Secondhand Memories, Framed and Forgotten

They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.

There are several portraits in my home of my great-grandparents and other relatives from before my time. Quite frankly, I probably wouldn’t know a single thing about them if I didn’t have these relics that sparked stories from my parents and grandparents.

In one of his stand-up specials, the comedian John Mulaney gave an anecdote of when he met a person who spoke about his hobby of stealing old photographs from family homes during parties. Naturally, all John could muster was “Why?”, to which the person responded, “Because that’s the one thing you can’t replace.” Obviously, the humor comes from the absurdity in the devilish intent. My recalling of this joke, however, comes in a context that is notably humorless.

The story was what kept popping in my mind when I watched the ending credits for When the Levees Broke. The way each person credited his or herself, with their head put in place by a picture frame suspended before them, symbolized how their names and voices will be immortalized in the wake of the tragedy, and how each person has a uniquely framed perspective of it. The motif of picture frames in the context of Hurricane Katrina begs the question: With the destructive power of the floods, how many beloved portraits were lost? How many old photographs were stolen by this kleptomaniac of a storm? It’s difficult to imagine the quantity of memories, intended to be preserved indefinitely, that were forcibly forgotten in one fell swoop.

Many people died as a result of the storm. How many more had their proverbial “second death” in the time that followed?

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