I often question, as I recall personal events that once seemed important but that have faded from memory, my ability to have perspective. Sometimes, I take this to the extreme, and wonder what I will value in my final moments.
Where does one learn perspective? Is it taught by family and friends? Or in school or other communities? Does life guide us, as we invariably and increasingly witness evidence of our mortality, toward deeper and wiser perspective?
This appears clear – so much depends on the extent to which we observe, and how we process, death. This is no easy task in Western society, which encourages plausible denial of death. I’m not sure this has afforded us perspective on what matters, truly matters, during our limited time. I believe it takes real courage to accept that everything we see as so vital and integral to our lives will vanish.
Some of us will have the fortitude to go beyond the fear of our mortality and confront this unknown journey bravely. These portraits convey my admiration of 20 such individuals who face a premature or impending death and do so with acceptance and peace.
I spent the last two years taking these photographs. Accompanying them are excerpts from interviews and handwritten letters where I asked everyone to express what they were feeling. Some were more comfortable speaking, others in writing. There are passages of distilled insights and others with a more descriptive narrative – I value one way as much as I do the other. In a few instances, I cleaned up grammar for clarity but aside from that, you are reading their words as I heard and understood them.
The men and women who so generously shared with me their stories and personal beliefs are profoundly different and yet very much the same. From their diverse backgrounds and situations, among the least relevant facts were their former professions and the condition or disease to which they were succumbing, so I chose not to include that.
These testimonies of uniquely forged strength in facing death – and making sense of life with such brutal honesty – are something from which I believe we can all take inspiration, hopefully using it to enrich our own lives. Most of these wonderful people have passed, but I hope you will now remember them with me and treasure their perspective and wisdom.