Change and Transformation, Grief and Loss

Captured In Time: Camera Roll Revelations

Recently I celebrated a birthday. It wasn’t “big” in the sense of round numbers, but it felt important given the year that’s just passed. Last year, celebrating blended with a lot of uncertainty. Lockdowns were beginning. We knew something huge approached us, we just couldn’t fathom how long and impactful COVID would be.

There’s no denying it. This particular lap around the sun has been a doozy.

Birthdays often prompt reflection. Like many, I consider what’s changed and take stock of the year. What brought joy, regret, or surprise? Afterall, the more birthdays that pass, the faster 365 days goes. This past year felt like wandering an unknown landscape in the dark. There’s been much aimless grappling and navigation. I’ve no idea how to make sense of it. Perhaps time will provide perspective.

One thing, however, clearly lifted out of the tumult: how much has changed. How much I have changed. Covid cleared the distractions and allowed truths to float to the surface. I’d even say Covid has been one of my greatest teachers. I didn’t like its red-faced, ass-kicking, old-school teaching style, but I’ve learned more about personal strength and resilience this year than ever before. I wonder, do you feel the same?

Covid magnified both good and bad in our world, our country, our families and ourselves. I often felt like Covid was shouting, “THIS is what’s real, whether you want to see it or not!” It illuminated what I’d overlooked, avoided or denied. Losses hit harder. Frustrations felt larger. Disappointments broke hearts. Injustices shattered beliefs. And in Covid’s crazy way, simultaneous to the wreckage were massive outpourings of kindness and care. As our souls cracked, our hearts opened. We woke to the needs of those around us. Love and encouragement bloomed in completely new ways. Ingenuity and creativity surfaced. Beauty softened some very dark moments.

I noticed this, of all places, as I scrolled my phone’s camera roll recently.

As the pandemic’s first anniversary approached, social media trends invited sharing pre-lockdown (My Last Normal Photo) photos. The idea felt a bit sad and wistful, but I curiously reviewed my camera roll and discovered mine were birthday photos, taken when Covid’s impact was still blissfully vague. I was ignorant that a journey had already begun. Changes were already happening.

Afterall, it wasn’t only our lives and livelihoods transforming. We were changed as well. While we may desire to “return to normal,” that place ceases to exist. I’ve referenced Heraclites’ quote on transformation before on my blog, but it feels appropriate to repeat.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”


Scrolling my lock-down photos, I noticed I captured some of that change. My photos chronicled what surrounded me as we stayed in our yards and neighborhoods. I snapped photos of the emerging spring, my community looking out for each other, the appearance of cutout hearts taped in neighborhood windows, and the supportive signs people made for essential workers. Further on, my camera roll captured creative new twists on traditions: birthday car parades, campfire cocktails with friends, zoom book clubs and gatherings, my oldest’s ‘alternative’ graduation, and my youngest’s clever campout. All of these were new. Different.

Looking back, what’s most striking to me is how we’ve found a way. Awkwardly masked, frightened and socially separated, but we found a way to keep living through an unknown. We found ways to interact and persevere. We mourned, we celebrated, we looked out for each other. We did the best we could.

Now Spring has returned to the midwest. One year has passed. Longer daylight hours, warming temperatures and greening landscapes bring hope. There’s still a lot that’s unknown. This isn’t over. More than ever there is important work to balance what’s askew. Yet the momentum feels strong to me. The journey to create something new seems to beckon. If we’re wise, it will reflect all we’ve learned about the better parts of ourselves. And I’m curious. Did your camera capture more than just photos these past 12 months? Look and see. What do you notice when you take a closer look?

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6 thoughts on “Captured In Time: Camera Roll Revelations”

  1. Nancy Simpson says:

    I always enjoy your reflections.
    Love to you & your great family.

    1. Katie O'Connell says:

      Thanks so much, Nancy. I miss seeing you! I trust that will come around again…one day!

  2. Thomas Palmersheim says:

    Because we could not stop the pandemic, we all had to adjust to it. Things changed and they will most likely stay changed. Now we must adjust to those changes.

  3. Pamela Kay Palmersheim says:

    Thank you for helping me through this journey….. I’m now looking at my pics! I love you!

  4. Shaun McCabe-Briski says:

    This reflection resonated deeply with me. Our last gathering last year was my daughter’s beautiful wedding. We were blissfully unaware of what was to come. I am deeply saddened by the loss so many have endured and I hope that the hope spring brings will be a hope they can hold on to. Here’s to love, loss, creativity, endurance and most of all hope!

    1. Katie O'Connell says:

      Thank you so much for the thoughtful feedback. Hope and endurance indeed! I agree, we were blissfully unaware at the onset. I’m glad your daughter’s wedding occurred before everything changed.

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