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Box of photos prompts an important 'life-review'

As we get older, I think we are more apt to initiate “life-review.” For me, it comes in quiet moments of early morning reflection or the contemplative distraction that happens when rummaging through a box of old family photographs. I did the latter this past weekend and found myself swallowed up by tender memories and a desire to put them in some kind of order.

Sitting on the floor of the garage surrounded by decades of pictures of our children — and their children — I recalled of the ups and downs of parenting, step-parenting and grandparenting, and felt the need to dig deeper than the posed photos.

And then I saw it. At the bottom of this box of family snapshots was a scrap of yellowed newsprint. At the top was printed: “The six most important words in the English language.” There was a tiny “anonymous” in the lower right corner, so I share the words that follow without attribution. Whoever the author, I salute him or her.

It was such an unlikely place for that scrap of paper. The print was so faded it was barley legible — someone had cut the paragraph of words out of a newspaper using a scissors that may have needed sharpening. Someone in years past may have been going through that same box of photographs and felt a need to offer a framework for thinking about what was in it. I suspected that someone was my long-deceased mother, “Grandma Dee,“ who the entire family thinks re-appears periodically as a little yellow songbird to encourage us to “be our best selves.”

I looked closely at that piece of paper. It said “the six most important words” are: “I admit I made a mistake.” The five most important words are: “You did a good job.” The four most important words are “What is your opinion?” The three most important words are: “If you please.” The two most important words are:” Thank you.” The one most important word: “We.” Not “I.”

For me, the moment prompted a life-review of the nature I had never done before. There was a photo of Grandma Dee squeezing the plump cheeks of her new grandchild and looking up at me as if to say, “You did a good job,” There was a photo of my father and brother in deep political discussion, and I could envision my dad asking his lawyer-son. “What is your opinion?” There was a small grayed picture of my first husband; I sighed and thought, “I admit I made a mistake.”

I looked through the decades of pictures of our three strong, often-feisty children and marveled at all the dogs and cats and sundry four-legged creatures they had convinced us to embrace over their growing-up years. They are good children. I said a silent, “Thank you,” recalling with a smile the night three cages of baby gerbils escaped in the house. There was a smug photo of the cat that ate two of those little gerbils. It made me laugh. I thought, “Yes, “we” have been blessed.”

It’s a good thing to do — a life-review. Consider it, if you please.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.