Last Friday, I received my most recent Photojojo Photo Time Capsule, a twice-monthly email that automatically sends me a random assortment of photos from my Flickr photostream, all taken this time last year. My twice-monthly time capsule serves as an interesting reminder of where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and what I’ve repeated from year to year. There’s no clearer proof that you’re a creature of habit, for instance, than receiving an email containing photos you took last year but look like you could have taken them yesterday. The details change from year to year, but the basic story stays the same.
All the images in my most recent Photo Time Capsule were from a single set of photos I shot on a sunny Sunday morning last February on my way to the Cambridge Zen Center. Since I shoot the window mannequins at the Great Eastern Trading Company nearly every time I go to the Zen Center, I have countless shots of the same heads decorated with a changing assortment of hats, wigs, and masks: same o’, change o’. When I checked Flickr to see what photos I’d taken last February besides the same old images of the same old mannequins, I was startled to remember that this time last year, I took (or at least posted to Flickr) only eight photos: the seven photos in that set, and one of my favorite photos of Reggie, taken when he was still alive and alert, resting comfortably in a golden spot of sun with Crash the cat.
Seeing this fondly remembered picture of Reggie startled me for several reasons. First, in many ways it feels like Reggie has been gone a lifetime, so it seems strange to realize that this time last year, I was still coaxing an increasingly incapacitated dog through a regimented routine of food, water, medicine, and potty-breaks. (I can’t count the number of times during our recent snowstorms when I’ve thought quietly to myself, “Thank goodness I don’t have to navigate Reggie through this.”)
More tellingly, though, when I look at that photo now, I recognize what it is: the picture of a dying dog. I knew when I took it that Reggie’s time was short: when I shot that picture, I remember thinking, “One day, this will remind me what Reggie was like when he was alive.” Remembering how emotionally exhausting it was to guide Reggie through his final months, I’m surprised to remember that this time last year, Reggie was still alive.
Reggie’s decline was one thing I was facing last February, but the rest of “this time last year” was fuzzy…until I checked my blog archives. This time last year, I was teaching two classes at Keene State while wondering how much longer I could afford to continue teaching there part-time; this time last year, I was in the middle of a career crisis, wondering whether a PhD and nearly 20 years of college teaching experience had brought me at last to a dead end.
Remembering last February, I remember what a miserable time it was. I didn’t blog much in February, 2012 because I was juggling a busier-than-usual online term, but I didn’t blog much then, too, because it was such a dark and cheerless time. Looking back on this time last year, I remember how demoralized I was every time I drove to Keene to teach at an institution where it felt like the administration was closing up shop around me. This time last year, I kept a box of tissues in the car for the times I spent my commute weeping, knowing that just as Reggie’s days were numbered, so were my days at Keene State.
Looking back on this time last year, I’m grateful for many things. I’m grateful to be in a better place, literally: this year, I don’t have to worry about an increasingly incapacitated dog, and I don’t weep when I make my wonderfully brief commute to teach at a school where I don’t feel demoralized, devalued, or depressed. I’m grateful to be in a better place, emotionally: last year, I worried that my job turmoil would permanently transform me into a bitter, cynical person, but on all but the most tiring of days, I can honestly say I like my job, I like my students, and I generally like my life.
Looking back on this time last year, I’m grateful to be here rather than there…but I’m also grateful to have been there. This time last year, I was doing the emotionally messy work of anticipatory grief, saying goodbye, gradually, to two things I loved. As painful as it might be to know you’re losing something, there’s something emotionally honest (and thus freeing) about facing the present moment, experiencing whatever emotions that moment evokes, and admitting the terrifying (but universally human) fact that you don’t know what comes next. Last February wasn’t a fun time, but it was a time when I made a conscious effort to be awake to my own life, weathering whatever tumultuous emotions arose and not numbing myself to a single second. As much as I wouldn’t want to relive this time last year, I wouldn’t want to erase it, either.
Although I’ve taken plenty of photos this year, the ones illustrating today’s blog post come from this time last year: images I originally blogged last March, grateful to have weathered the month of February.