The Beauty of Impermanence
Eleven years ago, I lost a beloved friend. Kit was a brilliant, funny, creative adventurer. He made xylophones and ocarinas by hand, walked around barefoot, danced capoeira, recited Shel Silverstein's lesser-known, wonderfully obscene poems by heart, and was a warm and loving friend. He had gone back to school to study astrophysics, and drowned suddenly during an internship at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. He and another boy got swept up in some rapids while swimming and, in a heartbeat, they were gone.
I've been thinking about Kit recently, as the anniversary of his death has rolled around again. I wonder what he would think about the life I've made for myself all these years later. When I look at photographs of him now, he looks like a child. I got older, but he never did.
The other day, I got out a few things that remind me of my old friend. A little pouch filled with shells and stones that I made for him (and that his mother mailed back to me after he died). A clay ocarina. Old contact sheets filled with images of the camping trips we went on and the wacky, mural-filled home we shared for a couple years. Good memories. Casually, I started to photograph some of the objects, and I found a good measure of joy and peace in the process. The little images I made bring alive a piece of my friend again, and honor his memory.
Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote, “Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.” So true. But, it occurs to me that we can use photography to celebrate impermanence - to honor the fragility of our one, precious life. Photography can help us to not take it all for granted quite so much.
It's so easy to operate as if everything in our lives is permanent, isn't it? We leave the house in the morning never doubting we'll come home later. We imagine that our relationships will stay the same and that our bodies will always be able and strong. My friend Kit placed his clothes on the bank of the river, never doubting he'd return to claim them. Imagining that life is permanent is certainly comforting, but lately I've begun to find a deeper comfort in the knowledge that it is impermanent. It makes me value each little moment I am lucky enough to have. Feeling the sun on my face, scratching my dog's joyous, upturned belly, hugging a friend, making photographs of the world I love - these things are achingly, beautifully fragile. Precious. I want to make photographs that celebrate these tender, transient moments. I want to look deeply so that I can see the joy that is present in change. Most of all, I want to enjoy every last minute of this wacky, wondrous life.