Amazon Showcase is unable to function within your current server settings. Please either set "allow_url_fopen" to 1, or enable cURL.

It's A Process | Essays, fiction, and poetry from David Harkins

We were on our way to somewhere. Traveling in a large RV through the countryside, we watched the sun dip below the horizon, and the bright greens of summer slowly become shades of black. I looked down to see the gas gauge floating at half-full, and I had not seen a gas station for miles.

Not knowing how far we were from where we were going, I turned to dad and said, “I’m going to stop at the next gas station I see to fill up. I’m a little worried about running out of gas.” Dad seemed lost in thought, but he turned to me and the familiar gaze indicated to me he hadn’t understood, or maybe had not heard what I had said.

“I’m going to stop for gas, soon,” I repeated louder. Dad nodded and smiled as if to acknowledge he had heard what I said this time.

A few miles later a white clapboard store appeared on the left. Several cars were on the lot in front, and a neon “open” sign pierced the dusk. As I got closer, I could see two old gasoline pumps in front of the store under a small canopy just large enough to protect the pumps, and maybe a customer pumping gas, from the day’s weather.

“I’m going to stop here, dad.” Dad just stared ahead and said nothing as I pulled in next to the pumps. I climbed down from the RV, opened the tank cap, pulled the hose off the pump, flipped the pump switch and began refueling.

It was dark now. The one fluorescent bulb flickering above the pumps and dim glow from the store window was barely enough light for me to see the gallon markers slowly roll by as I refilled the tank. The steady click of the pump gave way to the soft sounds of frogs and insects calling into the night. I took a deep breath and pulled in the warm, sweet air of summer in the country. There were hundreds of lightning bugs in the meadow across the road, and I wondered if I could catch enough in a jar to light my way home as I did when I was a boy.

The pump shut off with a loud click and pulled me back into the moment.

“It sure is a nice night,” I called up to dad in the RV as I replaced the hose. “The air smells so fresh and clean.” Dad didn’t respond. I was sure he hadn’t heard me.

I went into the store to pay for the gasoline, and as I was walking out, I saw dad get into the driver’s seat. I ran toward RV, calling out for him to wait. Without ever looking at me, he started the RV, pulled away from the pumps and onto the road, and then drove off in the direction we were going. As I watched him drive away, I wondered when he would remember we were traveling together.

I pulled the phone from my pocket and brought up his contact card. I’ll call his cell phone or text him, I thought before I remembered he probably wouldn’t hear his phone and if he did, he wouldn’t answer it while he was driving.  I put the phone back in my pocket and looked up to find the lights at the store, and the flickering fluorescent above the pumps was off.

As my eyes to readjusted to the darkness, I noticed the night was clear and the sky was full of the brightest stars. The lightning bugs in the meadow across the road were gone, and the frogs and insects were now silent. I walked back to the store and knocked on the door.

A voice answered from the other side, “Yeah? Who is it!?”

“I’m David Harkins. I was your last customer,” I answer. “My dad just drove off without me and….”

Cutting me off the voice said, “What do you want me to do about it?”

I didn’t know. If I could only remember where we were going, maybe I could catch up with dad somehow. Or maybe I could get him a message.

“Nothing, I suppose…,” I said. I turned around, sat down on the stoop and closed my eyes.  I wondered where I would sleep that night, whether dad would remember to come back for me, and how I would get home if he did not. As I thought about my situation in the silence of the night, I heard music in the distance.

The music grew gradually louder, like a car approaching with its windows down and the radio playing at its highest volume. A wave of relief flowed down my body. Dad must have remembered me! I wouldn’t be stuck tonight. I was so glad to know dad would drive again because I didn’t know where I was going! The music got louder, and when it felt in front of me, I slowly opened my eyes.

Soft morning sunlight streamed through my bedroom windows. I took a deep breath and rolled over to turn off the music now blasting from my alarm clock.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. The journey’s a little different without you.

Greg Henshall, Circa 1983. Photo by Brandon Walsh

I have always been interested in photography, and many of the earliest pictures of me show me with a camera. Whether it was the Kodak Duaflex III that belonged to my dad or the Instamatic-X35 I received as a gift just before my 6th-grade safety patrol trip, I loved the idea that I could capture a single moment in time. It came as no surprise to my dad, then, when I told him the summer of 1978 that I wanted a 35mm film camera.  I had saved some money, but not quite the $800 I needed for a camera and a couple for lenses.

I had morning paper route then, and dad decided it would be a good time to teach me about finances. He offered to co-sign a one-year loan for me at his company’s credit union so I could buy the camera equipment. Before I invested, though, he wanted me to learn more about photography from someone who worked in the field. He asked a photographer he worked with at Union Carbide to come by the house to give me a primer on photography and equipment.

It wasn’t long before Greg Henshall showed up with several camera bags filled with different cameras and lenses. Greg was in his late 20’s, loved people, loved photography, and was close enough to my age that dad thought I might listen to what he had to say. I liked him immediately and not just because we shared a common passion. Instead, I liked him because he was genuinely interested in me, a lanky teenager looking for a way to express himself.

