With help from a late friend, I found out what matters

Have you ever asked yourself the question: “What really matters?”

This question was posed to me last year by my good friend Kurt Barkley, who passed away Friday after a long battle with cancer.

Kurt was not only a dear friend of mine, but helped photograph countless numbers of athletes in Catawba County for The O-N-E — mostly at St. Stephens High School, where his children attend.

Many of you reading this may have read his name above a photo caption, but Kurt was more than that. He was an example we all can live by.

As much as I love sports and the joy they bring me, Kurt took this child-like thrill out of every game he went to.

It didn’t matter if it was a high school, college or professional sporting event — Kurt was always excited to have the chance to be involved and capture those special moments with each click of his DSLR camera.

We covered numerous sporting events together, including the 3A state girls soccer championship last spring between St. Stephens and Cardinal Gibbons.

When I offered Kurt the opportunity to cover the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, he was beyond thrilled.

The first time he ever stepped foot on the field at Bank of America Stadium, Kurt’s eyes lit up. I remember taking his picture near the end of the tunnel so he could have a keepsake from the event.

Kurt’s enthusiasm remained the same for the Charlotte Bobcat games, especially when he was able to shoot his favorite NBA team — the Boston Celtics.

“Kevin Garnett is the biggest trashtalker I’ve ever heard,” he said after the game. I couldn’t help, but laugh.

One of our biggest thrills was running into Michael Jordan in the elevator at nearly every Charlotte game we went to.

The looks on both of our faces was priceless.

I knew exactly who I had to take with me when I had the chance to interview Hickory native and San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Madison Bumgarner at Turner Field in Atlanta.

Kurt was the obvious choice.

The more time we spent together, the more I couldn’t help, but be thankful for the chance to be a part of his life’s journey.

We grew close on a personal level, often exchanging stories about his four kids — Luke, Lawson, Logan and Lauren. He’d also talk of the budding romance between he and his wife, Jackie, in college.

No matter what he went through and no matter how much pain he felt each day, Kurt always put you first.

I went through a difficult personal struggle early in 2013, and Kurt helped me sort out my issue with the now infamous question, “What really matters, Cody?”

“What do you mean,” I asked him.

“What really matters in life? What matters to you?” he said.

After he asked me that question, my life became clearer and my problems started to melt away.

I knew what mattered — my family, my friends and my faith. No matter how difficult life or work, those should be my priorities.

In January, we covered our last game together — the Carolina Panthers first playoff game since 2008 against the San Francisco 49ers.

The whole time driving down, Kurt continued to tell me this was his “swan song.” I knew if that was the case, we would make this game memorable.

Carolina lost that game to the 49ers, but we left with an incredible memory of covering our first NFL playoff game.

Thanks to security at the stadium, we were allowed to step on the edge of the field for one final photo together — an image I cherish dearly.

While I write this with a somber heart, I am also happy that Kurt does not have to suffer anymore. The pain he used to feel is replaced with never-ending relief and comfort. I know that God has gained an amazing angel.

Kurt set a wonderful example that I think we should all follow. No matter what we go through, we should realize what’s important and always try to put others before self.