Soul Selfie

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What’s in a photo? Maybe a lot if it helps define life before and life after a life-changing event. Tom Moriarty has this Perspective.

My iPhone recently took a picture of my soul, which, as you might imagine, caught me by surprise.

It happened the other day while my wife, Loren, and I were cooking dinner and watching the end of some game on TV. I was scrolling through photos on my phone, sending pictures to Loren's brothers in Canada and Australia via WhatsApp, and to my brother and his wife via text message.

Loren and I had gotten all gussied up for our passport photos that afternoon, only to discover after a long walk downtown to the San Jose Fed-Ex print and ship store that it was closed on Sundays, despite what it said on the website.

No bother. We got Philz coffee and took our own photos in front of a colorful mural on First Street, just south of the old post office.


Back home, I showed Loren two of the photos on my phone. She was wearing a hat and sunglasses in one, just a hat in the other.

“You look good,” I said, “even in the one without sunglasses.”

Loren looked over at my phone and smiled. “I do look good,” she said. “But imagine how good I looked before.”

“Before” is before metastatic breast cancer, before whole-brain radiation that left Loren with permanent male-pattern baldness.

“I always did look good in hats,” she added.

I agreed, and scrolled back through thousands of photos until I finally came to “before:” the summer of 2016.

Loren did have a lot of hair, and she did look good in hats. But the quality of our photos was different back then, oddly curated and impersonal. For every selfie or photo with other people, there were 10 reference photos, perfect for reminding ourselves what we were doing or where we were going. Perfect for posting on Facebook.

They weren't exactly lifeless, just clean and easy to interpret by people who were not there. Not messy and hopelessly contextual, full of people and full of life, difficult to interpret unless you were there.

Our lives were better before cancer — I will never say that serious illness is a good thing, or a blessing in disguise. But my phone showed me that Loren and I are better at living our lives after it.

With a Perspective, I’m Tom Moriarty.

Tom Moriarty teaches writing and rhetoric at San Jose State University.