I’ve been sitting this story for almost three months. I’ve spent a lot of the last three months sitting on my ass, without the slightest sense of guilt, while I worked my way through an difficult summer, and grieving two significant, personal losses.
I’m now feeling like I’ve processed what I can, and am feeling at peace, and content. There’s no completely recovering from the death of someone that is, or was important
in one’s life. Nor should there be. It’s part of the price, if you will, of love. The memories are the long lasting rewards. So are some of the lessons.
We’ve all had a bumpy ride throughout most of 2016, let’s face it. It’s been a year marked with the loss of personal heroes; artists that influenced our youth, that enrich our lives, with their stories. We’ve had turmoil and sadness.
While this particular story germinates in loss, it moves quickly to my intended essence; appreciation of the little things. The random moments of beauty and connection, the gifts of gratitude and remembrance, honouring each other. Acknowledgment of our differences, and highlighting, seeking out, our similarities.
On the morning Tom passed away, in early August, I had planned to meet with his family, at his place, to help sort of Tom’s belongings. We had spent hours together with Tom the day before, and had each said our goodbyes. This was a chance to keep to our plan, and to spend some time together, in the shadows of his death. Going through Tom’s belongings was revealing, I saw a side of Tom I didn’t know. Seeing the things that he kept, that meant something to him. The personal stuff that we all have. The time together was comforting and oddly light. It was so profoundly moving. And sad, of course. It was also beautiful; here we were, three people absolutely comfortable in our shared and individual grieving. Four weeks prior to this, we had never met. This is family.
Tom apparently, was setting in for the zombie takeover. He had stashes of rolling papers, cigarette lighters, loose packets and cartons of cigarettes. Some opened, some not. And enough peanuts to feed the entire population of squirrels at City Hall, through a long winter!
His Tilly hat collection. Tom’s leather biker jacket. He treasured that. On the last day that Tom was outside, I was walking him home and he had a bad fall. We sat on the sidewalk, me holding Tom up, while we made sure he was okay, relatively speaking. I recall saying to Tom that it was a good thing he had decided to wear his biker jacket that day; judging by the scuff marks in the leather from the sidewalk, it had most definitely limited some of the flesh wounds and road rash Tom suffered in that fall.
I was gifted the jacket. It sits in a bag, under my bed. Time will decide what happens with this treasured memory.
I asked if I could have the cigarettes. It seemed silly to throw them away. We’re all non-smokers. I admittedly am the worst kind–a reformed smoker. I started smoking when I was 13, and stopped, finally, on my 40th birthday. I find it disgusting now, personally. I also understand addiction, intimately. I digress.
I thought I’d give the cigarettes away. It seemed to me that’s what Tom would have liked. In all, there were FORTY THREE full packets of cigarettes, once we had collected them, from a number of stashes in various areas of his single room.
Tom passed away on August 05th, just two weeks short of him turning 61. On Tom’s birthday, I decided to go out, armed with this bag of cigarettes, and give them away to honour Tom’s birthday. It was liking spending time, going for a walk, with Tom.
I was intent on giving them away to people that I felt might be appreciative of a free pack of smokes. Typically, I started to create a series of statements which I used to approach each person. This wasn’t about gathering anyone’s story. It was about sharing with another person. Connecting, however briefly, is a two-way gift.
I approached folk who were asking for help, or collecting empties, or sitting on benches with what may be all their worldly possession’s, in a few bags next to them, or at their feet.
When I found someone who smoked, and not everyone did, I asked if I could tell them a quick, short story. Not one person said no to hearing my story.
“My good friend Tom passed away recently, and today is his birthday. I inherited a bunch of cigarettes, and I wanted to celebrate my friend’s birthday by giving away the smokes to people that could do with a gift from Tom.”
The smiles and instant, authentic connection was palpable.
Then I made my the rest of my pitch. I explained that I wanted to do a small tribute project to Tom, and asked if I could take a photograph of just their eyes. Nothing else would be in the image. Only one person turned down my offer at that point. I get it.
I gave each person a pack of smokes and then asked to take a photo of their eyes. In most cases I only took one photograph. I told each person “When I take your photo, I’m going to say something, and the picture will be only of your eyes, reacting to what I say.”
As I was about to take each photo, I said what I’ve come to believe, are two of the most important words we can use. “Ready? Thank you.”
What a gift. #notastranger