A brief email conversation with a friend quickly and concisely covered an interesting topic. It was about things old and things new, and it brought to mind a question:
What marks the difference between a thing that bears the unassailable dignity of well-worn time, and a thing that is just plain old? The question applies to everything from an armchair to a zizzer-zazzer-zuzz, and has but a couple of credible answers.
One of them is the character of the thing, I guess.
From May of 2008, my second ever blog post:
My wife and I were married just over a year ago, and in the slide show that we put together for our wedding (which I believe is now federal law, otherwise the marriage is not legal) we tacked on a memorial segment at the end. The slide show ran while the hundred or so guests were milling about, eating, mingling, whatever, and they kept on doing just that throughout the show. Then the memorial portion started, and the first picture of my wife's grandfather - his name is Raymond - came up, and the crowd became just barely discernibly more attentive.
It was that familiar sepia (or it may have just been a good, faded b/w, I haven't looked since) with him standing right in front of the door of a Quonset hut. He was between drags of a filterless cigarette, with his dress uniform in that subtle state of dishevelment that could only have been perfectly, poetically reached about 90 seconds after the release from the formation that followed the ceremony that he got all dressed up for. Graduation, change of command, Division Review, et al. The only thing more important than getting out of that suit was the cigarette he was about to have. It was perfect.
There were a few more similar photos, and then a handful of newer, full-color photos of recently gone relatives and friends of relatives (we're still too young to have a very large collection of dead/dying friends). Everyone watched pretty quietly for the 5 or so minutes that the memorial lasted.
Serving as the partner bookend to the amazing photo of grandpa Ray (and this was not by design) was a nearly brand new picture of a friend of mine just outside of a fighting position on the top of a mountain in Afghanistan. Killed in action the summer prior to our wedding, he stands there looking not quite at the camera, but just barely off to the taker’s right, with some valley extending enormously out behind and below a tiny little wall of sandbags. Looking at that picture in the context of the picture of my wife's grandpa, I have a thought that sounds a little too flippant and detached, but I think appropriately reverent: Instant classic. It’s the perfect tribute to the man and soldier and NCO that Jared was, because years down the road it is going to create awe and something like worship in some young nephew of his.
Of course it will be digital and as crystal clear as the day it was taken, but like my wife’s grandpa, it will not be subtle little tricks of time that bring out the character in that photo. It will be, well, it will be his character.