Not so long ago, the term “sound bite” was coined, and people learned that it was sometimes just a mere word or phrase spoken at the right time that crystallized a moment. We always knew that the right words can come to symbolize so much (i.e., “One small step for man …”), but as television eventually replaced radio for news, events, dramas, comedy and even music (MTV), the visual image is the one that sticks with us so very long after. Yes, we may remember the notes of Pavarotti or the strained, muted sounds of the announcer who told us that Superman was “faster than a speeding bullet,” but it is the visual image that seems to stoke the fires of memory more powerfully than anything else.
Longtime sports commentator Pat Summerall once said, “When the spectacle defies words, let it.” He was famous for keeping his microphone “dead” during Superbowl victory celebrations while players jumped into each other’s arms, parents held babies dressed in team outfits high over their heads, and owners and coaches hugged in tearful embraces. He let the image tell the story instead of yammering on like so many announcers do. Summerall’s amazing economy with words was once exemplified when a wide receiver leaped into the end zone while bobbling the ball. It went up to his left and he punched it to his right and it bounced off his helmet and finally he came down with it in his hands for the touchdown. When the crowd roar ceased, Summerall said, “That guy should have been a waiter.”
I was born in 1960 and the images that float in my head seem to present themselves at just the right time. When I take that deep breath and muster confidence or need some inspiration, these are some of the images I see:
* Ronald Reagan’s tight-lipped smile
* Frank Sinatra’s confident, ear-to-ear grin
* Mark Spitz in the Life magazine cover shot with seven gold medals around his neck
* Paul Newman as Henry Gondorf in The Sting, laying his finger aside his nose
* Raiders running back Bo Jackson hammering Seattle’s Brian Bosworth and dragging him into the end zone after “Boz” had made so much talk about containing Bo, who let his playing do the talking
* Little “John John” Kennedy saluting his father’s coffin
* The eruption of the crowd when the Pope comes out on the Vatican balcony
* Bogart putting Elsa back on that plane in Casablanca
* JFK’s quiet smile when something amused him that he could not reveal
* Billy Dee Williams as Gayle Sayers, choking as he says, “I love Brain Piccolo …”
* Michael Jordan staring at the floor during losses before the Chicago Bulls were the invincible machine they finally became
These images add importance to certain moments of my life. In 46 years I have lived the life of a constant observer. What I observe I store, like these images that solidify the moment in my mind and make it available for reliving. The things I value most are sometimes unnoticed by other people but many images are worth mentioning. I don’t mean the Grand Canyon or Statue of Liberty; they have their own similar value to many people. I am talking about the images available to all of us that you simply cannot ignore. By associating images with the most important moments of your life, they can be opened and reopened like a holiday gift:
· The look on a child’s face when seeing something wonderful for the first time. This is probably the closest you can get to understand God’s love for the innocence and faith of a child.
· The uncontrolled, eye-watering laughter of an infant or toddler when something strikes as truly funny. I pity the person who cannot see the value of that moment above all else.
· The trusting look of a loyal pet. There is something in the company of an animal that returns you to a state of calm, unlike the acquaintance of any human being.
· Similarly, the look of hurt, fear or misunderstanding on the face of a child when a parent is not acting like a good parent can bring me to tears. I can’t tell you how many stores I have walked out of when a scolding or punishment was being dealt harshly to a child. I had to restrain myself not to interfere.
There is some level of empathy when I watch a judge sentence a criminal because there is almost always an untold story that led the defendant to that behavior. I am not saying to release the convicted; I can’t help but shake my head and know the criminal never understood.
What Gets To You?
When it comes right down to it, we are talking about images that really “get to you.” I’ve been in places where someone next to me burst into tears because of something meaningful of which I was completely unaware. It is the individual’s embracing of such moments and images that makes the world so beautiful.
My oldest daughter, only 22, has been married for several years now. You can imagine the four parents’ reservation when she and her boyfriend announced they were engaged. We lectured them and shook our heads, but despite all of that, they tied the knot. Last year they bought a house, and a few weeks ago they had “the families” over for a football Sunday.
I sat in a big comfortable chair and watched the two of them serve everyone the food they had prepared. I saw them “make busy” in the kitchen, bumping into each other, smiling, momentarily grasping hands. I had a ringside seat for all of it. As the realization came over me that they were finally doing what they had wanted to do from the beginning and had done very well for themselves, tears began to well in my eyes and I smiled.
On the way home I told my wife, “I’ll never forget that picture of the two of them.” She smiled and choked back a bit of sentiment and said, “I’ll never forget the look on your face while you were taking in that picture.” I cocked my head. “You saw that?” She eased her hand into mine. “Yeah,” tapping her forehead and closing her eyes, “it’s right here.”
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org