We were Just photographers
Sarah looked through her view finder at a flower in the rose garden at Balboa Park. Plants are her favorite subject. She focused so hard on each of their details we could have spent ten minutes on a single rose and then another ten on a cactus just a few feet away. We were only on the second day of shooting where the day before I'd switched her camera from auto to manual. The day had been packed with hiking at Torrey Pines, kayaking in La Jolla with GoPros, shooting product for Bradley Mountain Backpack with our stylist/model friend Kelsie, flying a drone, watching the light change on the beach, and learning long exposure techniques around a bonfire.
Sarah is goofy and witty. SHE has a sharp mind that's quick to learn. So when we walked into some odd lighting and I asked her to look at the light around her and tell me the settings I wasn't surprised when she nailed it. Just 30 hours before the words aperture, ISO, and shutter speed were new to her. Now she was understanding light.
at 12, I was not surprised by Sarah's ability. I've always talked to kids the same as I would adults and trusted them to do their best when given a chance, but I was pleased with Sarah's natural eye for a shot. By the third day, we were just two photographers out shooting. My travels take me to remote places, in a lot of undesirable temperatures, and even less desirable times, so I rarely shoot with other photographers. When I do it's a fun experience just to get to have the common bond of the pursuit of capturing something special. Most of the time that was the only thing on my mind. Getting to hang out with another person passionate about photography, trying to capture something special.
STAY AVAILABLE TO GOOD
Some of the best advice I've ever gotten was to stay available to do good things and have good things happen in your life. I'm a big believer in that - that good attracts good, and opportunities come when you don't say no. This mentality is how I got connected with Make-A-Wish and ended up becoming part of granting Sarah's wish last month.
I was preparing to film a video for their Trailblaze Challenge Fund Raiser before when Ashley (in my phone as Ashley Wish-Granter, although her actual title is Wish-Coordinator) asked me to help grant Sarah's wish. Immediately, I thought of the wall I'd filmed with all the granted wishes and the wishes I'd seen online. Wishes to meet celebrities, to sail boats with captains, to meet Justin Beiber, to meet the Pope! I figured if they could arrange a meeting with the Pope they should go get Chris Burkard to shoot with Sarah. I told this to Ashley and she thought I was a good fit for it since it was in San Diego. I reasoned that they could get a bigger name who was more talented than me, but also figured if anything they could only match caring as much as I would. So then I set out to do my part make it an amazing experience.
while not facing such a severe illness as a kid, I'd grown up as a frequent visitor of hospitals. My adventurous attitude and aptitude for the outdoors started out as a little kid. Paired with being a risk taker, constantly involved in sports, and moderately clumsy led to going to the ER over twice as many times as both of my older brothers combined. My hospital career started before I could even be clumsy, as a baby with jaundice (note: born on Halloween with orange skin... I'm very festive to this day). I kept coming back to the hospital. I jumped out of my crib twice in the first two years of my life, getting four sets of stitches on my chin. ER visits became routine the following 18 years with getting stitches while potty training, falling out of trees, off rope swings, falling down stairs, smashing fingers between rocks, and getting hurt at the same rate other kids got new shoes or a haircut. There were genetic problems, surgery at 12 to remove some benign tissue, hip surgery at 13, and reconstructive nose surgery at 17. Total, I've had nine broken bones, three dislocated joints, multiple concussions, one massive muscle contusion/blood clot, four surgeries, one partially torn achilles, torn plantar fascia, three immobile vertebrae, one bent tail bone, been on crutches for a year of my life, had 15 or 16 sets of stitches, and one memorable doctor visit for being bit by a bird. (Update: smashed my finger between two boulders while editing this. Should have required stitches but I stubbornly just closed it with surgical steri-strips because I hate going to the hospital). Most recently have been my mid-twenties, highlighted by a couple of broken hands snowboarding, a fractured elbow, and MOST RECENTLY, being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 26.
What I learned from all this is what it's like spending a lot of your life recovering, being on the mend, having that mentality of "getting better". I remember the people around me, mainly my mom who took care of me during my youth. I remember hockey players visiting me in the hospital. They brought me a teddy bear from an event where people threw them onto the ice between periods to be given to sick kids like me at the hospital. That same hospital stay Santa walked in my room with a big red bag. I don't remember his visit very well as I was having an adverse reaction to the morphine I was given. The room was spinning, and I tried to be friendly and thankful but ended up puking on his black boots. God bless you, hospital Santa. I've had talks about not being able to run ever again, possibly not being able to scuba dive (weird chemo side effect), losing my leg (possible bone cancer), the possibility of never being able to have kids, a very confused nurse when (true story) I tested positive for being pregnant. I've been a kid whose world revolved around sports whose doctor talked to him about possibly never playing again and a 26 year old whose life revolved around living whose doctor talked to him about his odds of living and not living.
My friend Adam was diagnosed around the same time as me. He would call me up to encourage me, calling us cancer buddies. He died two Christmas' ago. Then my little brother from my fraternity and a friends husband both got the same type of cancer I had. Through it all, I've seen the effect it has had on our friends and families, the communities around us. I've seen the look in a father's or mother's or wife's or husband's, or child's eyes after the person they love leaves the waiting room to get their CT/vitals/CT scan/Blood work etc. done. I've seen the look in the mirror. Sometimes strong people get tired from being strong. Sometimes you just want to forget why you need to be strong.
The thing about being nearly constantly injured or sick or loving someone who is that you have to learn to heal and mend, both yourself and others, both mentally and physically. Sometimes healing takes focusing on healing. I know for me, healing has involved a lot of things you have to do. You have to keep appointments. You work at healing and go to treatment or get parts of you cut out for it. You have to pay bills and keep all the plates spinning. You have to be strong. You have to accept living with a smaller margin for error than most people get to have. You have to have the same conversations over and over and over again with friends, family, doctors, teachers... with everyone. It's the elephant in the room at weddings and funerals. You almost learn to introduce your illness after your name and you learn to make jokes and be exceptionally positive so it's not so hard on everyone around you. The hardest are the daily conversations with yourself where you try to convince your mind to stop thinking about being sick, stop preparing for the next time something will go wrong. At some point, healing has to mean you learn and accept that life doesn't revolve around being sick or injured or recovering and eventually, hopefully, it's okay that it stops crossing your mind. Someday, the hope is it'll let go of you, and you'll let go of it.
I think that this type of healing is the point for wish kids and families.
I forgot Sarah and I were on a wish. I forgot the whole point was a step in healing. For three days didn't speak one sentence about her being sick, and we didn't speak one sentence about me being sick. We weren't two people who'd spent a lot of time recovering or had anything to worry about. I was just teaching a girl who loved photography and got to be as enthusiastic as I wanted to be about it.
Ultimately, healing sneaks up on you and works the sickness from your mind. Those three days did that for me, and I hope it did it for Sarah too. We were just two photographers out capturing some of the beauty life has to offer.