Last winter, my father texted me a photograph from his phone (sidebar: I love my parents playing with modern tech toys).  At first glance, it was meaningless: a snow-covered driveway leading up to some trees on a small hill.  I was really puzzled, and even considered briefly that he meant to send it to someone else (sidebar continued: that’s happened before with said parents playing with said modern tech toys).

I continued evaluating the picture because it seemed familiar, and then it clicked, remembering that the previous day, my mother shared that our old house had been demolished.  This picture was the site of our old house.  Not the house.  Just the site.

These thoughts really took mere seconds, and I was actually shocked that I didn’t instantly recognize the image.  My family lived there as I grew up, age 1 through 13, and that house was the center of my young world.  It’s been over twenty-five years since my family moved.

Beyond my initial shock that I didn’t recognize the site, and also that the house really was gone, a more amazing, but not surprising, thing happened next.  My mind filled in that blank snowy landscape with all the details of the house, layering in the changes my family made to it over thirteen years.  It went from green to brown.  The windows were replaced.  The rotting front porch was replaced by an open bi-level deck around the side. The trees and landscape flourished, and the gardens expanded lush and beautiful.  I could go on for pages and not even detail the interior remodeling.  And my mind jumped to the endless days of youthful outdoor adventures, taking the dogs (there were always two big ‘mutts’ around, anxious to explore) and friends over the fields, ponds and hills beyond that missing house.

Not surprising at all to recall these vivid details. 

But why amazing?

Because I would never have had the memories to fill in that non-descript snowy photograph had I not been present every day so many years ago.  Smart phones, Instagram and blogging were not ideas even conceived in my childhood, and photograph development was individually priced, so film was not wasted!  We have family pictures from those days, of course, but an order of magnitude fewer than today’s standards.

We still etch these memories today, but too often we automatically whip out the smart phone, focus on the screen and see the world through the camera lens instead of with our own senses.  Yup, digital proof that I was there.  But, was I really there?

The best memories are made if we live presently in each moment, not relying on one of a million digital photographs to tell the story that you supposedly lived.

Whether you are at work or at play, be present. Step out of your office, close email, put down the phone and engage with the people and the world around you.  The memories are so much richer!