By Jim Deeks
If you’re a relatively active visitor to Facebook, chances are by now you’ve seen the remarkable series of photographs taken of the Brown sisters… essentially the same shot of four women, taken annually since 1975. (Just google “the Brown sisters” if you haven’t.)
Viewing these photos, a number of different and even conflicting adjectives may come to your mind: striking, moving, happy, depressing, courageous, beautiful. To these, I’d add “important”. In my opinion, I think it’s important for these women to have recorded their changing faces and bodies, if only – initially — for themselves, each other, and whatever families they all have.
The fact that they have allowed this series of photos to be shared with the world is not so much important, as generous. But keep in mind that sharing with the world was probably never the original motivation for the series – it almost certainly would’ve been intended just for family at the outset. My assumption is that, as the series was progressing, the sisters realized they were leaving an important legacy for their children, and their descendants, and ultimately, something the world should see. And bravo to that!
Legacy is important.
Whether we know it or not, or care about it or not, we all create something when we’re here, and we all leave something behind when we’re gone. It may only be others’ memories of us, or it may be a hospital wing we’ve endowed, or a garden we cultivated, or the travels we made, or the hole-in-one we shot. Or all of those things.
We also leave our DNA, especially if we’ve created children of our own. Our DNA helps to form and mould the looks and the characters and the actions of those we helped create. The blue eyes that are now in my granddaughter may well have come from my great grandmother, or an ancestor who was a shopkeeper north of London 250 years ago.
But perhaps most importantly, we all leave a story of ourselves that is truly unique. We ourselves may not think our story is particularly different, or interesting, but I don’t believe that’s true. Everybody has lived an interesting life, if only because no one else has lived the same life.
If I could tell you that I had uncovered film of your great great grandfather talking about his life as a farmer in Ohio in the 1860s, would you be interested in seeing it? Of course you would… but I’d bet you dollars to donuts that HE would’ve said his life was about as interesting as a broken plough share.
The point here is: everyone should make a personal obligation to tell their story before they die, or before they become incapacitated by age. You can do it, like the Brown sisters have, simply through photos (although having seen these photos, I’d be eager to meet these women and find out what’s put the lines in their faces and the peace in their spirits). You can write it down, or have a professional biographer do it for you. You can record it in a video, either with your own home camera, or have a much more robust narrative put together by a professional video producer like me.
Or you can just leave a scrapbook of photos, ticket stubs, letters and mementoes… but try, at least, to put some context to them, or else they’ll just be pointless objects. (How many of us have family photo albums, handed down over decades, and we don’t have a clue who most of the people in the photos are?)
Maybe, as science is predicting, future generations will live much longer. But at some point, we all do die… but when we die, we can be sure that our lives will have had some value, if we make an effort to leave behind the details of who we were, what we did, and what we learned along the way.
It’s like visual DNA.
Jim Deeks is a Toronto-based communications consultant, broadcaster, and President of Primary Counsel Productions, a company focused exclusively on producing Personal Video Biographies. www.primarycounsel.com