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On May 28th, my wife Julie carefully digitized and prepared forty photographs for inclusion in a video production. Mind you these were not just any photographs, and the job not just any job. These pictures were the mosaic of a life—tattered black-and-whites of a 1920s toddler; reflections of post-war youth and beauty; a growing family with joys and struggles; travel and celebrations; and yes, the frailty of the final years. It didn’t matter for Julie that this was the 3,500th time our small shop had intimately and vicariously lived an entire life through photos; this one was special. It was special because as a memorial tribute, it was impossible for it to be otherwise.

With me as her less-than-brilliant tech geek—Julie and I started People Power Productions in 2001, a video production and multimedia firm dedicated to artistically celebrating and preserving personal stories and images using new digital media. As the exclusive provider for a large local funeral home, as well as others in Southern Michigan and Northern Ohio, memorial tributes are at the core of our little business. Given the realization of the milestone, it got us reflecting a bit on what we have seen, and what the sometimes minimalist living it provides has meant to us.

In all likelihood, after personally preparing and processing the vast majority of these estimated 140,000 birth-to-death images, probably few people in the entire world have had the front-row, intimate perspective on life that Julie has gained through this work.

“You can’t help but be affected,” she told me. “These pictures have taught me so much about how people live, how they love, how they struggle, how they find joy.” They have even taught us how they die. But probably most of all, they’ve shown us the natural course of aging. Clearly outer beauty is fleeting, but family, love, friends, and inner beauty are what sustain us to the end. 

And while the aging process seems natural, even beautiful, the same cannot be said for the countless tributes she has created for lives cut short. Toughest of all are the children. Honestly, sometimes it does take a toll on her. We’ll never forget crafting together a program for a lovely eleven year-old girl—the same age as our son at the time. She had come home from school and choked to death on her after-school snack: ramon noodles, then our son’s favorite as well. It sure struck a chord.

Three of my favorite words and concepts are perspective, appreciation, and capacity. In a way the business has been a constant reminder to maintain perspective; for that we are grateful. We see that so many people have, by nature and environmental forces beyond their control, such widely varying capacities for connectedness, love, intellect, achievement, health, wealth, and well-being. Indeed we are grateful for our opportunities in life, and for the humbling chance to learn from these lives.

(By Stephen L. Gibson, freely circulate with citations, CC 2009, Attribution-No Derivatives; and

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