Transcendence

I have been a fan of musical theater for decades now. I have seen shows in my hometown, in New York, in the movies and in television. The last five years gave the world at least two truly great musicals – Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. In the tumult of today, I often sit back and just listen to these shows. And many others.

I didn’t really listen to the whole Hamilton soundtrack until the show started streaming in Disney Plus. The first act was great. The acting, the songs, the story was just a treat. The second act, though, was incredible. And then there was this song, this moment in the show that made me realize that this is a show that all of us needs to see. Not just for the incredible cast, the incredible songs, the incredible performances. For me, this song is transcendent.

The beauty of this song is not just the melody or the voices that sing it. We all make mistakes and we all have regrets. And yet, in the midst of the sadness there was no recrimination. Instead, it talks about the loss, sacrifice, forgiveness and love. A beautiful tune and in the sadness of it all, hope and love.

Thank you Renee Elise Goldsberry. Thank you Philippa Soo. Thank you, Hamilton cast and singers. And thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda. Truly amazing.

The Forgotten Virtue

We are living in interesting times. Uncertain times. Volatile times. I read the stories about protests, destruction, the lack of leadership, the blame shifting, the marginalization of people that someone does not agree with, the marginalization of people because they look different than the familiar. Unsettling, convulsive, stressful. Words that we choose not to use somehow are words that we must use. What is happening? Why is this happening? What can we do to make our world the world that we like to live in, the one we are comfortable in?

The answers may not always be pleasant, and no one person, not one group, not one party, not one nation has all the answers to the questions that we ask. And yet, there are so many of us who want to tell others that our solution is THE solution. Shout down the words and ideas of those that I feel are unimportant. What matters most is what I believe, what I feel, what I see. There are great injustices in the world that must be corrected. This time, it is my time, our time to change the world for the better. To the world that I see. To the world as it should be. History has shown us that men are evil, that nations were built with pillars of hatred and oppression.

In many ways, there is a lot of truth to what is now being said. For too long, people refused to acknowledge that our world has not been fair, that justice has not always been just, that even a society that longed for freedom, that a nation established in search of freedom was not always free. At least not for a great many of its people. From the men and women who roamed freely for thousands of years, suddenly torn from their lands, pushed westward, herded into spaces that offered nothing but a bleak future. For those who survived. The cries of the wolf, of the bear, the cayote, the buffalo, mixed with cries indistinguishable from our own. If people would only listen.

I can not imagine what life was like for those who marched the trail of tears. I cannot imagine what life was like for a man or woman, torn away from one continent, to arrive at another and live a life of destitution, helplessness, treated as yet another item in one man’s inventory, to be used, to be abused. Somehow, people allowed their worse instincts to guide their life. Even people with noble ideals became a prisoner of their own sense of righteousness, forgetting that all men and women are intrinsically part of the same human family. Greed, hatred, a myriad of reasons assured a life of suffering for too many Americans.

And so, with all the things in the past, we must be ready to break with all the things the past represented. Some say that ideals tainted by human frailty are not ideals at all. All the accomplishments of flawed men and women are worthless and should be relegated to the dustbins of history. We will not tolerate those transgressions. We live, after all, in a different time, a more enlightened time, a time with possibilities that allow us to remove the vestiges of everything that offends us. We are their betters. We demand justice. We demand so many things. Hatred must be a thing of the past. No one from the past is worthy. The sins of one, the sins of many are the sins of all. Recrimination abounds. The mantra of the emboldened rule the airwaves, if not our lives. We can make this a better world. We will make a world in the image that we see fit. Those who do not agree, well, they are throwbacks to that evil past. They are to be ostracized, criticized, demonized. A new collective has risen, with all the answers. There is only one truth and those who disagree will be shamed to submission. It is the price that people must pay for a the new world order. Where freedom is extended to all who believe. And woe to those who dare think to be different. There is only one truth, and it is our truth. Oppose us and you will be deemed an enemy of modernity, of truth, justice, and the new world that is being created.

Sometimes, I look at the world and I think of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I didn’t pay much attention to my high school reading back then, but it seems to me that The Scarlet Letter can still teach us something today. Lessons about our humanity and our impulses. Hester Prynne was shamed for having an affair. Instead of withering in the midst of universal condemnation, Hester lived a life that refused to bend to the societal pressures imposed upon her. Her quiet dignity in the face of attacks from the self righteous allowed her to grow, to find her self worth, to understand that her weaknesses and failures did not define her. It was this ability to learn, to seek improvement, on her own terms, that gave her life meaning. Centuries ago, Hawthorne gave a lesson that many seem to have forgotten. A life lived with a sense of right and wrong is better than a life of self righteousness.

We as a society seem more than happy to be the tools for creating a new gulag. We happily parrot the ideas and beliefs of those who want to think for us, who thrust their ideas upon the world as if their ideas alone are right. That their solutions are the only solutions. That being part of a whole, unwavering in commitment, unquestioning in demeanor, is the only way to live one’s life. I am reminded of some of the ideas put forth by Raymond Kurzweil a few years ago. The singularity is here. Common thought for a common action. Individuality is not needed in the collective. We are part of the greater whole, a world where man and machine become one, where an individual’s contribution to society becomes nothing more than a machine assigned chore. Today’s apparatchik are precursors to tomorrow’s hive mind. While today the self righteous leaders insist in homogeneity of thought and intent, tomorrow’s cybernetic overlord will be no less benign and just as sinister. A single orthodoxy, created by a new breed of enlightened men and women, is here to save the world. Embrace it. Or else.

