As a younger photog, I only wanted to shoot news stories that involved flashing lights, handcuffs and walkie-talkies. But as time passed, I realized good storytellers valued character over conflict. So I began casting about for interesting people to profile, small-town personalities to point my lens at. This, unfortunately earned me a reputation as a 'features' guy, a position that, despite alot of lip service, ranks pretty low on the newsroom taxonomy chart. No bother, I'd still rather hang out with a truly unique individual than go cover my millionth 'senseless homicide'. I find by doing so, I feel better at the end of my shift and take home something to think about.
Take Thursday for example. Instead of rushing to the edge of controversy, I ambled over to High Point Regional Health System, where a man of quiet conviction was enriching the lobby's atmosphere with simple Christmas tunes. But 76 year old Don Matney's life hasn't always been a song. Born legally blind, the Waynesville native didn't regain limited sight until his late teens. Once he did, he began hanging around a local radio station, so impressing the staff with his insatiable curiosity that they eventually gave him a job. What followed was a storied career, including a thirty year stint at Davidson County Broadcasting, where he held every position from announcer to General Manager. Not bad for a little boy who was never expected to see past the haze of chronic cataracts.
These days you'll find the retiree at hospitals, clubs and restaurants, sharing a love of music he first discovered as a young child at the North Carolina School for the Blind. In fact, he never stopped plinking on the ivory as I set up my camera and pepppered him with questions about his life, volunteerism and of course, broadcasting. Mr. Matney answered them all, rarely looking up from the holiday song he was hammering out. I didn't mind, as nothing pleases me more than a subject who's not afraid to ignore my lens. By the time I left the lobby, I had everything I needed for a nice feature, as well as the feeling that I'd made a new friend.
But Don Matney's peace with the world flummoxed me somewhat. Does contentment come with old age? Will I grow increasingly satisfied with mere existence as my body slowly erodes? Will happiness supplant angst as I grow nearer to my grave? Will this tortured orb start to make sense just as I prepare to leave it?
Let me get back to you on that...
UPDATE: After the above passage was posted on Greensboro 101, an eloquent lady by the name of Brenda Bowers offered a few answers to my questions. Her response is priceless...
Dear Mr. Pittman, Yes, we do mellow and find contentment as we age. You see we find ourselves Free for the first time in this lifetime. No one expects anything from us. In fact, they are surprised as you were, to discover that we do indeed have something to say; that we keep up with the world around us but can look at it from the perspective of having weathered many storms and obstacles in the past so nothing seems too daunting, or too very serious. We are free to be us. We no longer have to set an example or be concerned with how our economic status/appearance/opinions with affect our careers/marriage/friendships. The “careers” we pursue now are for fun, not money; the marriage has come to the point of quiet pleasure in each others company (I can't change the old Goat so I might as well see the humor in it all!); the friendships are old and lasting and accepting of each others foibles. And the best part are the opinions! At last free to call it as you see it and to do it if you want to (and still can!). Aside from the inevitable aches and pains and other physical annoyances I would have to say that being a senior citizen, or old broad, which ever you prefer, is FUN. -- Brenda Bowers