This story is not imagined.
In the middle of a winter’s day with the sun perched on a bed of blue; one of those days when a dry cold bites your bones, I went for a walk.
Passing a wooden ramp slanting toward the sand, I saw him. Click.
And I kept walking.
After 20 minutes the cold sting on my face convinced me that a short walk would do. But first a quick look at the photograph. Then I turned my head back to the ramp. He was still there. His posture had not changed. Not one bit. He was frozen on that ramp.
I guess curiosity is a juxtaposition of the photographer’s blessing and curse. I couldn’t let it go. I stepped across the asphalt boardwalk to the wooden slats of the ramp and walked right up beside him. Inches from him. And saw this. Click.
Dammit, I thought. This might not go well. I knew he heard the soft sound of the shutter. I was that close.
“Hey” I said, nonchalantly leaning an elbow on the rail beside a stranger with Fuck It stitched to the side of his hat.
“Hey,” was all that came back.
A slow exhale of relief.
“I know what you’re doing,” he said turning to me. “You’re taking images on the run.”
Images on the run. Now why would he use that particular phrase? (If you’re a photographer, you know why I wondered.)
“I took your picture, but I’m not gonna run as long as you don’t mind me standing here.”
“I don’t mind. You can take all the pictures you want.”
So I did. And while I did he talked. Not as a stranger, but as he would have talked to anyone standing there beside him on that day at that time on that ramp.
What follows here isn’t imagined. It is not. I did my best to write his words on a blank sheet inside my head as carefully as I could. I’m writing it down here just as I remember him saying it.
After I figured out that the United States was behind 9-11, I dropped out. There’s no humanity left. We don’t need to worry about God destroying the world, we need to worry about what we’re doing to it. The next war won’t be fought somewhere else, it will be right here. It’s happening now. If you look you’ll see it.
I can smoke a little weed and get thrown in jail. But I can get high on government sanctioned handouts right up the street. How does that make sense? You have to know who the enemy really is?
Stop before you read on. Set aside your judgment. His words came from a deep place. He wasn’t ranting. He spoke slowly, calmly. He wasn’t trying to convince me, to sway me into agreement. No, he was just telling me what he believed. Sharing it. Putting his beliefs out there for me to take or leave.
He looked at the Chesapeake Bay to the left. To the Atlantic Ocean on the right.
And then said this.
Embrace the day. Cherish the past and don’t be afraid of the future. The water may be choppy at the shore but you have to get in the deep water to swim. The deep water is scary at first because nothing’s there to catch you. You have to catch yourself. But that’s the beauty of it. Once you do, everything is ok.
Get in the deep water. Swim. Catch yourself. And everything is ok.
“My name’s Philip,” I said.