When friends pass we realize this reality; but it’s ever-present. We are just living in a bubble of perpetual unawareness. The numbness at this truth is temporary–it must ultimately be replaced with some feeling. Some resolution. Nothing outlives us besides what we make people feel. In some ways there is nothing more important because that is ultimately our legacy, nothing more–and nothing less. I’ve been struggling with the loss of my friend who had taken me and my family in over the last few months when we were in Las Vegas, stranded, after my car was totaled in a hit and run accident. He’d give to others to the point that it was absurd. It didn’t seem possible that someone so generous could keep nothing left in the tank to sustain the joy that he gave to everyone else.
Chris Pittman always managed to make everyone feel important. He’d take you seriously if you shared a big goal. He wasn’t the guy who’d ask ‘Yeah, but are you sure that’s a good idea?’ or ‘How are you going to get funding for that?’ He had a special appreciation for the outrageous. His habit of living with life with no half measures was comforting in an odd sort of way. He’d always manage to catch his shoe laces on a Manzanita bush while hiking along the edge of a 500 foot cliff and somehow still walk away and be able to laugh about it. His approach was like that of a child on a playground. Always ready to share what he had and be your friend with no expectation of return or benefit.
Now he’s gone and suddenly everything seems more dire. The bubble has popped–for a time at least. His levity was able to shield some of us and lift others to great heights. Still it couldn’t pull him from the sinking sands. None of us could. The last time I spoke to him he said ‘It’s good to hear from you. I haven’t really been communicating with anyone.’ He had given up his seat on the lifeboat–not to be heroic. He said he just wanted to go for a swim. None of the outstretched arms could make him stay on board.
In the last few days I’ve had this feeling where I’m going along with my day, happy and then suddenly I’ll trip over that hole that he left. While comforting me, a friend told me that this type of thing never goes away. She said, ‘You can’t try to understand it all or make it stop. You have to accept the pain and be content with holding on to the good shit. That’s how you keep from falling in that hole’.
The loss of my car in Las Vegas and the delay that had me wracked with anxiety over the last few months–gave me the chance to spend my last times with Pittman. That’s a special anchor to hold onto. I got to tell him how I loved him and that he was important to me. We talked about trying to turn his struggle with depression into an adventure project that could reach other people and shine a light into their world.
Time that I had anxiously spent waiting to get back on the road became a gift in hindsight. Sheer boredom forced me to focus on creation while I passed the time. I didn’t have anything grand or adventurous to photograph so I took pictures of my friend. Those are the last photos of him. Even with the solace of knowing that I didn’t miss opportunities with him–he’s still gone and it still hurts. Some things are out of our hands and when that realization hits, we can only hang on to the good shit, because that’s all that’s left in the end. That’s all that’s worth investing in, every day.
Pick up that camera. Take that photo. Write that email. Climb that mountain. Your legacy doesn’t belong to you. It’s not the monolithic magnum opus of the driven competitor that is too easily romanticized and too quickly forgotten. It’s not the act of ambition–but the way you make people feel along your path to the top. Those are the ashes which remain to commemorate our fire long after it has gone cold; they filter down through the sheen of our bubble-walls in which our life is guaranteed and suffering is optional.