Forty-six months ago, August 2007, I added Ezra Caldwell as a contact on Flickr. He made beautiful fixed-gear bicycles, and I was on a quest to build my own. I don't remember how I found him. A year out of grad school in Seattle, I think I clicked through the links of my Flickr buddies, many of them happy fixtures in the designer-hipster-fixie-coffee culture of the Pacific Northwest. Ezra is also a talented photographer: I was tempted and inspired by the photos of his beautiful machines. He's a bike builder in New York City. A husband, a dog-lover, a foodie and an incredible inspiration.
Thirty-four months ago, August 2008, Ezra started a blog right after a diagnosis of colorectal cancer. He was young, handsome, virile. The picture of perfect health in love with a picturesque, redhead girl named Hillary.
450 months ago, Jan. 24, 1974, my mother died of cancer. A malignant brain tumor, metastasized from a malignant melanoma. She was an avid skier, swimmer, grad student at the University of Colorado and mother of five. She was young, beautiful and vivacious.
Next year, I will be the same age my mother was when she died. How I wish she'd had a blog and a Flickr account that I could browse and ponder now. I was only 6 when she died and, bittersweetly, I feel like I know Ezra more than I know my own mother. The faint, residual memories I have of her I'm convinced are only because I have four siblings who have kept her memory alive with their physical resemblances, words and inherited mannerisms. Without my siblings, her memory would have undoubtedly escaped me by now.
I've followed Ezra's story since he announced his illness. "Favorited" countless of his Flickr photos, sobbed over many of his blog posts, laughed over more than a few. I can imagine through his writings and photographs that my mother's struggles with cancer were similarly poignant, painful, ugly, brutal, exasperating and sometimes humorous.
Through these indirect, digital exchanges, I suspected Ezra was a wonderful person. He loves dogs, photography, bikes, New York City and good food. How could he not be?
Then we exchanged a few emails about writing and photography and design, and my suspicions were confirmed: He is a good person. Warm, funny and infectiously optimistic in spite of it all. He's also finally done with his second round of chemotherapy, after a first round, a wedding and a colostomy. Basically, a trip to hell and back. And hopefully, now in remission for good.
I still have never met Ezra in person, but I find it amazing. Amazing that in this age of compromised privacy and the collective angst we feel over sharing (or not sharing) and password protection, beautiful stories like Ezra's are out there, honest, raw and public — for all the world to see.
It makes me love the Internet even more. How it equalizes, democratizes, eulogizes and preserves some very wonderful things. Like eulogies that we can all write on our own.
That is a beautiful thing, my friends. I only wish my mother could have shared her own with the world, too.
Callie Neylan is a former NPR designer and currently assistant design professor at UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County).