Sunday, November 28, 2010

The referees are winning the game

Over the long weekend I learned that a former colleague and friend had died of lung cancer. Dick Bolton was a photographer extraordinaire, but more than anything else, he was a compassionate human being. I worked alongside Dick right around the turn of the century while I was working at The Morning Sun, a smallish daily newspaper in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. It’s right about smack dab in the middle of the Lower Peninsula.

Dick loved to talk, but he also had a knack for directing conversations where he wanted them to go. Not because he wanted you or anyone else to reach the same conclusions he had, or agree with his perspective; in fact, Dick would slyly take positions contrary to his own personal view just to watch how you would react. Dick wanted people to communicate. He sought to understand rather than to be understood.

He was also a bit of an imp, whose sly comments at times cut so deeply to the reality of a situation or person, you could easily miss his point. Another former colleague of mine, Lisa Yanick Jonaitis expressed it best when she described a particular trait Dick had when he was out at a high school football game shooting photos for the paper. The sports writers would call him and ask who was winning the game. “The referees are,” he would reply and say no more.

Dick knew I practiced Buddhism, but rarely would directly ask me anything about it. And when he did, after hearing my response, he would lament out loud that he wished some of the Christians he knew had followed such guidance. He also had a somewhat annoying habit of talking to me about women. He would go on about something about women in a vein that was clearly the type of conversation that two straight men would have, and after he would finish, I would look at him with this annoyed expression, wondering why isn’t he talking about this with the guys at the sports desk?

My most memorable experience with Dick was on a road trip assignment he and I took to the wine country of Northern Michigan. We visited three wineries: I did the interviewing while he shot the photos. They were beautiful photos. We had a room at a tiny hotel in Leelanau that was along the river right by a weir. The roar of the water going over the fall provided a constant and soothing white noise. Across the river we had dinner at a restaurant that started off with three or four martinis and led to a bottle of wine to go with a couple of massive steaks. We barely were able to stumble back to the hotel room, which required that we walk across a walkway over the top of the weir.

The next morning, before driving back to Mt. Pleasant, we drove out to Frankfort to the Lake Michigan shoreline. The beach at a small park was empty – it was mid-September – but just to the south we saw a group of college kids – two girls and a guy – walking along the edge of the waves as they broke upon the shore. We both gasped when we saw all three disrobe to begin frolicking naked in the surf. I remember Dick saying to me, “Well now, there is something for both of us.” We both cursed the fact that we didn’t have binoculars, but we got a decent look using the telephoto lens on his camera. We sighed, then went to his van to begin the drive back to Mt. Pleasant.

It was only within the last year that I had re-connected with Dick via Facebook. That was also when I began to realize he was battling cancer. As one of the phrases in the Five Remembrances states, we are of the nature to be sick, we have not got beyond disease. And of course, this is followed with death.

Death really isn’t so bad and doesn’t worry me much. It’s the dying part that really sucks. But from my perspective, Dick Bolton managed dying very well. And that counts for a lot.

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