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Monday, May 21, 2012

A personal journey home by Michael Allen Blair

Last week I embarked on a personal journey that pushed me to my limits emotionally, physically and professionally.  When I learned that the 2012 National Press Photographers Association Multimedia Immersion workshop was being hosted at Syracuse University, roughly 35 miles from where I grew up in Sherrill, NY., I knew I needed to attend. You see, my relationship with my hometown has been strained lately to say the least.

When my mother passed away in March from stomach cancer, I lost my last physical connection to the city where I grew up. Grasping for something to hang on to, I turned to my childhood memories and the many good times I had growing up in New York’s smallest city.  One such memory involved a surrogate big brother of sorts who used to play baseball with me in my yard. He was my sister’s boyfriend for a short time. I always admired him and thought how nice it would be to have a big brother like him especially in the absence of having a father present. As kids, we grew older and drifted apart, then became great friends in our adult life only to drift apart again.  His name is Nathan and he had such a profound impact on me that I named my first born son after him. 

As I prepared to attend the multimedia workshop, I started to contemplate the possibilities of  focusing on a story from the area in which I grew up. I reached out to Nate and his wife Toni to see if they would be willing to host me for a couple days as I tried to explore the ghost of my past and the technologies of my future.  As always, they were gracious and welcomed me into their beautiful farmhouse in Vernon, NY.
I was always in awe of the success of the couple just a few years my senior. They seemingly had everything going for them, great jobs, a beautiful family, a grand estate with horses and a sprawling property in which to grow the seeds of their future.  I was a little surprised when they agreed to allow me to focus my lens on their life together and the love they have sewn in the once fertile soil of the horse farm.
You see, Nate is a first generation farmer, he didn’t inherit the farm from his parents as many young men do. He did however seemingly inherit glioblastoma brain cancer, the same kind of cancer that killed both of his parents, just years apart.

When I talked with his wife Toni about telling their story she had indicated that the tumor was shrinking and I arrived at the farm with a sense of hope and optimism for my friends. On the second day of filming, Toni returned home and informed me that the cancer was terminal and that my friend had little hope of survival. Suddenly what I had envisioned as a story about renewed hope and optimism was turning into a story about loss and despair.  The video below is a testament to their love and struggle against this horrible disease which has systematically picked away at them like a vulture feeding on the skeleton that was their idyllic life together.
As I drove away from the empty horse barn that day, I was left with a new sense of what’s important in life. It’s not  the things we surround ourselves with in life or our physical connection to a place, it’s the love we have in our lives and our memories of that place called home that are important.     


Blogger News-Herald Blogs said...

amazing story michael and such a hard one to tell. But you did it well, despite how difficlut it must have been for all of you. h

May 23, 2012 at 2:22 PM 

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