Sixty Frames

We take photos to remember. But which frame should you choose to capture, which to recall?

Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.
― Marc Riboud

A human lives, on average, for 25,915 days. Each day contains 86,400 seconds. Each of those contains trillions of instances, of frames. Of these we exist in all, remain in none, remember, perhaps a few. Each second, our brain is only capable of perceiving an average of sixty frames.

We see sixty out of trillions of moments of life. We must choose our frames wisely. So smile for the camera. Be still. Look at or through the lens. See.

We are here, we are here now, but we and time are fleeting.
Quick, take the photograph. Snap the shot.

The only proof this moment ever existed will be in our memory.

The first frame: the beauty spot on the left temple, slightly below the eye, of a little boy sleeping in my arms on a Sunday afternoon in June. Second frame: the angle at which the eyelashes curl, the barely visible crow’s feet. Third: the light, at the most perfect of a trillion angles, capturing the gold in his hair.

Pause in this frame. Stay an instant in this instant. Then move on to the next.

There are the obvious frames and moments that shape our lives. The time-stopping, happy milestones at which we take photographs. The family portraits in Sunday clothes on birthdays, weddings, lunch on Christmas Day, college graduations, anniversaries. The flash-infused commemoration of ourselves, inevitably solemn and confused, against the white or blue background of a passport, driver’s license, student or voter’s card.

Then there are the broader frames that define our lives, with their own obvious protagonists. The zoomed-out shots of inaugurations, revolutions, jubilees and celebrations, crowds in the streets on New Year’s Eve. The portraits of politicians, popes, queens, economists, businessmen, movie stars. The mugshots of murderers and terrorists. Fashion trends immortalized on a runway, peace deals over a handshake. History written by war declarations, rocket launches, touchdowns, standing ovations, raves.

Sixty frames out of trillions, in every second of every life. Even those, if we blink, we might miss. So we take photographs; a choice of the moments of our lives we want to commit to memory.

Zoom in on the fourth frame: looking up at mother’s hand. Fifth frame: father’s shoulders, looking down. Sixth: the seesaw partner in the playground. The stuffed animal; guardian of the bed. The siblings, the superheroes in comic books. The doodles in the margin of the page. The eternal baker in his eternal shop. The flour on his arms and mustache. The friends, the posters of boy band members, the flyers of missing pets.

We do not choose or shape our lives. Where we are, or for how long. But we are here and we have now. Let us be here now.

We create reality, we exist in every frame we choose to see. In the oceanic folds of the bed sheets on a Tuesday, the creases on the pillow left by a cheek. In the steam wafting out of a coffee cup, the precious last crumbs of a croissant, silken gold mixed with green flakes of thyme on the white porcelain plate.

Look at where, when, who we are,

at and through the lens. See.

Now. Immortalize this trillionth of a second in a photograph.

Forty-eighth frame: ice cream stickily dripping out of the corner of a mouth. Forty-ninth: the dimple that appears in the exact same spot every time that mouth laughs.

Fiftieth: the musician in the metro, playing that French song you like. Fifty-first: the lonely two pennies and bill in his open guitar case. Fifty-second: the dog sitting patiently by his side, as he has done for hours, days, weeks. Fifty-third: the hand scratching his ear gently, his eyes closing happily.

Fifty-fourth: an old couple in the park, on the sunny side of a bench. Fifty-fifth: her fingers interlaced perfectly in his. Comfortable, matching shoes. Fifty-sixth: a cloth bag on the ground next to them. Bread and oranges peaking out. Fifty-seventh: the kitchen table a short walk away, on which butter and honey await.

Fifty-eighth: a sonogram. Fifty-ninth: tears. We can be infinite in sixty frames per second. Quick, snap the shot. We were here.

Filed under Memory
Yara Y. Zgheib

Yara is a bookworm, writer, and passionate consumer of wine and chocolate. Born in Beirut, she has lived in Glasgow, Washington, Paris, and Saint Louis, and is not done traveling yet. She is a Fulbright scholar with a PhD in international affairs, who has also taught art history in the US, ballet in China, and etiquette in France. Yara is the author of “Biography of a Little Prince”, a memoir of her adventures with a little boy dear to her heart. Her blog, “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea”, is a compilation of weekly essays on politics, art, culture, economics, literature, and philosophy. Her idea of a smart conversation over afternoon tea, and she loves company.