Photo in a Box – Eric Schwartz

This submission from Prof. Schwartz really tugs at the drawstrings of life. Everyone’s experience is colored by sights, sounds, and sensations that remind them of where they’ve been. Sometimes the smallest things can bring conscious and subliminal self-definitions flooding back. That’s the magic of the mind.



Photo in a Box

Somewhere in a notebook, under many other notebooks, in a box surrounded by many other boxes, upstairs in the attic is a photo of a window open to a late spring day and an old black t-shirt washed by hand that hangs on a wire clothes hanger and flaps in the breeze. No one is in the photo, but a moment of my youth is captured there, a moment not long after I sold the car that I had driven to nation’s capital, the car into which I had packed all my personal belongings, the car that broke down in the middle lane of the Beltway during the morning rush hour after a marathon drive from the Midwest. Yes, I sold that car. Broke up with my girlfriend in DC. Gave up on the job I was sure to find in that city and headed up the East Coast with my belongings now fitting in a large blue backpack that was fraying on the edges.

The backpack is not in the photograph.

I think now of that moment when my life seemed suspended, flapping like that damp t-shirt in the breeze. I had no job prospects. No concrete sense of what awaited me in the days, weeks, or months ahead. No girlfriend. No belongings except what fit in my backpack. That wide-open sense of the unknown yawned before me, an open road, a blank calendar, a life ahead with everything uncertain.

That moment seems now so far away. When I think of it, it’s not that I want to reclaim or certainly not to relive those days. But I also recognize the strange charm of that time, that power of the looming unknown, the undefined potential of youth. I know this was my story, but I also know it is not mine alone. We don’t all have that moment, but many of us do, a moment when the supporting fabric of our life is cut away, and in what is left we clearly feel the infinite variations suddenly possible in the life that stretches ahead, variations in that life that are spun by the choices we make and will make moment after moment after moment.

A couple of days after taking that photo, I caught a Greyhound bus, making a couple of stops before landing at my brother’s place in Boston. My brother offered me a place to stay. I stayed. I lived out of that backpack for another year. I probably wore that t-shirt for another year after that. I lived. I made choices that led to more choices, more life. Eventually, I got rid of the backpack. I needed more and more boxes to hold more of my life. And now that photo is still somewhere up there in the attic, in one of those boxes.


Eric has been teaching political science and history at Hagerstown Community College since the autumn of 2012. Prior to college teaching, he worked as a journalist and journalism trainer in the United States and the former Soviet Union.

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