I don't remember the first time that I met Don. I'm sure that it was around 4pm one afternoon as he wandered into Niedlov's for a post-swim croissant and a cup of coffee. I'm sure that he told me about whatever book or literary article he had read that day, and then made a joke about how he really needs to cut back on his pastry consumption. I am sure that he caught me as I walked by his table, and engaged me in discussion about something, anything, in a way that only Don could.
This routine went on for a long time, casual, enlightening interactions with a man so generous with his knowledge. It must have been 2 years before we even exchanged names, at which point my coworker turned to me and said, "you know who that is, don't you?" He was my friend's grandfather. Sometimes you have friends in life that leave a mark; the kind of mark that touches your heart and sits there almost unnoticed, but ready for you when you need to be reminded you're not alone. Trenna must have got this from her grandfather.
After a while I accepted a new job opportunity and consequently I got to see less and less of Don, but this led to one of my favourite memories of him. One day, after a particularly long and painful day at work, the kind of day that makes you question your self and your worth, I decided to swing by the cafe for a bagel. As I walked through the door, Don - croissant in hand - turned around and gave me the biggest smile. He embraced me in the warmest hug and said "Ah! You get more beautiful every time I see you!" I have learned since then that he often had a way of giving people exactly what they needed when they need it most. It may not seem like much, but seeing him that day gave me the confidence I needed to choose my sanity over my work.
After I made the decision to leave my job, I had a lot of more free time to dedicate to my swimming. Swimming has always healed me physically and mentally. I have noticed that when I stop swimming things slowly but surely take a turn for the worse. One afternoon I went for a swim, and the lanes were all taken. A moment later a swimmer stood up and waved enthusiastically, inviting me to share a lane - lo and behold, it was Don. We ran into each other a couple more times after this, and though we never got much time to talk I always enjoyed the company of swimming beside him. I later learned that he, like me, had swam competitively in his youth.
One thing I have always struggled with in my photography is having the confidence to ask. For me, it's always been hardest to ask permission to take a picture. Private places, homes, people's portraits... no matter how much I wanted to, I had no courage to take advantage of the moment and to ask the simple question, "Can I take your photograph?" This is my one and only regret from my time with Don. He had kind eyes, a deep belly laugh, and a contagious smile. He radiated wisdom. I have never felt so much desire to take someones portrait. I am sure that had I asked, he would have been more than happy to help, because that is who he was.
When I learned that Don had passed I was devastated. This man, that I had spent only a handful of moments with, was gone and it left a huge hole in my heart. The impact this man had on my life was huge, and it seems he had this powerful effect on many, many others throughout his life. A few days after I received the news I went for a swim. It wasn't a conscious decision but it was what I needed. That morning as I swam, the light crept up the walls and danced all around the room. I wanted to photograph it. I owed it to Don to ask. I owe it to Don not to hold back anymore.