As I sat in Fred’s office listening to him speak, I could hear everything.
It happens that way when Fred is speaking into a sensitive microphone and you’re listening through headphones. He was reading his new book aloud and I was recording it.
It was his first time to record a book and he trusted me to capture what he was transferring from the written word to the spoken word.
It took four days to record.
My job was to make sure Fred didn’t miss or fumble a word, and to make sure there wasn’t any extraneous noise that didn’t belong. The end result was something for people to download and listen to as an audio book.
One day we broke for lunch early when someone with a leaf blower went on an extended cleanup binge nearby. It was getting into the recording, so we stopped.
I’d met Fred before, even worked for him on a video project. But I didn’t know him well. During the four days of recording, eating together and sharing stories, I felt we became friends.
While I listened in my headphones and Fred talked, I looked at everything in his office at least 20 times each. Most interesting to me were the pictures he had under the glass top cover of a round antique table that sat behind his computer chair. It held pictures from a long range of years of his life.
This impressed me. Most people display the latest photos. Fred has many photos from all eras. The one nearest me that caught my eye was one of him and his best friend at the time, a man named Jay.
In the margins of the photo it read, “Apr 66.”
Fifty-plus years ago that’s how photos arrived after you shot a roll of film and sent it off for development. It could take weeks for pictures to arrive in the mail.
It’s a far cry from today’s world, where photos are captured in high definition on a cell phone and can be instantly transmitted anywhere in the world.
In the photo, Fred and Jay appear to be about 16. They’re leaning against Fred’s dad’s brand new 1966 Pontiac Bonneville convertible. In that photo, they both had the whole world ahead of them.
Now, decades later, I asked Fred about Jay. Fred said they had found paths that couldn’t have differed more and had lost track of each other. Fred found the ministry and philanthropy. Jay lost his way not long after the photo was taken.
As I listened to Fred and watched the recording levels, I kept going back to the month and date on the photo. I thought about the similar photos my mother had, and possibly still does, that she used to keep in a Pangburn Christmas Candy box. Most had been taken at family gatherings while I was growing up in Southwest Arkansas. All had the month and date in the margins.
As Fred continued talking and I continued listening, my mind went back to snapshots of my mom’s photos, all with the month and year printed clearly in the periphery of a moment caught in time. I remembered who was in the photos, what each person was like at the time, and thought of what became of them later.
It occurred to me that in many of the pictures, some of the people were making the most of their life while others were just existing.
Or, if you will, just marking time in the margins.
I included myself. In many of the photos I remembered, I was not maximizing my life. I was just doing what had to be done to get to the next day, month, or even year.
I can’t recall who said it, but someone once pointed out that the years can be angry. They also are short. But from the photos under the glass on Fred’s table, he had made most of his years count and he was proud of them.
Jay lost his way. At times, so have I. We all have. But maybe we should put the month and year back on our photos, so we’re reminded to live life with a serving heart and to its fullest.
And so we don’t just settle for living within the margins.