In going through pictures for our Christmas card this year, I had a hard time finding any one image that I liked enough to make the centerpiece of our greeting. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had a good year. But there was no big family trip or event that lightened our collective spirits and captured that feeling in a single photograph. My favorite pictures, simply put, were not card-worthy. There were some candid moments where mouths were wide open with laughter, or faces were contorted to be silly. There was one of my husband and I on our anniversary that I talked about here. But, inevitably, even among the three children, someone’s back was always turned to the camera, or someone’s eyes were closed, or someone was just in a bad mood. There were an inordinate amount of the four year old in various states of undress or dress-up, pretending to be a superhero or turtle or some-such thing. And there were an impressive number of meme screen shots, things I found funny or ridiculous enough to share via text with my sister — many of which offered a glimpse into the year’s zeitgeist but never, ever should be on a holiday greeting.
The picture I kept coming back to, though, was one that could never actually end up on my Christmas card — evidently, the unspoken rule of holiday cards is that the photo must include the members of the family sending it. So, a ridiculously close-up selfie of my sister and I didn’t make the cut. Yet, it’s the picture I kept revisiting as the one that, in some way, encapsulated the year. It was a picture we snapped quickly as we waited for Springsteen to take the stage at Citizen’s Bank Park on an unseasonably hot Friday night in September. Bruce had been touring for the better part of the year, and week after week there were reports of each show being more magical than the next. He was breaking records, playing well over two and half hours hours, with lengthy and never before heard setlists. But a rough combination of weeknight tour dates, kids’ schedules and jacked-up prices didn’t bode well, and I became increasingly certain (and disappointed) that I would be missing this tour (while hoping it would not be the last of its kind). Thursday, September 8th was my first back to school night as the parent of a high-schooler. As I sat in a biology lab, wondering how the hell, exactly, did I get here? How is my daughter old enough to be in high school — more accurately, how am I old enough to have a daughter in high school? I got a text from my brother-in-law: If he could score Bruce tickets for Friday night, could I go? It was like having a note secretly passed to me in class, only I wasn’t 14, I was 41. And instead of wanting a boy to like me, I wanted to see the Boss with my sister.
Just twenty-four hours later, with some finagling and finessing, my sister and I found ourselves alone together with 40,000 other people. As we slid into our seats, we took a picture. Often, it is far too easy not to like photos of ourselves — my eyes look weird, my neck looks wrinkled, blah blah blah– but here’s what I love about this one: We are together.
And, really, it’s what the picture doesn’t capture that sums up the year. By September, as the school year started, the stress of starting a business was occupying a lot of space in our home and in our marriage. My sister, at that moment in time, was facing her own, much larger challenges. My niece, who wasn’t yet a year old, was having surgery in just a few days (I can happily report, with a few months hindsight, all went well). So much was up in the air, so much was uncertain, and we felt it. Yet, you see none of this on our faces in the picture. Instead, you see joy. We went out. We danced. We laughed. We sweated. We cheered. We screamed. We sang. It was loud and hot and cathartic.
As we head into a new year — a year that will surely be filled with unknowns on a large and small scale — there are worries we will inevitably carry with us while events of our lives unfold. Hopefully, by year’s end, we’ll have another pile of pictures. A few may capture our families in their glorious entirety. Others may not be as Christmas-card-worthy — scrunched faces and bad angles. But my favorites will probably be the ones that few people will actually see, the ones that capture the ordinary moments that define us, that show us standing among the people who recharge our souls. And the pictures that don’t make the holiday card are the ones we can look to when we need to be reminded of who we really are.