About the Blog

Stories of connection and comfort

As a 15-year-oldhigh school sophomore, I hated school.  I hated riding a bus two hours a day.  I hated theasphalt, the cement, the kids trying to be cool and being so far away from the hills and nature I loved.   I wanted to quit school and run far away to Canada, where I could build a cabin in the wilderness and live off the land.   But California law wouldn’t allow it, not until I turned 16, which was still a half a year away.

Unbeknown to my parents, I found ways of ditching school and escaping to the hills and creeks to hunt and hide out until classes were over.

That is, until a truant officer eventually caught me.

My mom and Brian for webA meeting with my parents, a school counselor, the truant officer and myself was ordered.

I was given two options: go to school or go to juvenile hall, a locked facility that housed rebellious kids, like me.   After what seemed like a stalemate of wills, the guidance counselor asked, what it would take to keep me in school?

“I would like to take the photography class,” I offered, excitedly, explaining that I had seen the large prints on the walls of the photo room and liked taking pictures.   I felt confident my enthusiasm would open the door for negotiation.  It did not.

I was told I didn’t have the grades for the photography classes. Besides, they were filled with long waiting lists.   What I heard was that photography was for smart kids, and I was not one of them.

I still remember my father’s face turning red with anger.

“You asked him what it would take for him to stay in school and he gave you an answer,” he challenged.  “And you tell him he can’t do that?”

I wanted to hug and kiss my father, something I had never done, nor would do for another 20 years.

Each of us left the meeting frustrated.  The “system” simply did not make allowance for kids like me.  I would go to school or juvenile hall.

To my surprise, I was called into the office the following week and advised I would be allowed to take a photography class, after all.   I wasn’t given any details but believed school officials “came to their senses” and realized putting me in a photography class was a sensible solution.

Now I had a reason to go to school.  And for the next two years, I attended night classes to make up what I had missed in my sophomore year.  I went from failing to a “B” average my junior and senior years, and learned so much about photography and life from Denning McArthur, a wise teacher.

But this is not where the story ends.

Mr. McArthur for web BWhat I didn’t know, not until 30 years after my mother’s death in 1969 (she drowned in a flood my senior year) was that she had gone privately to Mr. McArthur and pleaded for him to let me in one of his photography classes.

While sharing memories of my first photography class during a dinner at   my former photography teacher’s house, Mr. McArthur recalled, “I just    couldn’t say no to your dear mother.  I told her I had a long waiting list, but  she begged me.”

Had a bullet exploded through the  wall and struck me, I don’t think I c  could have been more shocked.

“What?” I asked, tears welling.  This  was the first I had heard of my  mother’s intervention.

“I thought you knew?”  McArthur said, his grin turning serious.

“She was so worried about you, afraid you were going to get in serious trouble if you didn’t connect with something you loved.”

He looked at his hands and sighed.  “I guess she knew you pretty well.”

Each of us can probably look back at pivotal moments, when without the compassionate intervention of another, we might have chosen a destructive path or even given up.   Thankfully, God had blessed me with many bridges and angels, who have patiently led me over turbulent waters, at times I needed them most.

My caring mother and wise high school teacher saw value in me and potential, others did not.

I have tried to honor their memory and their examples by being a patient teacher and looking past personal appearance or selfish actions for potential and a deeper spirit.    And though I often fail, I try to watch for opportunities to encourage students, to both challenge and comfort them.   Like my mother and Mr. McArthur, I believe in individuals above systems.

Life is hard.   And sometimes navigating this world seems impossible.

I am not good with my hands so that I am able to build a house for the homeless.

But I can build bridges.

And I can listen.

And I can help connect suffering souls with those able to bring relief.

It took me 40 years to recognize that one of the greatest gifts given to me is to be a bridge and comfort for others.

As a photographer friend once said, “God doesn’t care about pictures, he cares about people.”


4 thoughts on “About the Blog

  1. Beautiful story, Dave that is why I moved from Oxnard, Ca, to Bowling Green, Ky, 25 years ago, following our meeting in Ventura 2 years prior. It was not only to learn about being a better photojournalist, but to make sense, sort out and become a better person in spite of the hardships I’d gone through before (and after) in my life. When I pick up the camera it has become my mission to share the image with others who are ready to have it shared, have it wait for those who are not yet ready and maybe (possibly) help those who went through what I experienced and offer them a piece of hope to briefly break away from being vapid or sarcastic. None of what I learned or want to do could have been been possible had you not been there and made what seemed like an investment of a million hours. I’ll always thank you for helping me find my way home and back to my family.

  2. Dave,
    I attended one of your classes at a Journalism convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After your class i waited and spoke with you and you are an inspiration. I remember finding you on Facebook and watching some of your work. Thanks for giving back!
    Since that convention i have now graduated High School (thankfully) and have traveled the past two years all around the world and documenting my travels. In a month I will be moving to Hawaii to start a understudy of Zak Noyle a surf Photographer. I want to learn to shoot from the water and keep spreading smiles by showing my adventures through photography. If you want you can check out my blog i am trying to start through the link on my name. Thanks for being an inspiration!

    Dustin Sousley

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