Blank tags

I had to check my photo archives to see how long it had been since the first time I’d seen the wall of blank dog-tags hung behind Boston’s Old North Church to memorialize the service-men, -women, and civilians who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. It seemed like only a short while ago, but it was July, 2009, when a friend and I went to the North End to celebrate her birthday. How quickly I’d forgotten the details.

Tags and tree shadow

It’s the job of any memorial to help us remember, just as it’s the job of a journal, diary, or datebook to help us keep time. How much of my life would I forget if I didn’t have a blog and photo archive? When I was a child, my mother faithfully recorded a sentence or two a day in an inexpensive five-year diary she kept by the telephone, so on any given day she could refer back to what happened this time last year or the year before that. My blog and Flickr serve a similar purpose, and they’re far easier to search. If I want to remind myself how much milder this winter has been than last, for instance, all I have to do is read some of my posts from February, 2011, when I was fighting ice dams and navigating waist-deep snowdrifts. What a difference a year makes.

Shadow selves

That evening in 2009 when a friend and I went to the North End to celebrate her birthday, it was too late for the sun to cast shadows. This time, it was an unseasonably mild and memorably sunny weekend afternoon, and I remember one little girl reaching out to shake the tags, which jingled like coins on a belly-dancer’s belt. The sound of those tags ringing against one another is a memory I want to keep, so I’ll write it here to save against future forgetfulness. It’s the best way I know to keep time.