What it Means to Be a Tourist

As we walk the avenue, I notice a detail here and there that reminds me of 20 - 30 years ago. But, so much of the street has changed. While the bones in the buildings are the same, the colors and purposes have shifted with time. The sidewalk is wider, too, allowing more people to saunter along or find places to sit and stay awhile. And, in the same moment that the “new” excites my curiosity, I find myself missing the old. I find myself missing Grandma.

On this trip, it strikes me how returning to this place amplifies the truth that there’s no going back. There’s only going on because life goes on. At the same time, I find myself realizing that I never feel this way when I visit Grandma’s other home. Is this because her other home evolves more slowly, making it unable to punctuate her loss so deeply?

Then I wonder if what I’m feeling—my disappointment, sorrow, and anger—is just about Grandma, knowing before I finish the thought that it isn’t. It’s also about yearning for the past in a way that can’t be satisfied; about the loss I feel for physical reminders that have vanished; about the things that tether memory and help me feel as if she’s still here even though she’s been gone 21 years.

The evolution of this place—of her house, even—has eradicated the touchstones. It all feels foreign to me. And, I find myself wondering why I didn’t photograph every room in her house, why I didn’t memorialize what it used to look like inside and out. Isn’t that kind of my thing? And yet, I know why. I never expected to be a stranger here or for it to be so strange to me.

After all of it sinks in, I accept my new reality: I am a tourist now.

Yet rather than frustrated resignation, I feel sort of happy as I realize something. Being a tourist means memories to photograph. And, photos are touchstones that are wonderfully resistant to time. So I pick up my camera, set out, and make ready to get to it.

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