Uppermost House: When one plus one equals one

SPECIAL MOMENTS — On the right, Peter Lewis is captured in a 1983 photo with his “newly-minted bride,” taken by his father. The photo on the left are Peter and Karen, who posed at a friend’s wedding this past fall.

SPECIAL MOMENTS — On the right, Peter Lewis is captured in a 1983 photo with his “newly-minted bride,” taken by his father. The photo on the left are Peter and Karen, who posed at a friend’s wedding this past fall.

By S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

Fifty-odd years ago, the term “Kodak Moment” was coined to sell cameras and film. A cute, even tender catch phrase, but like much advertising it was developed as hyperbole and printed as faux-truth. For a moment is the chronological equivalent of the geometric point — it has no measurable duration, takes up no time — is tempis absentis. Thus, no moment can be recorded by any camera: not back in 1961, not today, not ever. Oh, a camera may grab the merest slice of a second, but it can’t capture no time at all. Time always passes, even in a snapshot.

So, every photograph is actually a very short movie — between the shutter opening and closing (or the sensor sensing and then ceasing to sense), things move, if only the smallest little bit, if only time, and if only imperceptibly.

I once snapped a photo of my six-year-old son as he pedaled furiously away from me on his bicycle: a Kodak Moment, if you will. But look close and you’ll see the slightest blur — in the mere five-hundredth part of the second it took for the celluloid to grab him, he moved. He’s 28 now and has been moving ever since.

Way back in 1983, my father snapped a photo of me and my freshly-minted bride standing at the edge of a forest. My arm draped protectively over her shoulder, her hand clasping my dangling fingers just above her beating heart. Gobs of brown curls atop my head; her dark hair flowing in permanent waves. I sporting the big glasses of the period and clothed in an earth-tone-checkered flannel shirt that appears buttoned out of order; her donning the striped purple sweater I’d bought with student loan money. Both wearing jeans we could probably still fit in.

We stand close, but not too close, as if we’ve only recently met. Our heads far enough apart that a goldfinch could flash through the gap. Eyes new and bright, but slightly tentative. Grinning happily, but with no teeth showing: my grin triumphant, slightly smug; hers the peaceful safe smile of the newly caught.

Fast-forward through five presidents, 11 cars, a couple of recessions, and two kids. At a friend’s wedding last fall, I asked the photographer, “Could you grab just a couple shots of us? Never know when I’ll wear a tie again.”

Open the subsequent e-mail and there we are: my bride and me in a pose that so mirrors 1983 that it’s like I’m looking at us all over again. Sure my hair is gone, my buttons line up, and my glasses are classier, but she still looks the same. And there’s my arm again, draping once more across that familiar shoulder. I stare at that arm for a long time; realize what I’ve always known: that I’ve never wanted that arm anywhere else. Suddenly see the headline: Man Skin-Grafts Arm to Wife’s Shoulder out of Sheer Adoration.

And then I notice something else and rummage for a calculator and a ruler to prove my photographic point. Assuming a standard shutter speed and using the most round of numbers, something like 250 billion camera clicks separate the 1983 us from 2012 us — our joined lives moving together through three decades. Our string of days. Our endless stream of dimensionless moments.

Ah, but there is movement, as I knew there had to be. Get in close and you’ll see that there’s been motion between the two photos, between the decades: my wife and I are closer in the new image, so much closer that it’s hard to tell that we’re two people anymore — hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder; the old grins have turned into ear-to-ear smiles, full now of gleaming teeth; our eyes brimmed with happiness, familiar and content, as if they share the same sockets; heads tilted inward, each one toward the other with no gap, with no room for songbirds, touching, but more than touching, leaning, bracing, as if for support, as if for balance.

As if apart we couldn’t stand.

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