It was a freezing cold Saturday in the middle of July, when I stumbled upon an invaluable lesson.
I was attending a small film school for a weekend course, and was particularly struck by a man, probably in his early thirties, who sat across from me.
He had messy brown hair and kind brown eyes, and sat in a wheelchair.
We were all there because of a keen interest in documentary making, and part way through the day the teacher asked what story it was we were all so desperate to tell.
Mine was so inconsequential I don’t even remember it, but I will never forget his.
This man was driving home one night, in his mid twenties, and had seen a dog in the middle of the road. He exited his car, with his girlfriend in the front seat, and went to make sure the dog was alright, before ushering it off the road. As he lent down to tend to it, he was hit by a car.
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I remember him saying when he regained consciousness he couldn’t really feel any pain. He was in shock. It would take some time for him to realise the full extent of his injuries.
That momentary decision, to assist a helpless animal that was in danger, cost him the ability to walk. He was no longer with the girlfriend who was sitting in the front seat, and had found the limitless opportunities that lay before him, evaporate one by one. Part way through his story, the man stopped to let out a deep and extended sigh, that said just about as much as his words did.
He was tired. He wished this hadn’t happened, but it had, and he was doing his best.
As I watched him throughout the day, I recognised, though it might be obvious, how difficult the simplest things were.
We shot B-roll on cameras, panning, and slowly walking backwards. It was a movement I didn’t think twice about, but as I glanced at him, I realised how difficult it was to move while also holding a heavy camera, that for me required both hands.
At the end of the day, I headed back to the car park with him, talking about what documentaries we loved.
We were parked near each other, and as we approached his car, we noticed a fine, accompanied by a note.