EARLIER THIS MONTH, I attended a baby shower. The expectant parents are good friends of mine. There were presents and pink. Toward the end of the shower, the obligatory group photo needed to be taken. The expectant mother and another attendee wrestled with the camera, attempting to get a smartphone and a timer aligned so that the entire party could be included in the photo. It became apparent that such attempts were futile. Despite the pleas from my friend, the expectant mother, that everyone needed to be included, I picked up the smartphone and snapped the group photo.
The expectant father later lamented to me, “I hate being in photos.” Of course, on this occasion, he had no choice. He had to be included in the picture. He had fought to be in the picture. So had the mother of his unborn child. The picture was their’s. They had built the picture’s frame. They had built it with materials crafted through devotion.
There is something safe about being outside the camera frame. You don’t need to worry about how your hair looks. You don’t need to concern yourself with your crooked smile or worry about the wrinkles on your forehead or the baggage under your eyes. There is safety in being behind the camera. There is comfort in being outside the frame.
I have spent a lifetime observing from the other side of the lens. I have been the uncle, the godfather, the best man. I have viewed friends marry. I have seen siblings rear children. I have spent late evenings on the phone listening to loved ones as they battle with the complexities of relationships. I have been party to the joys and the pains of these relationships.
I have watched first dances. I have led toasts to eternal love. On one occasion, I have pronounced matrimony. I have held babies and brought diapers. I have purchased more congratulations cards than I care to count.
I have been blessed by all of this. But these moments inevitably end with me walking outside, climbing into my sedan, turning on the ignition, and driving into the sunset.
What I have learned from a lifetime perched on the outside is that you must fight to be in the frame. You must battle to be in the picture. You must sacrifice and make the right decisions, and, yes, be graced by chance. You must be willing to be hurt and still love. You must allow yourself to be vulnerable. You must have the courage to open your heart knowing that it can be broken. You must ceaselessly grow, even if the pain of that maturation is tiresome or excruciating.
You can live your life outside the frame. It is safe. It is comfortable. Or you can fight to be in the picture. You can endure the sleepless nights. You can overcome the bitter battles. You can learn to love even when it is intolerable. You can give forgiveness even when it is undeserved. You can learn to adore the wrinkles on her face. You can learn to cherish the weight he is gaining and the hair he is losing. You can give everything to the fight. Or you can walk in the other direction.
And sometimes that may seem necessary. Sometimes the fight to be in the frame is outweighed by something more. Maybe it’s past or present pain, damages that today seem insurmountable. Sometimes there are inflictions that, in the current state, cannot be looked past. Relationships are a dual enterprise. For the frame to be full both parties must be in the fight. Sometimes, no matter how hard you fight, the outcome is not the one you fought for.
As an outsider, as one taking the photo, not one inside the frame, it is effortless to tell those inside the frame to smile and expect the direction to be satisfied. It is easy, because as an outsider, the one taking the photo, the fight to be in the frame is not truly comprehensible to those outside the frame. The exact reality of the fight is truly known to only those inside.
Ultimately, we get to choose who we stand next to when the camera shutters, the light flashes, and the moment is documented. The choice is a personal one and made because of a countless number of reasons.
There are the reasons of the senses (smell, sight, taste, touch)
There are the reasons of common location (proximity, network, happenstance)
There are the reasons of practicality (security, maturity, character)
There are the reasons of mutual interest (passions, ambitions, vision)
There are the reasons of experience (memories, feelings, encounters)
There are the reasons of chance (timing, luck, occurrence)
There are the reasons of faith (conviction, duty, honor)
And there are the other reasons of the heart, unexplainable, that which words and reason can often fail to clarify.
The reasons are ours. They are personal. But they often compel us toward another. They compel us toward someone that we might allow to squeeze into our selfie, stand next to us at the altar, lie next to us in our bed, or pray might hold our hand when we take our last breath. These reasons lead us to the fight. These reasons compel one to fight. The fight guides one into the frame. But one must fight to always remain in the frame.
It is a never-ending fight. You don’t win another. You earn another. It is to be constant. You earn through breakfasts in bed. You earn through remembering her favorite flowers or learning to root for his alma mater. You earn by sitting through the latest action movie or rom-com, even if it is detestable to you. You earn through inside jokes and united experience.
Deep laughter and joyful tears build, they accrue, into a sort of shared currency, deposited into a bank. That currency must be earned. It is earned through devotion, reliability, and consistency. It is earned through time and test.
When you walk into that picture frame and wrap your arm around another, what the camera captures is that moment. What it doesn’t capture is the moments before that led to it. What it doesn’t capture is the fight that it took to be in that frame.
Fighting to be in the picture is hard. But it will always be worth being in the frame.