Greg spent a few hours with me that night, teaching me the basics of cameras and offering his thoughts on what kind of camera I should buy.  Once I bought a camera, Greg showed me the technical aspects of photography—apertures, shutter speed, film speed.  A few years later, he was kind enough to let me tag along on a few of his freelance jobs—mostly weddings and portraits—where he taught me the importance of composition, viewpoint, anticipating the action, and the importance of “waiting for just the right moment” to release the shutter.

In high school, I was a photographer on the yearbook staff and at Greg’s encouragement began taking portraits of friends to practice technique. He loaned me lights and other equipment whenever I needed them, taught me darkroom basics, and gave me tips as I prepared to teach my first photography class for Adult Community Education when I was just seventeen. I took my first real job with WBPY-TV as a staff photographer in 1983 and Greg was there again to critique my work, offering suggestions on where and how to improve my technique. When I opened my own studio and processing lab in 1985, Greg was my first lab client. And when I burned-out on photography as a profession in 1988, it was Greg who encouraged me to stick with it as a hobby. That was the one piece of advice from Greg I did not follow; I put down my camera and did not pick it up with any enthusiasm again for nearly twenty years.

I lost track of Greg when I moved from Charleston in 1995, but we reconnected through social media in February this year. Through our new Facebook connection, I learned his wife had died in 2000, and he had retired from Union Carbide about the same time.  I understand he took assignments with FEMA documenting disasters for a while and more recently, he had become a “man about town” photographing events and activities for the local newspapers and his many, many, friends. I ran into him in Charleston over the summer, and the first thing he said to me was, “I’m glad to see you picked up your camera again. I enjoy seeing your photographs on Facebook.” We briefly caught up, and then he moved on to take another photograph. He was always anticipating the next moment. Greg never stood still for long when he had a camera in his hand.

From portraits to weddings, to natural disasters, to a night out with friends, Greg documented our lives with passion and empathy. He wasn’t just a good photographer we hired to do a job; he became a friend who instinctively knew what was important to us and did his best to help us achieve our goals. In doing so, he connected with each of us emotionally, giving a part of himself in a way that made that connection so special. That kind of relationship is something few photographers, in my opinion, ever achieve.

Late last week I was heartbroken to learn Greg had died unexpectedly. Tuesday many will gather to celebrate Greg’s life, and I am sorry I cannot be with them. But, I do want to acknowledge the important role he played my life.

I am thankful for Greg’s thoughtfulness and reassurance; he helped me find courage and self-esteem as a teenager. As a teacher, a mentor, and a friend, he helped me find a way to express myself when I words alone were not enough. For these lifelong gifts Greg helped me to find and foster, I find it ironic today that I can only pay tribute to him with words. Yet, words are the best way I can create a full image of Greg, one that truly captures how important he was in my development from a timid, gangling teenager trying to fit it, to the person—and photographer—I am today.

Thank you and Godspeed, Greg Henshall. You were one of a kind.

The work I do causes me to think a lot about how and why culture changes, how businesses change to respond to cultural change and how we, as individuals, adjust engagement and consumption behavior in reaction to an external disruption–that change in our normal state–when it is forced upon us. Throughout my career, I have helped many companies facilitate change, and the most important thing I’ve learned from it all is most of us hate change because it is usually something we are forced to react to, rather than participate in. This is especially true in our workplaces, with the businesses we deal with, and even with our favorite products. If you need an example, consider “New Coke,” or the attempt by GAP to change its logo.

I think everyone realizes change is constant and there is no rational choice but to embrace it, evolve with it, or at least find a way to adapt to the impact it has on our work. Embracing, evolving, or adapting is how most of us manage change in our personal lives, too. Although, we probably manage change in our business and professional lives much easier than we do in our personal lives.

My friend, Wendy Lou, believes most of us just want someone to change with us. I believe this, too, and I think this is why a change in business and professional environments, as painful as it is, can feel much easier for us than personal change. While each of us may approach change differently based on our background and life experiences, we typically experience workplace change with colleagues who are all moving, together, in the same direction. Change is much easier to navigate and appreciate if others are with us on the journey.

In our personal lives, we typically tackle change, at least self-change, alone and this is precisely why such change can be difficult. When we need, or desire, change of our own it’s often self-driven or created by an internal disruption and not directly caused by external forces. When we have people in our lives who are capable of and willing to change with us, we can grow together. If not, then, unfortunately, we will grow apart.

Facilitating life change is intensely personal. After all, not everyone experiences change the same way, or at the same rate. Unlike in the work or business world, we are not all moving in the same direction or toward the same goal, at least not at the same time, in our personal lives. While others might empathize and support us on our journey, no one will truly understand our new path because they will navigate the unique twists and turns of their own path at a different pace.

Change is inevitable. Accepting our own need to change and evolve is an especially difficult, but necessary part of what it means to be human. Acknowledging that we may need to experience personal change alone surfaces the undeniable, and sometimes painful, recognition that we are solely responsible for who we are, who we will become, and the happiness we choose to uncover in the process of living our own lives.