It’s All Relative

Back when I was still in the early stages of working with computers and not completely tuned in to the benefit (necessity) of saving and backing up, I lost a long chapter of a novel I was working on. Don’t ask me how. I couldn’t have told you even then. Since that hard lesson I’ve heard much more dramatic tales of woe–the permanent disappearance of multiple chapters, whole manuscripts, boxes of research, editorial notes, critical emails. So I’ve made myself very accustomed to frequent visits to “save” and making use of the “undo” function and backing up in multiple places.

I hope you haven’t suffered any major losses of your creative output. But your losses (if you have any) probably don’t stand up to those of LIFE photographer Robert Capa. I know mine don’t.

In anticipation of our upcoming visit to Normandy, I’m reading Stephen Ambrose’s D-DAY, a thorough and thoroughly gripping account of–what else–the Allies’ invasion of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. In his book, which contains some striking photos, Ambrose tells the story of Capa, who risked life and limb to go ashore with the second wave to hit Omaha Beach. He took 106 pictures, managed to get back to a landing craft and later that night to Portsmouth, England, and then took the train to London, where he turned in his film for developing. But the darkroom assistant was so excited and eager to see the pictures that he set the heat too high while drying the negatives and completely ruined all but eight. The book doesn’t mention subsequent cursing outs, assaults, mayhem, homicide, suicide, whatever. But can you imagine the anguish?

Maybe, though, the anguish was lessened somewhat by the big-picture drama of the day and the days to follow. Because compared to the losses of life and limb and blood and friendships and loved ones on the beaches and fields and towns of Normandy, on the surrounding seas and in the skies overhead, what kind of value could you put on some photos?

And my lost chapter? It was nothing.


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