My sister was engaged on Christmas Eve when I was 8 years old. We lived in a small, mountain country town in upstate NY and every Christmas Eve, a small group of us rode around in a tractor-driven hay wagon, singing Christmas carols to each lit-up house on the tiny four streets through the village. Festive church members would bundle close under wool blankets, all of us kids bounced wildly with Christmas anticipation, and the joy of the occasion fell gently with each quietly sung line of Silent Night.
I didn't know my brother-in-law was proposing. Of course, no one told me. I was 8, a chatterbox and already a romantic. The secret would not have been safe. I remember it was snowing. At least, that's what my memory has done to it. Snow falling as he stood in the center of the hay wagon, a 19 year old nervous boy proclaiming something about Proverbs, choosing a wife, and bumbling his way through a poetic proposal, to which my sister cried and said a thrilled yes.
It was magic.
I have a friend who jokingly says (though half the time I'm prone to think that under all that joking is a serious point) that every time someone takes out their phone to Instagram something, they're stealing the soul of the moment. Last year, a bunch of us sat lakeside and sang songs with guitars and banjos. Someone slipped out their camera and he whispered, "They're stealing the soul." A few of us went camping recently and I pulled out my phone to 'gram the occasion, and he said it again. Some moments shouldn't be photographed, he says. Then says he's joking.
But I think maybe he's right.
Maybe we're stealing the soul from things.
Maybe we're stealing the magic.
I saw this article today — Bestagram: See photos capturing the single greatest moment of people's lives — and it's beautiful, really. Last photos of lives shared, triumphant moments of overcoming difficulties, Paris proposals…you get the idea. Sometimes I wonder though, are we stealing the magic? Am I? I know a gazillion posts get passed around the internet these days about what you should and shouldn't instagram, what Facebook is for, how we're all oversharing, and how we should all feel guilty about it. (Maybe not that last one, but that's usually my takeaway.)
I love sharing online. I love photographing every stupid little thing. For each photo I post on Instagram, there are probably 10 sitting in my photo library that I chose not to post.
But then I went camping last weekend. As we drove into the heart of the Adirondacks, my signal went from 5 bars to 2 bars to a relentless "searching…". At&t couldn't be my best friend up in those treetops, and suddenly my phone was a useless piece of metal, plastic and glass. I snapped photos but most of the time, kept it tucked away in my pocket, or under the dirt-covered flannel in my pack.
And instead of trying to capture everything for a bestagram, we just lived. We hiked, camped, cooked food over campfires, told stories, played music, and 90% of it didn't end up on my iPhone. You know what I realized? It wasn't any less awesome.
And in my memory, it now is 100% more magical.
I am an idealist. A romantic. I like good stories, sifted memories and beauty. I will remember proposals with snow because I have no proof otherwise. I will remember staring at the stars by campfire with the smell of pipe smoke swirling around us while music played quietly in the background because I have no other record to tell me otherwise. My memory is my greatest keepsake, and let me tell you, it's all beautiful.
Sometimes I wonder if we're stealing the soul. What if a memory is only made better because we can't remember everything? What if the memory is better because you remember your single most important life moment in rose-hues, when the reality is... some guy was smoking a cigarette, photo-bombing your single greatest moment.
Tonight, friends are coming for a backyard fire. I will probably take out my phone. I won't feel guilty about it. But there's a good chance that the next time I feel the magic stirring, I might put it away. Turn it off. Set it in airplane mode. Force myself to capture only a memory.
And then remember it with magic.