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Given that I have so few things to keep track of, it should follow that I indeed can keep track of all of them. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. A couple of months ago, I lost a notepad and an umbrella because I left them outside of a store. Last week, I nearly lost my day pack, which was carrying my computer and camera, because I forgot I had placed it on a chair as I was taking a rest at a convenience store near my apartment. Today, I lost the camera. On the bleachers by the field where our latest pickup soccer match took place, it must have sat undisturbed for hours, receiving the attention of none, including me. Upon realizing that it was not in my bag when I returned home, I felt an immense pang of loss. Strangely, though, that thought was not of the money it would cost to replace such a camera or even of the object itself. The loss was that of the photos held on its memory card. Not merely just bits of data or rows of pixels, they were a representation of a part of my life. Though relatively uneventful and certainly not my best work, they were a tangible piece of how I had spent the most precious of commodities, time. Certainly I can capture the much of these sentiments in writing, but despite my best efforts to paint pictures with my words, I will never capture all of them. The photographs serve as both complements of my memories but also cues for the memories that have faded below the realm of consciousness.

A year ago, I owned a home and nearly enough stuff to fill it. I owned two cars and a garage full of lawn-care equipment. I owned shelves full of knick knacks and a closet full of clothes I hadn’t worn in years. Over the course of several months, I liquidated almost all of these things to the point that I could relocate myself to the other side of the world with all of my worldly possessions (discounting the small handful of things I left at my parents’ house) hung from my shoulders. In fact, I can inventory every item, save maybe the exact numbers of socks and underwear, from memory if I need to. With only a small fraction of the items I once had, I find that I am even happier and my life more fulfilled than ever.

I will not try to argue that things cannot make us happy, but I will argue that it is not the things themselves that make us happy. Instead, it is the experiences they enable. I may say that I miss my bike, but it is in fact the feeling of pulling its chassis and machinery up a long climb that I miss. I may say that I miss my car, but it is in fact the sensation of a smooth operation of the gearbox and the force of acceleration against my back that I miss. I may say that I miss my snowboard, but it is in fact the feeling of soft powder under my toes as I engage my full concentration on the conquering of a difficult bit of terrain that I miss. What I long for are not things, they are experiences.

After beginning a new life in a new country with a new profession and new hobbies, I have had no shortage of these experiences. It has been this experience that has led that change in me that explains the reason why my first thought upon losing my camera was not of its monetary value but of its experiential value. It has proven to me the folly of my old values. Whereas once I would think of my expenditures as investments in things from which I hoped to reap further monetary benefit in the future, now I see my paycheck as the enabler of experiences that give value to my time.

However, these experiences are not with us all the time. We can hold many in our memories, and many we can recall instantly. For others though, it will take some assistance. Over the course of our romantic relationship, Luisa always insisted that I take more pictures because I would want to look back on them one day. I never really understood. Though it made sense, it took me a long time to build the habit of recording things that I knew I would want to remember. As imperfect as I am about having a camera ready, I have greatly improved. In fact, I recently realized just how many of these memories I have stored with my little digital companion. Last week, as I was uploading some of the newest photos, I took a look through my library. Brain-dead tired, I just held down the right arrow and let the photos flash by at a dozen frames per second. In a powerful time lapse of my life over the past couple years, each frame brought back the memories of a hundred different moments, the emotions tied to them piling up on top of each other. From Poland to Annapolis to New York City to Pensacola to Korea, each shot carried with it a story from the life I had once lived and the life I am currently living. If someone were to ask me to tell my life story, I might be able to give a brief answer of where I grew up, where I went to school, and the jobs I have done, but these are not who I am. They are simply categories that represent where I have existed. If instead I were to use my photo album as the basis for my story, it would last for days as I explained the context, meaning, and outcome of each frame that represents a piece of who I truly am.

Over the course of the past year, I have undergone a litany of changes. Today, I found out just how thorough this change has been. I have realized that my ability to capture my life with the lens is an invaluable tool for the storage of my life and its stories. Though I will continue to exploit my passion and skill for writing, sometimes a picture is worth more than a thousand words.

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