Photo: Susanna Mason
Jon’s funeral was yesterday. I spoke at the service. It was really hard but I’m glad I did it.
I can’t decide if posting my tribute on this blog is a weird thing to do or not. But I slept on it last night and decided that if blogging about Jon’s funeral makes me feel better, then I should bloody well do it. So…here it is.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Jon loved to tell me that I don’t speak English, I speak Americanese. So I apologize in advance and hope you English speakers are able to understand me.
I had the privilege of knowing Jon in many different capacities – first as an admirer of his work, then as his colleague and friend, and eventually as his partner.
Long before I met Jon, when I was a writer for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and lived on the other side of the world, I would stare at his stunning photos on the Foundation’s website and then look at his curious last name. I wondered which African country he was from.
Then finally, I received an assignment to work with Jon on a fundraising trip in Tanzania. I called him before the trip to discuss logistics and was surprised when I heard what sounded like an Englishman on the other end of the line. It was the first of countless times that Jon would surprise me.
Jon was the first person I met when I set foot on African soil. Two days later, I watched him shoot pictures for the first time, at an orphanage in northern Tanzania. We walked into the orphanage and there were about 30 toddlers at tiny tables and chairs, banging metal spoons on plates in preparation for breakfast.
The kids all turned to look at us, and I moved awkwardly to the corner. Jon, on the other hand, waded into the center of the room, squatted down, and started shooting with no hesitation.
At first the kids were like magnets, crowding around him and peering into his lens. But eventually they all returned to their normal business, laughing and crying and smearing porridge on themselves, and on each other.
Taken that day.
Jon’s shutter kept clicking and I watched with tears in my eyes. I hadn’t seen his photos yet, but I could see that he was capturing the essence of that place, and the spirit of those children. That’s what Jon did best.
I also did my own best work on that trip to Tanzania. My writing was inspired by Jon’s photographs, and by Africa. Jon was Africa to me, and Africa was Jon. I eventually realized I couldn’t live without either one.
Years later, I moved to Johannesburg. Jon brought this city to life for me, and encouraged me to write about it and photograph it. He convinced me to buy my first DSLR camera and pushed me to take photos with it, even though I didn’t understand how it worked.
He set my camera’s dial to ‘P’ – which all photographers know is the camera setting for dummies — and told me it stood for ‘professional’. I believed him. Next thing I knew, I was shooting some pretty decent pictures of my own.
Jon taught me that good photography isn’t really about accessories, or exposure settings, or ISO. It’s about light, and composition, and beauty.
Jon recognized talents of mine that I didn’t know I had. He believed in me, in a way that no one ever had before. He showed me how to see the world, and myself, in a whole new light. He loved me so intensely that I could hardly bear it sometimes. Jon never did anything halfway. That’s why I loved him so much.
I always knew Jon wouldn’t be an easy person to love. I knew how complicated he was, how sensitive and fragile. Perhaps I always knew, deep down, that the time we had together would be short. But I also knew that Jon was a rare human being. The love we shared was rare as well. And really, I had no choice but to follow it.
I often listen to a song called ‘Sometimes’, by a band called James. The refrain of the song goes like this:
Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul.
Jon saw my soul. And I saw his. For that, I am grateful.
This song has always, always made me think of Jon. I can’t believe how prophetic it turned out to be.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
A couple of other blogging friends wrote nice posts about the service. Here they are if you’d like to read them:
One Day in the Life of Jerome: http://jeromes1day.blogspot.com/2011/12/chi-mi-rithist-thu.html
And here is a lovely post written by one of Jon’s colleagues, Deaan, who I met for the first time yesterday.
I don’t think I will blog about Jon’s death anymore after today, at least not for a while. I want to try to get back to some happier topics. But there is one last thing I want to say.
I’m angry. I’m angry that Jon died. I’m angry at the disease that killed him. I’m angry that Jon’s disease forced us apart in the final weeks of his life, and that I didn’t have the chance to tell him I loved him at the end. I’m angry that this disease caused unbearable suffering to Jon, and to everyone who cared about him. I’m angry that his death has left all sorts of unresolved issues in many people’s lives. Especially mine. I’m angry to have lost him.
I’m really angry, and really sad. But I’m also really lucky to have had Jon in my life.
Goodbye Jon. I love you.