Recently while cleaning my studio I came across a group of photos taken several years ago while preparing for housework. I’m a sucker for before/after photos, and these particular shots must have presented quite a contrast considering the disheveled mess that leapt from each image.
I couldn’t help but muse that the “after” shots were not included in the bunch, although in my mind’s eye I recalled how clean and well-organized everything looked after all that work, how pleased I was with the end result. Interestingly, I don’t recall ever printing those images of “after”.
I couldn’t put down the photos but kept looking through one after another, recalling items shown and the memories attached to each one. I saw our now-grown-up offspring as children playing and singing and rushing from room to room silly and serious and full of life.
And it hit me that I didn’t need the after pictures to see the beauty. It was right there, staring back from piles of dirty dishes and messy bins and wrinkled clothing.
Don’t get me wrong; I loved having a clean house. But I didn’t have to look past the before to know that the after would come.
Sometimes life feels like one big before picture, messy and chaotic and overwhelming. Kids are loud and dinner is late and the batting glove got left in the pants through the wash cycle again. There’s no sugar for the sweet tea and the dog ate the VBS craft and the battery in the ten-year-old car is dead, Jim.
Gazing out from that before picture can feel pretty dismal.
But here in the after, where the kids are all grown up and the house is tidy and all is quiet save for the sound machine set to “rain”, it looks very different.
It’s pretty, and organized, and shiny. But I miss the mess.
I miss sticky fingers and waking at 5am on Christmas morning to make sure the kids didn’t wake before us. I miss the rush of ballgames and dance classes and drama team rehearsals. I miss piling us all into the old Toyota hatchback and watching little fingers poking from beneath the bathroom door.
I miss the before.
I like the after plenty, and it brings its own brand of chaos. But gazing at those photos of piles and mess and chores needing attention reminded me of how much I miss the days of before. It makes me sad for every moment I wished away, and maybe a few where I just didn’t stay present enough.
And slowly it dawns that today is tomorrow’s before. The photos I snap today will be snapped up in afters tomorrow and I will miss this, too.
And I ponder these things in my heart, all these befores happening right here and now and realize that I will want pictures of this to hold in my hands one day—pictures of this beautiful mess with all the memories these moments have created.
And I gratefully vow to stay present in the right now.
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A Write Where It Hurts column post