Year Six: Still Learning from Harold

On the beach in Emerald Isle, 1988,© Beth Black

When I hit the five year mark last year I considered whether or not I would continue to share thoughts each years. Maybe 5 was such a nice round number and now it’s time to quit writing a yearly blog post. But, here it is, Year Six, and I welcome the opportunity to continue to share my thoughts about this man I loved for 27 years (and still do!).

A friend called me a few days ago knowing that I was feeling blue. At one point in the conversation she asked whether or not it was because the date of Harold’s passing was again upon me. I hadn’t really stopped to think about the connection since I had been feeling a bit heavy for about a week and couldn’t seem to shake it. Could it be that something gets wired into one’s biology with this kind of loss — such that, even if you’re not thinking about it consciously, it seeps in when the sun goes round again…365 days and one more year. It seems to have some logic to it.

[caption id="attachment_11263" align="alignleft" width="345"] Judith and Harold, Ogunquit, ME © Ruth Thompson, 2010

What I do know is that I so frequently come across something Harold has written and I pause to digest the sychronicity of how it comes at just the right moment. Sometimes I cry. Not the kind of deep grieving crying of the earlier years (though that does happen too), but more a kind of poignant appreciation. Sometimes it even comes with a kind of recrimination:  “Why didn’t I listen to your wisdom when I had you here?” And, just to be clear — I did listen, and not infrequently I got out the tape recorder. But, I feel that only now I am beginning to truly understand the love and appreciation which followed him as so many students kept comoing back year after year — yes, to learn photography, but just as much, and maybe more, to learn about life.

So, just today when I opened up my “Harold’s writings” file in my computer the first thing I came across was as if written to me in this moment in time.

From Harold’s teaching notebook, 1977

Harold, Christmas, 2013

These words are not unlike many you might read in a self-help book,  but their impact on me (and his students I’m sure) comes from knowing the man and realizing that this is, in fact,  how he lived his life — with a kind of trust in the rightness of things, and a passionate belief that we all are expressions of a larger creative flow that some might call God and others might just simply call creativity. His commitment to his students (and to me) was to blow on the spark of their innate connection to that creative flow and encourage them to embrace the flame. While I have my regrets that I was unable to truly receive what he wanted me to see aboout myself  (we’re talking decades of old crusty patterns of self-judgment occluding my vision!), I can now hear his words and give a little “I get it” nod.

I posted the video below within a few days of his passing.  It is an excerpt from my final taped conversation with him several days before he died. He was not in a consistently clear cognitive place, and his various medical “cocktails” didn’t help with that.  But even as his mind was cloudy, his soul shone through. Each time I listen something more sinks in.  There’s the words…and then there’s the summation of 84 years of incredible presence and reverence for life.  It’s really beyond the words.

Life is on your side.”  I’m still learning that and waking up to the understanding of what a  profound anchor those simple words were for him.  He lived into those words out of an absolutely organic alliance with them.  And it’s what he saw and what he shared through his art.  It’s what he radiated.  A joy.  A gift.  I’m eternally grateful.  I’m still learning each and every day.

Life is on your side: A conversation with Harold on June 17, photo: Michael Lloyd, 2015