The picture is like the moment it captured. There is nothing special about it. No one is dressed up and fancy. No one’s hair is styled. No one is intentionally posed, and there’s no warm light softening the background or making the images pop.
Yet pop, they do. Just my kids with their kids standing in a field in Middlefield, Conn., some in sneakers, a few barefoot, everyone in T-shirts, three wearing sunglasses, a casual crew for sure, but all of them smiling, the photo capturing something that I didn’t see even as I was living it, even as I was snapping the picture.
This one simple frame stands out not because it is extraordinary, but because it is not.
We met in Middlefield, Conn., a place not one of us had ever been, because my daughter, Julie, asked Siri what’s halfway between where we live in Canton, Mass., and where my son lives in midtown Manhattan. And Middlefield, Conn., came up.
Before this pandemic, the 220 miles that separated my son and his family from the rest of us was negligible. We were always back and forth. By train, plane, bus, and automobile. Mi casa, su casa.
We can’t go there and stay with them, and they can’t come here and stay with us. So the idea was we’d pack a lunch, meet at a farm, pick apples, and spend a few hours together. Outdoors. Social distancing. Safe.
A month ago we met at another halfway place, Old Saybrook, Conn. It was a different group of us then, my husband, my son and his wife, and their kids and me, and it was more of an adult setting. There were no open fields and no place for bare feet and running. But we had lobster and grilled cheese sandwiches at a picnic bench. And the kids got to play miniature golf and it was the start of something. “Let’s do this again soon,” my son said. “It’s only a two-hour ride for each of us.”
The next “soon” was last week and this time Julie was in charge. She arranged the time (The kids had no school, aka no remote learning last Monday), the place (Thank you again, Siri), coordinated with her siblings, borrowed a van, packed lunches and blankets and towels and hand sanitizer and masks, plus a basket full of balls. (Except for a soccer ball.) And off we went.
The parking lot at the apple orchard was packed and we wanted to avoid crowds, so we opted to go to a park instead. Peckham Park (yes, that’s the name). We’d passed it on our way to the orchard, so we knew where it was. We ate our lunches there on a long picnic bench under a dome. And we caught up a little. Small talk. And then the kids were off and running, all of them, my kids and their kids, shouting and laughing, playing touch football with a Nerf ball on a soccer field.
I didn’t bring my camera with its big telephoto lens. If I had, I’d have shot each of the kids separately. I’d have caught concentration, maybe, or intent or frustration or worry or maybe even boredom.
But I had only my phone. So in the middle of a game when they all had stopped running and were about to huddle, I yelled, “Let me take a quick picture,” and they stood together and voila. I caught happiness.
And found hope.
It’s been hard, not being with the people you love. Not being free to come and go. Not hugging and being hugged.
It’s been hard, not getting on a train or a plane, not going to work, to school, to the movies, not being with people at a concert, at a bar, at a play, at your own kitchen table.
It’s been hard not living the life we’ve always lived.
But that’s what I see in this picture. The life we’ve always lived. Love? Trust? Happiness? Joy? There they are. In hands touching and bodies leaning in and arms encircling. In the casualness of their togetherness. In every smile.
Maybe seconds after this photo was shot, worry crept back in or fear or frustration. Maybe someone grimaced. Maybe someone else frowned. But this picture shows me none of these things. It shows me love and joy and happiness. It shows me what exists in my children and in their children and in the world.
And seeing this, observing this, I have hope.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.