Clues were scarce.
As I scanned through the hundreds of pictures and videos with the tiny left-right arrows, there were only a few hints at who the camera’s owner might be. The face at the end of an outstretched arm, framing itself from a distance was that of a young sandy haired man. The first few photos appeared to be of a military academy graduation, but my knowledge of the armed services did not equip me with the ability to identify the branch. The last few photos, hauntingly, showed the beach along the great Salt Lake where I’d found it. Snapped just moments before I’d arrived there with my friends Matt and Mark to test whether the rumors of supreme buoyancy were true, those pictures chronicled a similar experiment shared between people I suspected would always be strangers to me.
It was day thirteen going on fourteen of a vacation across the American west on July 31st, 2009 and I was due to fly thirteen-hundred miles back to the Midwest the following day. A week earlier, while descending 3200 feet from Stony Indian pass in Glacier National Park my own point-and-shoot camera had slipped from my hands and exploded like a soda can full of glitter upon a slab of granite at my feet.
Though I felt blessed holding it’s cosmically bequeathed replacement in my hands, I couldn’t help but sympathize with the unknown smiles captured in each photo I flipped through on it’s tiny screen.
It was obvious that what I held in my hands was a chronicle of a summer of celebration. Over 200 pictures and videos of travels beginning with a graduation. Family trips. Exploration. Memories.
My search for the camera’s owner started logically and simply. A call to the Antelope Island headquarters yielded no reports of a lost camera. Once I returned home, I reviewed the catalog of pictures on my computer and meticulously poured over the images looking for clues. No license plates, no diploma pictures. There was a brief moment of hope when I spotted a last name on the front of some BDU’s worn by what appeared to be the owner’s father. But without a first name, there was no way to know for sure. I googled phrases like ” lost my camera at the great salt+lake” and “lost camera at antelope+island” I signed up on a couple of lost camera websites and shared salient points about the details of the camera’s discovery in hopes that the owner would go-a-googling too. Although a year and a half passed without a clue surfacing, I’d stubbornly resolved to some-day find the owner. Over the past few months, as I’ve prepared to embark on another journey, the camera resurfaced amongst my belongings. At last, begrudgingly, I resigned myself to put it to use.
A quick visit to ebay yielded a new battery and charger for slightly more than the cost of postage. Upon the arrival of my new accessories, I decided to browse the photos one last time before deleting them forever and claiming the camera as my own with which to capture my own archive of travels. In this last viewing, something new caught my eye. A box, mostly out of frame, upon a table at what looked to be a graduation dinner.
My fingers moved fast: Right Click>Open With> Photoshop CS3
As the pixelated image of the box at the table’s edge filled the screen, I realized I was within reach of finding the camera’s owner. It was a Josten’s box. Probably containing a class ring, or graduation announcement or other such milestone marking memorabilia, the box was exactly the clue I’d been looking for to link all the pieces together. Visible barely within frame was part of a shipping label, the most important parts: Last name. Zip code.
It was enough to deduce the graduating academy.
Within moments I was on the phone speaking consecutively with several employees of Josten’s customer service department as I was put on hold and transferred up the chain of command after each before them had been regaled with a story of my attempt to reunite a 2009 Colorado Springs Air Force Academy graduate with his camera, and how I’d come to posses it. Less than 45 minutes after an abridged account of the whole saga had been left on customer service manager “Dawn’s” voice mail, I received a phone call from an incredulous and appreciative guy now living in Logan, Utah.
I just returned home from the post office a few moments ago, shipping receipt in hand. It would be easy for me to concede that this receipt is all I have to show for my hours of playing Horatio Caine and the year of self restraint that kept me from deleting the pictures outright and hawking the camera on ebay. But in truth, I’ve been given an opportunity to appreciate a perspective wholly unique to the clockwork of the universe.
Dozens of times throughout my life I’ve received the metaphorical phone call from a Josten’s employee informing me that someone found my camera and wanted to return it. I’ve always passively accepted the gifts and blessings handed to me without much understanding of the intricacies and details that needed to exist in order for that final connection to be made. I’ve always trusted that what had fallen into my lap had done so for a reason, and I’ve accepted it without questioning the myriad factors required to get it there. What strikes me now is that over the year or so of periodically holding out hope that I’d find the camera’s owner, I never once felt like I was on a mission to execute some higher purpose. After-all, it’s just a camera… not a kidney.
Truth be told, my motives were mostly selfish. I enjoyed the puzzle of it… the mystery to be solved. Yet in the end, something wholly implausible yet altogether positive resulted for a guy in Utah who had but to answer the phone and recieve. Not to wrap this whole thing up into a cute and quotable bundle, but it really makes me pause to consider what blessings each of us are blindly and unflatteringly executing everyday by indulging what motivates us in the ways we were created to be.