The day started out sunny and fairly pleasant, but by the early afternoon, it was cloudy, cold and windy. By the time we arrived, it was rainy.
A group of my son’s friends, his wife Maria, and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design put on an exhibit and silent auction of art work to raise money for a scholarship in Wil’s name called, Wil To Make.
Art was hung on the walls, including some pieces Wil had taken. T-shirts were purchased and passed out, along with buttons that carried the scholarship name. Kim, Hannah, Emily, and I wandered around looking at all the donated art. The pieces had the artist’s name and a brief paragraph explaining why they had donated the piece.
Music played in the background. Before long, there were so many people. An eclectic group. All ages. All races. Friends. Family. Some of my former students, some from my teaching days, some from my principal days. They shared stories about Wil, his high school days, his college days, his life as a professional. Heartwarming, enduring, sincere. Comforting.
There were pictures of Wil that showed his joy, his passion. We thought of bidding on several of them. We settled on one by Mikah, who went to school with Wil. A beautiful picture of Wil superimposed on a sunset taken in Door County, Wisconsin, where we had lived once upon a time and where Wil went to middle and part of high school. A beautiful picture and we were fortunate enough to have the winning bid.
It was a bit later in the evening when Hannah pointed out the very last photo and told me to read the caption.
I had seen it. I had looked at. It didn’t catch my eye like some of the other pieces. I’m more of a landscape guy. This particular framed photo was an urban scene. A street scene. A young man with a very descriptive expletive on his back. His jeans sagged way below his waist. Interesting.
The title of the piece as ‘3:19’. Hannah urged me to read the paragraph, so I did.
The photo was taken by my son using his phone’s camera just three minutes before Wil was shot and killed. To our knowledge, it was the last photo taken by my son.
I know you have heard the expression that one’s “heart sunk” or one’s “breath was taken away” and while those might be time-worn cliché’s, that’s exactly what happened to me. I wanted to look away. I needed to look away. But at the same time, I couldn’t. Even after I had walked away to a different part of the gallery, my eyes kept coming back to it. I could not NOT look at it. I just couldn’t.
I suppose I could sit here and give in to the urge to talk about the tragedy, the senselessness, the sadness. However, I haven’t done it so far and I have no intention of doing so now.
Instead, I want to focus on the fact that up until my son was shot and killed, he was doing exactly what he loved to do, what he felt he needed to do. He was following his passion.
You know, we should all be so lucky to end this temporary life in this way. By doing what we love to do, need to do. By fulfilling our passion whatever positive thing that might be.
One last photograph.
I have written many times about how we need to live in the moment, how we need to live each moment, each and every day. And, what better way to do this than to live what you love to do! Wil did this up until the very end. He lived. I can see him smiling, perhaps laughing quietly, at the young man in front of him, the subject of his photo. Knowing Wil, he’d laugh out loud. So I choose to picture Wil laughing out loud as he walked down the street. And laughter is always good. Always good. And so is living each and every moment, each and every day, and making a positive difference as we do so. Something to think about . . .