It's Not About You (Entirely)

by Caren Martineau

I’m not sure when Ira Glass became my favorite driving companion, but suffice it to say, it’s a relationship I shall never relinquish. His broadcasts transform my car into a sound booth retreat, a private listening chamber for generously intimate stories about life and death.

Which brings me to the story David Sedaris told on This American Life about home movies. It’s as if he and I shared the same photophobic mother. To this day, 40 years after her untimely passing, I have no idea why my mom was so camera averse. Sedaris’ story hit home. It illustrated that as much as one may think it’s all about individual choice, it is also very much about the importance of legacy. Evidence left behind for others to savor.  

 Excerpt from: This American Life Podcast: Just shoot me, read by David Sedaris ©2002

 After she died, we took turns holding her various belongings to our noses. Mom's coat, Mom's washcloth, Mom's pillow. This is what people do when they're left with such paltry iconography. They smell things, continuing long after the scent has faded, and it feels silly to stand in the living room sniffing your mother's hairbrush. She'd been dead for three years when my aunt sent a home movie she'd transferred to videotape. This was film shot in the mid-'70s, when she and my uncle had gone with our parents to the Virgin Islands. My sisters and I put the tape into the VCR and watched as my father silently pleaded with a locked door. We witnessed our aunt and uncle strolling white beaches and merrily waving from the deck of a boat. It wasn't until the end that we finally saw our mother and then only briefly. Whoever shot the footage had caught her unaware, walking out the door of a restaurant and slowly moving into the sun. It was such a small thing, our mother snapping shut her purse and putting one foot in front of the other, but it seemed to us like a miracle, like the way the movies must have seemed when they were very first invented. 

On seeing the camera, she covered her eyes and ran back inside. "Get lost," we imagined her saying. But this was the beauty of video. Our mother retreated into the restaurant, and, against her better wishes, we hit the rewind button, drawing her back out. She was ours now. And we sat there for hours, none of us speaking except to say, "Do it again."