Goodbye Doc

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Photo – Merritt Brown

I lost a very dear friend yesterday.  2016 has been a rough year.

I met Merritt (Doc) Brown 40 years ago almost to the day at Hallmark Institute of Photography.  We were the third class to go through the school with a class size of a little over 30 people.  At the time Hallmark was a different place than it grew into.  It wasn’t accredited, you couldn’t get financial aid, you had to really want to be there.  It was also the first place in my entire life that I felt like I belonged and one of those reasons was Doc.

I am sharing some things here that will probably not mean as much if you didn’t know him but somehow it feels like everyone knew him.  When we were in school I thought he was probably the worst photographer I had ever met – truly.  He understood the process – his vision, exposure and printing – not so much.   I never saw him in any commercial realm of photography (at least as it was at that time – we’re talking 1977) but he had such a passion for what he was doing.  We’d be given assignments and many critiques were cringe worthy.  He never gave up and graduated with the rest of us (although in a recent conversation we both confessed that neither of us knew how he got through).

Now I can’t speak to how Merritt was before the “Hallmark experience”.  I do know that our time in that place changed us all.  It made us understand the value of friendship and the importance of maintaining the relationships you have.

Merritt had more friends than anyone I ever knew.  He maintained them well.  With the advent of social media he really came into his own.  Through it we could see that his passion for photography had only grown through the years.  He shared his images and his sometimes twisted philosophy with so many of us.  Always quick with a smart remark or advice or simple observation I looked forward to his running commentary on my life.  It was always positive.

This past year we had conversed more than usual and more about life in general than photography specifically. We shared the experience of children lost and found, something rather unique in my circle of friends.  I’m glad it was with him because he always could be counted on for truth in any situation.  He could see things as they were and would tell it like it is.  Last week I visited him at home and the conversation was more poignant.   He wished he had more time with his children and grandchildren.  It killed him to know that he wasn’t going to be around to enjoy some of Manop’s cooking. Fishing, he hadn’t been fishing at all this year.  He had a habit of shooting daily, was limited to home but he still had images to share with his friends. Clouds, he could photograph the clouds and since that’s where he was going he wanted to share them.

He knew he was at the end, he knew some of it had to do with the choices he’d made in life but there were really no regrets.  It had been quite the ride.  So this kind, gentle, larger than life soul left this earth yesterday and we are all sitting here in disbelief.  For me it’s left quite a hole.

My daughter-in-law recently commented on how many friends I have.  I’d never really thought about it before.  I do.  I have circles of friends from different times in my life.  I’ve maintained the ones that are most important to me.  Until now I didn’t realize there’s a downside to all of this, you have to move through losing them.

Our friends make up who we are, some more significantly then others, they teach us how to be.  We try to surround ourselves with the people who make us our better selves.  That’s what Merritt did for me, he made me just a little bit better.

Lace

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I grew up and currently live in a town with a population of a little over 300 people.  Although many of the faces have changed over the years I still am connected to the people who were a part of my childhood.  I remember when I was in the sixth grade there was a total of 32 kids in the entire school.  We didn’t have a third grade that year because there weren’t any kids that age.  My mother was “the chief cook and bottle washer” (her words) at the school so I remember the number of people she fed daily.

To say we were close with our peers at the time doesn’t really do justice to what our relationships were.  Yes, we went to school every week day.  We all were involved in 4-H in one way or another.  We spent time at each other’s homes, knew their parents, their extended families.  It was as though we were all related.  I figure there’s about a 15 year span on either side of my age of people I feel a certain closeness to.  These are people I always felt I knew better than the people I went to high school with.  When we are reunited for one reason or another it’s more than seeing a long ago friend, it’s more like reunion with a family member you haven’t seen in quite some time.  We have a tight, collective history.

I always think of my life as a woven piece of fabric.  As time goes by weft threads are added that represent the relationships I have.  Family, friends, acquaintances are all represented in one way or another. When I lose someone who is part of my life it creates a hole in the fabric itself.  Sometimes it ravels a little, sometimes the hole is so large it threatens to undermine the integrity of the fabric itself.  In the past few months three people I grew up with have died, all in their early 50’s.  It initially comes as a shock and for me it puts a little hole in the fabric.  Those holes are also where their threads end.  What initially starts as a fine fabric builds into a heavy, substantial cloth and I feel as though by the time it’s done it will be a beautiful lace.  With time the holes become less ragged and are transformed by memories into something beautiful.

My New Year’s Resolution

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I try to keep this blog upbeat  and centered around FPF but last night, being a little bored while waiting for my dinner to cook I was searching the internet.  I google peoples names that I was once close to trying to find out where they are now.  Not necessarily on FB because most of the people I’m looking for wouldn’t be on FB.

I should know better.

Last time I did this I was looking for a dear friend that I hadn’t seen in a long time.  She would always, always call me on my birthday.  Her husband had been a teacher of mine many years ago and we always stayed in touch.  I would always send her a Christmas card with pictures of the kids and she would joke about being the world’s worst correspondent.  I told her I didn’t mind, I knew it and we would always connect along the way.  The last time I talked to her was a painful conversation because she told me that her husband had died.

It was agonizing.

They were such a loving couple, a true team, the kind of yin and yang relationship that is so rare.  I was heartbroken – missing him but more for her pain.  He had died rather suddenly four months earlier and I had never heard her sound so broken.  We talked for a very long time and when I hung up I had to deal with my own grief over the news.

A year goes by, I sent my Christmas card but didn’t hear from her.  I figure she’s too busy to call and don’t think much about it for another year (yes, another year).  This time my Christmas card is returned.

I emailed a mutual friend then Googled her name and her obituary came up.  Sigh . . .

It would have been better to hear it from a friend I think.  I reeled for a few weeks at her loss (and she really had been gone for some time).  I swore I would never do that again.

Fast forward to 1/2/2013.   The above mentioned couple had introduced me to a friend of theirs – a Catholic priest who was maybe a few years older than I am.  (This was a different life mind you, about 30 years ago).  My religious phase – a subject for another time.  This man was truly wonderful.  He was the most gentle soul I have ever met.  He was in a parish in eastern Mass. at the time.  We had many, many conversations about the church, theology, life.  I kept in touch with him for many years through letters mostly and I would see him every once in a while.  He was the only priest I had ever met that was a regular guy.

Last night I Googled his name and the first thing that popped up was an article about him leaving the church due to his scandalous affairs with a couple of women.  Nooooooooo . . .

What this really got me to thinking about was how our whole reality has changed with all of this information.  Ten years ago I may have wondered , “Hmmmm, I wonder where so and so is?”, but the effort to find them would have been pretty intense and I would have just continued to wonder and they would have remained in stasis.  I would have found out about peoples deaths from mutual friends (maybe).  I would never have known about people I care about and respect being involved in and characterized as demons by the press.  I would just be living my life remembering how wonderful all of these relationships were and in my mind remained that way.

My resolution for 2013 and beyond is to never Google another person again because I don’t want to know.  I would rather live my life in ignorant bliss.