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A New Lens for Old Photos

“When I look at my old pictures, all I can see is what I used to be but am no longer. I think: What I can see is what I am not.”  ― Aleksandar Hemon

kim phuc quote

If you had to summarize the entirety of your life in one photograph, which one would you use?

The one with your scrunched up, round little face taken the day you were born?

Or perhaps the one taken on the day you graduated college or when you got married?

Or maybe the one when you held your first born for the first time… or the one of you holding the hand of a dear friend for the last time? 

For Kim Phuc, a photo that best summarized her life was taken on the worst day of her life. It’s also one of the most important and widely recognized photos ever taken.  Let me explain.

The Terror of War

Just months before the U.S. pulled out of the Vietnam War – as our casualties rose to more than 58,000 – the catastrophic effect on the civilian population was beginning to come into full view, too. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese citizens died in the war and more than a million were wounded. 

There is no picture that more grotesquely and aptly captures the agony of this time than the one of little Kim; so much so that it received a Pulitzer Prize.

As photographer Nick Ut made way toward a small Vietnamese town on June 8, 1972, he heard the roar of a jet overhead and then the thunder of napalm bombs exploding. He gathered himself after the percussion, lifted himself off the two lane road, turned back to what had been the town, raised his camera and took a picture.

The picture shows what remained of the small Vietnamese village. It shows the napalm still burning in the background, dark grey smoke billowing up and soldiers carrying guns walking toward him. And it shows in front of the town, smoke, flames and soldiers, little children running frantically for their lives.

In the middle of this chaos, one little girl stands out. She’s totally naked, burned, wailing and racing from the fire. It is the type of photograph that reminds us that behind words like “collateral damage” exists individual lives, permanently altered or lost. [Photo available here]

After taking this picture, Nick set his camera down, ran to the girl, commandeered a truck and took her to the hospital. Nine-year-old Kim Phuc was expected to die. She survived and became a living example that behind all numbers exist individuals’ stories.   

[In one of my favorite interviews yet, Kim shared the struggle of the day, the need to forgive and the life she’s discovered since. It’s an awesome conversation. Please listen here.]

Although that picture defined her life for decades, it no longer does. 

Love Heals

The little girl grew up. She had doubts and struggled physically. She grappled with her scars and wondered if she’d ever find love. 

Well, she found love and today, the picture that most aptly defines her life would be the one in which Kim is seated, revealing thick scars on her arms and back, but more importantly, holding her own child in her arms with a look of total joy on her face. [Photo available here]

My friends, when we look at our old pictures, it’s easy to see what we used to be and no longer are. I invite you to look again and consider seeing something else: Not only all you once were, but all you can still be. [Tweet this.]

Because while it is true our past has led us perfectly to where we are today, it’s also true that our mindset, choices and actions today will lead directly to where we end up tomorrow.

In a world where people frequently choose to be victims to the past and negativity of today, choose instead to be like Kim. Choose to be refined through those experiences and even more beautiful, compassionate and alive because of them.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

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