MANILA, Philippines -- As I began dusting the picture frames in our new house, something caught my attention. We have so many family pictures that some of them cannot be put on display for lack of space. These pictures are more than just colored photographs taken through the years and framed by our favorite photo studio. They have stories trapped inside the glass and wood-bound frames. They are motionless testaments of time, a collection of blissful memories and still images of our 25 years as a family. This experience came at a time when my parents were about to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary.
I remember quite vividly that fateful day of April 24, 13 years ago, when they celebrated their anniversary. It was my first time to wear a barong Tagalog, which to me then was a translucent piece of clothing that failed to hide the frail body of an insecure 10-year-old. Such moments will forever be remembered as that picture hangs peacefully near my parents' room.
And how can I forget the first-ever family picture taking in 1989? That photo is by far the biggest and most visible around the house, thanks to its strategic location in the living room. I love this particular picture not only for its significance. If anyone gets a chance to look at it carefully, it captures the innocence of the four children as well as the happiness mixed with anxiety etched in our parents' faces. I can only imagine now how they felt during that time, raising four children while being still so young themselves (yes, my parents married young) and facing the uncertainty of the future. But I would like to think that we all turned out to be what they hoped us to be: a law graduate, a would-be doctor, a psychology degree holder working for a reputable company and a fresh political science graduate who is now in the academe and will soon follow in the footsteps of our future lawyer-brother. All these are captured in the photos that speak well of the times.
To date, we have nine family pictures so that every other year (this practice started only in 1989), an updated version replaces the old, or as we say, the outdated one. The term is so appropriate because by the time the latest family picture is transferred to another viewing area to accommodate the more recent one, our physical appearances have changed dramatically. For example, our "bunso" [youngest] sports a feminine, ear-length hairstyle and puckered lips to complete the look in our 1989 family picture. Two years later, her hair has grown longer and she looks better with her bangs to match her exclusive-school-for-girls demeanor. "Kuya" [elder brother] is noticeably a lot taller, my sister next to me has gained some extra holiday weight and I, well, I leave that to the viewer's judgment. But more significantly, my parents look happier. Their faces were glowing, as if to show how excited they are to see us grow so fast. Dad looks younger and slimmer, his rimless eyeglasses masking the worries he may have while raising four kids at the same time. Mom looks so elegant in her gown adorned with lace and accentuated by a blazer. Her smile is a portrait of delight, of joy and contentment and these bode well for our family.
That image was like a prediction, a foreshadowing of our life together, one that is well lived and nurtured patiently and lovingly in our home.
Every family has a practice that is uniquely theirs. I know of families who love to travel, make beautiful music together or spend hours in the kitchen honing their culinary skills. In our case, we invest in these pictures. No matter how simple it may sound, it is one thing I will not trade for anything. I even thought of taking photography lessons so I could preserve that family tradition with me handling the lens. I tried documenting birthday and graduation parties, "noche buenas" [Christmas Eve dinners] and family reunions and I was really pleased to see these pictures finding a place in photo albums and picture frames.
And it does not stop there. As I write this, a new, updated picture is in the process of being developed and framed. It is extra special because unlike in the past when we all trooped to the studio, the picture was taken in the convenience of our own home. Even the photographer was in awe upon seeing our family pictures on the walls, the same pictures he took years ago but now more beautiful, colorful and certainly more meaningful than when he first delivered them to us wrapped in brown paper.
They say a picture paints a thousand words. But for our family, words fail to describe the essence of our collective experience. I am forever in debt to the person who invented photography for filling the void left by words. I am also grateful for the gift of color and light, two elements that bring pictures to life. And I am thankful to the Lord for giving us our smiles that beam not only our happiness but also the love that overflows from our hearts.
I will continue this practice when I start a family of my own. I wish that my siblings will do the same. For a snapshot spells eternity. A picture is forever.
Phillip Aristotle R. Hermida, 23, is a third-year medical student at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine.
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