Mysteries of memory organization: the Relocation Bump

I had the pleasure of photographing this family, in their Berkeley yard, the Saturday before Father’s Day. The photoshoot was booked by dad, as a Father’s Day gift to himself, because he is very, very wise.

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The uncharacteristically sunny afternoon was pregnant with anticipation. Both sons will leave home soon to study. By fall, the proverbial nest will be empty. On the day I photographed them, the family was very aware of the closing of a metaphorical chapter.

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Their discussion got me thinking about major life transitions more generally. Although we typically think of change as “difficult,” the basic premise of most stress and coping literature is that there’s no such thing as an inherently difficult life transition. Our experience of stress is a direct result of our thoughts, and thoughts are highly unique to the individual. As holocaust survivor Victor Frankl put it, “the last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

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What does seem to be more universal about life transitions is how we organize them. Life span researchers out of University of New Hampshire have observed that, of all life’s changes, home transitions in adult life are the most memorable. They dubbed our tendency to make this sort of move the centerpieces of our recalled life events the Relocation Bump. Although this family may never again share a home, they will likely share a sense of the pivotal quality of this moment in each of their lives.

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I love knowing that, as they move into the future, they’ll have these dreamy, intimate photographs to anchor their memories.