• Clarice Aeby

Consider the backstory

Recently I picked up a special edition TIME magazine as I entered the airport:

100 Photographs

The Most Influential Images of All Time

The book kept me absorbed during my Sacramento-to-Eugene flight. Each page had a famous photo and the narrative about its backstory.

Like me, you’d probably recognize most of them, like the 1932 “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper.” Eleven men are eating lunch and smoking on a narrow beam 840 feet above Manhattan. The iconic image reflects the courage of the Rockefeller Center construction workers.

men eating on a girder

"Lunch atop a Skyscraper" by marcosesperon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

If you were living back then, you would probably know it’s also the symbol of Depression-era Americans’ desperate need for ambition and resilience. This backstory gives depth and intrigue to the photograph. It carries me to a time in our country opposite in so many ways to my growing-up experience.

This journey through photos from around the globe, caused me to reflect on, of all things, Facebook. I admit to looking at Facebook a couple times a week but never posting. I often find myself more interested by what might be the backstory of a photo more than the image itself.

Last week I saw a picture of two little girls painting. Their mother, my friend, gave me permission to share her post with you:

“Date day with my girls! We had fun painting pottery and eating pancakes at IHOP. Big shout out to their Daddy who stayed behind and fixed up the house while we were gone.

(Also, I want to point out this highlight reel doesn’t show all the times I said, ‘Don’t touch that!’ or the 5 trips to the bathroom, or the car seat standoff that ended our plans earlier than expected.

Just a friendly reminder that all smiling posts have an untold backstory.)”

This kind of vulnerability and honesty are stunning. Days later I still can’t stop thinking about it. And I wonder about some people whose actions I find irritating.

What if I knew their backstory?

I wonder if “love is patient and love is kind” might be a better response. Perhaps they are also in a place requiring resilience and ambition, or simply needing the courage to take another step forward.

Pull up a chair and sit still

woman serving tea

PHOTO: Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Is the Lord whispering a name or flashing a face before you as you think about learning someone’s backstory? Maybe this Christmas season, inviting that person out for tea and then asking and listening to what-happened-before might give you a new and gentler understanding of what you're seeing and hearing now.

Thanks for sitting still with me today.

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