And on the seventh day of our trip to California, we lost our camera.
It was an expensive Canon SLR with zoom lens, battery, memory card, lens filter, and sun shade. On that memory card were some 1,500 photos and videos that we’d taken in one week. In an instant, we’d lost something eminently replaceable and something devastatingly irreplaceable.
On the trip, we had visited Yosemite National Park, celebrated my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Berkeley, and toured San Francisco, my husband Rob skillfully and happily composing and snapping both posed and candid photos along the way.
We lost the camera at a large playground, the kind that features kids building forts out of fallen branches, babies toddling after balls on open lawns, and our 3-year-old son Ben making sand pies with new friends using sticks and cardboard squares as props. The closest we can come to “how it happened” is to remember that Ben bonked his head on an overhang in the sand area and proceeded to toss a handful of sand in angry surprise. When the sand flew, Rob and I bolted from the bench where we’d been beatifically watching Ben play so nicely. Our best guess is that the camera stayed behind as we wrangled Ben’s boo-boo and, then, our departure from the park. I know–parents of a toddler got distracted and lost track of something. Alert the media!
We’ve done all we can think to do to track down the camera, including combing the playground as soon as we realized it was gone, filing a police report, posting to a local parents’ email list, posting flyers around the park (thanks, Tracy!), posting to Craigslist lost and found, and trolling eBay in case the camera is “on the market.”
But it’s not the camera we want back; that’s just a thing. It’s the memory card—the full memory card–we yearn for. It’s a very real possibility that we won’t get what we want, so we’re left to contemplate what we lost–and what we didn’t.
Here’s what we lost: scores of photos of my small, far-flung family gathered for the first simcha we’ve had in more than a decade. Ben sipping juice from a champagne flute next to his older cousins. My dad’s face open with laughter as he swapped stories with his cousin. Me with my arm around the bar mitzvah boy. Ben hugging my mom/sister/aunt/cousin with every ounce of his strength. The big (well, “big”) photo of all of us in one place at one time, there to celebrate the first bar mitzvah of a new generation. Video of Ben being sworn in as a Junior Ranger at Yosemite. Sun-kissed photos of Rob, Ben and me laughing and hugging at Glacier Point, with Half Dome and Vernal and Nevada Falls behind (and below) us. Me with my arms spread wide inside the California Tunnel Tree at the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, proud of having asserted myself to claim a turn among the impatient crowds. Ben squealing with laughter as the mist of Lower Yosemite Falls spritzed his cheeks.
We also lost the mechanics of how we process and narrate family trips and events. There will be no photo album to reinforce our storytelling about the trip, no photographic cues to remind us of when we did what, and with whom. What the weather was like. What we had for dinner when we all raised our glasses in that sweet toast.
And even more troubling—we lost some of our personal sense of security at the stomach-turning thought of strangers perusing our photos. Not to mention the loss of some of our confidence in our ability to manage ourselves and our things on a long and complicated trip with a young child. Some of the purity of the trip was lost too, as we got back to our regular home life (“How was it?” “It was amazing…but we lost our camera.” “Ugh, oh NO!”).
But just as importantly, there are myriad things we didn’t lose–and I don’t just mean the snaps I got with my iPhone (featured in this post), some of which are legitimate “keepers.” It turns out that with the loss of the camera, we’ve found our memories sharpened, seared more clearly into our minds because we know we won’t have the luxury of flipping through pages of those images whenever we want to. The huge-eyed look on Ben’s face as he stared up through the car’s sunroof as we drove into Yosemite Valley for the first time. His wild laughter when we dipped our toes into the calm but icy water in the park. The addition of the word “hopscotch” to his vocabulary, thanks to his 9-year-old cousin’s careful instruction. The soft, fresh taste of the biggest challah I’ve ever seen, passed smilingly from family member to family member. Ben’s stage whisper of “Eli’s speaking Spanish” as the bar mitzvah boy chanted his Torah portion.
We also managed not to lose our tempers, with each other or with the universe. Or our perspective–there are far, far more serious losses to suffer on a trip or in life.
Finally, we have yet to fully lose our hope that there’s a kind soul somewhere out there who picked up a Canon 7D with zoom lens at Codornices Park in Berkeley on the afternoon of Saturday, May 31. You can keep the camera; you know what we want.
But even if we can’t have our pictures, we’re determined not to lose sight of the forest for the trees (and we saw a lot of forests). We were lucky to experience this family adventure, to absorb it in vivid and living color. Its heart and soul is not on a memory card; it’s in our memories.