It's been a while since I last shared something in this blog. I have plenty to catch up on, but I wanted to begin with a personal story. There is a connection to my work, but it might not be obvious until the end.
Many, many moons ago, when I was in primary/grade school, I had a friend called Darren. I didn't hang out with him as much as some over friends, but that was partially because Darren had a condition that made a lot of playground games difficult and dangerous for him. One of the few memories of him that I can recall clearly is having a great time at one of his birthday parties. Darren was a lively, funny, mischievous little kid. That aspect of him always stood out, especially since he had a very severe, painful form of psoriasis that must have been an incredible burden. He would often miss days or weeks of school from time in hospital, and yet I remember him being one of those people who is fun to be around. I'm sure he had a lot of sadness in him. Some kids must have teased him (that's what some kids do) about his condition, and it must have got to him sometimes, but I don't really remember that.
One day, Darren went into hospital and he didn't come back. He was ten years old.
His passing was not the first I'd experienced, but it was the first young person. I remember the church where his funeral was. I remember helping to plant a tree in his memory in the school playing field. I could comprehend what had happened, but it seemed incredibly unfair and that was probably the first time I felt mortal.
Children adapt well and we moved on with our lives, but I've thought of him now and then over the years. As I remember him now, that cheerfulness, even joie de vivre, in the face of adversity that he shared still stays with me. I don't have his personality (and perhaps adults can never recapture the joy of being a child), but I try to live up to the lesson that he inadvertently taught me. Bad things will happen in your life, and your attitude may not change those things, but it can make them pass more easily. The other lesson he taught me is perhaps more profound. There is no order and no system of fairness in matters of life and death. Only today is guaranteed.
He is one of the reasons I left a safe and secure desk job behind to be a 'starving artist' in the mountains. Spending time on a nameless mountain summit or sharing a patch of wilderness with an elusive wild animal is what makes me happy, and I feel I owe it to people like Darren to enjoy my time. The fact that I've become a decent photographer is the icing on the cake.
As I thought of Darren earlier this year, I searched for his name online and found nothing. Our primary school years came and went long before the internet was around. I like to be anonymous when I'm not working, but for some reason it seemed wrong that Darren didn't exist on the internet. I felt compelled to right that wrong. Darren Paul Mansfield, this one is for you.