I have been living in my study these last few weeks for many hours of the day. It is a beautiful serene space where I am surrounded by walls of books reaching to the ceiling. Many much beloved volumes read and many with so much potential, waiting to be opened, waiting to be devoured.

I have so wanted to properly catalogue and curate the works and yet I am comforted by the cushion of words surrounding me in their still and random order .

Today I looked up the shelves, not at the shelves and saw on the tenth and upper level of shelving, unreachable except by our library ladder, our collection of old photograph albums with their cracked spines and peeling labels. Albums which have been the repository of so many experiences, these tomes that are custodians of loved ones no longer, images that are also playing hostage to my youth, my growth from a girl to a young woman, a bride and then a mother. Family celebrations and milestones and so many people are all contained within these yellowed pages.

It has made me realise too that no photo albums record my role as a grandmother as we entered the digital age – an age with so many fleeting images yet so little permanence.

And it is these old albums that have triggered such a yearning for those earlier days, when we were encircled by dreams of tomorrow, so much becoming, so much evolving. I can see in my mind’s eye my children revealing themselves already at such a young age and I weep with the joy of seeing who they have now become.

The photo is that talisman that allows me to enter yesterday. But in these COVID days, family is as far away as those times and as unreachable as the albums, perched as they are on that inaccessible shelf.

Perhaps all I can do is dream of the many tomorrows that will be and create that photo album in my mind to carry with me always.

There is something so reassuring though to have my life cocooned in these albums, revealing a time of yesterday while I can still dream of tomorrows. Today I will climb up that library ladder and open up some of those albums and re-enter a life that seems so far away and yet remains so vivid.

Perhaps one day that’s how I will feel about 2020.

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Leah Justin
When not preoccupied with her 8 grandchildren Leah Justin is the Community Education coordinator at the Jewish Museum of Australia. She is also the cofounder of the Justin Art House Museum.

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