Recently, my son turned 18 and instead of getting him an electronic gadget or another gift card to add to his growing collection, I did something different. I made meaning, for him and for me.
I started with the idea of a homemade card showing photos of him at different ages, starting as a baby and ending with his high school senior picture. Before digital cameras became popular, I used to organize the left over photographs from rolls of film by year. Out of a roll of 24 shots, maybe half were decent enough to put in an album. Which meant a lot of left over photos.
As I picked out photos from different ages, I realized that different themes emerged--photos from sports tried but later abandoned (soccer, swimming, karate), photos of his early love of piano and reading, photos of long-time friends who he'd known since grade school, photos of his passion for building things and understanding the world around him. The photos told a clear story that had been right under our noses.
I created a card that told the story of his life by showing the backstory of who he is today. It's more than chronology, although I do start the card with a shot of him sleeping as a baby. This is a nod to his love of sleeping in, and the difficulty of getting him up in the morning!
The words in the card go something like this:
"It all started 18 years ago….
Even as a baby you liked to sleep.
Your love of reading started early,
Along with your interest and talent in piano.
Other early endeavors included hiking...(you liked stopping for snacks!),
Skating and soccer and karate.
But we knew from the beginning your true love would be science,
And understanding the world around you.
School was another place for you to expand your world,
And make some friends…
Some of who have been friends for a long time.
Family has always been important. You’ve been a great big brother.
You've been doted on by aunts,
and a favorite of grandparents.
You've hung out with cousins.
We have watched you grow up
Happy 18th Birthday!
We love you."
I watched as he read the card and looked at the photos, one by one. I could tell that he was taking it all in. He took his time. Afterward, he said this was something that he could show his grandchildren. He seemed pleased to have it.
Making meaning takes time and the impact can last a life time. The hours that it took me on a Saturday to put the card together were some of the most satisfying in a long time.
What are you doing to make meaning?