just found in hand. It was now his trusty sword. He stood for a few moments, deep in thought, planning out his play. Then the fight began. What was he fighting? I didn't know. A dragon, perhaps? An evil magician? Only he knew. The breeze shook a cascade of leaves from the tree above him, and he swirled and twirled, stick-sword in hand, thrusting and jabbing at the enemies only his eyes could see. Under his breath he muttered words I couldn't make out...laying out a story only he knew.
He looked so perfect in that moment. He so perfectly represented everything that childhood should be. A little boy with a stick fighting dragons on a windy autumn day. It flooded me with a warm happiness. A gratefulness for the blessings I had.
I had no camera that day. But today, almost three years later, I can close my eyes and see that image burned into my mind clearer than any photograph. I will never forget it.
Since then, I have tried to make a point, just two or three times a week, to stop, to slow down my mind and really look around me at my children. To spot one of them engaged in some task, a game, a project, a book, anything. To take in the scene, describing it in my own mind til it's imprinted there, never to be forgotten.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I've got one to beat that: a memory. A memory is worth a thousand pictures. (That makes a memory worth a million words, by the way.)
Take the time today, this week, all the time, to stop and really look at your children. Imprint the memories in your mind. Pictures can be lost, ruined, forgotten. Memories last forever, and no one can take them away.