The Power of Connection

A few weeks ago I got an intriguing tweet from an account in Spain: “How could we have a conversation? We’ve found some photos.” I didn’t know the sender or what he knew about me.

“What photos?,” I replied. Other questions that I didn’t ask bumped into my head. Who are you? Why me? Do I need to be scared? Do I need a lawyer? “Photos,” he said, “A suitcase full of them.”

For a couple days I grappled with the idea that he could harm me, my reputation, or my family. Nah, I decided.

Because of the time difference and my work and (I supposed) his study schedule, I’d write a tweet at night and only when I turned the airplane mode off in the morning, would I find his reply.

Then, one day, we were on Twitter at the same time and the whole story unfolded.

My sister had moved into my parents’ house when my father was terminally ill. When he passed, she stayed in the house with everything that was inside, including thousands of photos that my father had obsessively stored in a large (very large) drawer.

My father was a compulsive collector. The gazillion photos he’d kept since, well, forever, had surpassed his organization skills and you could find photos of me in London when I was 16 besides an image of my mother playing with a lion cub in Lisbon in 1968, near a picture of my nephew laughing under the dining table in Madrid when he was three, or one of my sister in the Great Pyramids in 1987.

After my mother also passed, my sister decided to move to the beach. She needed to get rid of everything she didn’t want and I convinced her that she didn’t want all the photos. But discarding was hard, so, when she moved, she took all of them with her, leaving the choosing for later.

It took her almost four years and gallons of tears to select the images she wanted. The rest, she put them in a suitcase to be picked up along with the garbage.

A young girl saw the suitcase. It looked pretty new and sturdy — a dark green Samsonite she could use for her upcoming trip. She lifted it and felt it wasn’t empty. She opened it to find our family’s life.

She texted her cousin immediately. They had to do something to return the suitcase. And the photos: a whole life was in them.

Alicia and Alvaro started a methodical analysis of the images. They found names, dates, places. They categorized the pictures: this is the father, “Someone important,” Alvaro DM’d me. These are the daughters. This is the wife. They’ve been to places, many places, “All over the world,” he said.

They found my name written on a school ID card — my father kept such things — and searched me on Facebook. They found me and then my sister. And the man with the beard, the daughters, one of them lives in New York now, the wife, the mother-in-law, the grandchildren, the friends, the sister-in-law who lives in Oklahoma, the niece who lives in San Francisco.

They thought that Facebook was too intrusive, so Alvaro found me on Twitter and we started a conversation via tagged tweets.

After I persuaded him that we didn’t want the photos back — especially not my sister — he and Alicia sent me a beautiful, long message on Facebook. They told me how they’d known me and my family through a suitcase full of photos.

I was moved by the power of connection. By how this young man from a small beach village in the south of Spain was able to connect with me, a Spaniard in New York, probably 20 years older than him.

By how two digital natives found a whole family’s memories on paper and used the technologies of their time to find one of the real persons who owned those memories.

And above all, by how fortunate I’ve been to receive such an unexpected gift from two unknown persons who cared enough to connect.

I’m grateful that I haven’t missed a unique opportunity to connect.