We need to acknowledge that diversity is what gives humanity its strength. Different abilities, different interest, different ideas, different beliefs. All grounded by a virtue that seems to be forgotten. The virtue of humility. If you believe that you are unworthy and not important, then your desire to subjugate others will probably not be very strong. Without the desire to impose your will or your ideas on others, you may find merit in something that someone else believes in. Or at least have an idea why that person believes in it. If you open your mind to the infinity of ideas that people can share with each other, you can begin to understand that we are a global community of individuals capable of doing things with a sense of selflessness. When no one man or woman is important, we understand that we are all important.

With humility, you can temper hate. With humility, you begin to understand that the differences among us can be enlightening. The humble does not seek to dominate but to serve. If each of us serves the other, which of us is the slave, which of us is the master? We can learn so much from one another. We humans are imperfect and will always be. And yet, we must not allow the imperfections to justify cruelty, intransigence, hatred.

Nelson Mandela allowed his sense of self to be subsumed by humility. In so doing, he helped begin the healing of a nation. In his quiet dignity, we saw what true strength really is. Humility. Forgiveness. And love.

Farewell to a Decade

I am a little late posting this, but if you know me, it’s not unusual.  At times anyway.

It’s time to say goodbye to the second decade of the millennium.  Not just to the years that have gone by, but to the people who now live only in our hearts and in our dreams.  Their spirits are now with the Creator.

And so, with prayers for the health and well being of the world we live in and the people who live in it, happy new year to all.  It’s not quite a new moon, but it’s close enough.

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The stars in the heavens are never as bright as the light within each one of us.

Standing Out

No, I don’t mean you or me, in the midst of a room or a gathering, being the center of attention.  I am taking about the quiet moments that we all spend by ourselves, thinking about the world going on around us.  Sometimes, I delay the introspection by watching a video on youtube.  Or catching another movie or show on Netflix or Amazon Prime.  And then another.  And then another.  As if delay leads to forgetting, to putting aside for another day.  Do we think so little of ourselves that we don’t want to spend the time understanding our thoughts, not listening to what our hearts and minds, in the silence of the moment, is trying to tell us?

A time out.  A time for contemplation, perhaps even a prayer.  Purposeful and deliberative pause and reflection.  Do we always want to live a life reacting to everyday events with nary a though to what we are doing?  Do we want to live a life planned out for us, by us?  Or do we want to look at ourselves, maybe even at stolen moments, and try to see, to feel, to understand what we are doing, who we are, what matters most in our lives?

When we look within ourselves, we may find that what stands out is not what we think is important, or what the world deems is important, or what we want to be important.  Take the time to stop and think.  To listen, in the silence of the moment, for a voice that is always there, guiding our lives.  Each of us, whatever the age, whatever faith we believe in, can take a moment to listen and to see what stands before us.

Broken or whole, we owe it to ourselves to pause for a moment.  To see that colored leaf that glows in the sun.  To find within ourselves the thing that stands out.  To find that even in the silence, we are not alone. That all that we are, all that we can be, is not just about you or me.  It is about us.  The moments of our lives that truly matter are not full of I’s.  It is in the we’s the we are made whole.

Before the Noon Rush

It’s been a while since my last post.  Between work, training, and the busy hum of life in suburbia, I haven’t had much of a chance to post something.  There’s also the problem with having a little bit of writers’ block.  Weekends are filled with picture taking and cleaning up the house, a little bit.  Why do I have all this stuff and what am I going to do with it?  Over the years, you buy a small thing here, a small thing there.  Cabinets, once empty, fill up.  The floor in my study is not quite as open as it once was.  A pile of papers here, a pile of papers there.  No, I am not going to go through the process of holding each time and trying to find out if this thing or that things gives me joy.  Truthfully, there’s just too many things to pick up that if you were to somehow divinate that this or that is giving me joy, I may end up with arms even more tired than they already are.  So I’ll just throw some things out, donate some things, and assume that what’s left is giving me joy.  Heck, how much joy can a guy take in one day?

Anyway, I took the day off to ruminate.  I went for a short walk at the Mosaic District, one of the mixed use neighborhoods that are popping up in Northern Virginia.  I love walking around here.  There’s a movie theater, a couple of shops and eateries to go to, space for people to walk around and just enjoy the day.  This morning, I stopped by the Praline Bakery, one of those nice places to grab a quick bite and just enjoy a few minutes of alone time (before the noon rush).  A crisp apple confection (I forgot what they call it) that’s just sweet enough without being overwhelming, with that slightly tart flavor that makes you savor it even more.  A nice cup of coffee, and no phone calls or web surfing.  Just some downtime.

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A place to relax, to think, to ruminate.  I picked up the fork, took a small slice out of the confection in front of me, and this feeling of joy was amazing.  The joy increased as the desert got ever smaller.  I don’t think this is what Marie Kondo had in mind when she said pick things up and see if it brings you joy, but I’ll take it.  And now that I know that picking up a fork, in a certain place, is sure to bring me joy, I believe a return trip in the very near future is a very real possibility.  Return trips, if I have to be honest.  In some things, a guy can’t have enough joy.

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And what a colorful selection of deserts (macaroons!).  I love the growing diversity in the population.  You used to choose from pistachio, vanilla, orange, chocolate, almond.  Now you can get mango flavored treats.  And passion fruit.  Joy, Joy, Joy!!!!

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And, there’s this beautiful wall mural outside of this little corner of the world.

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And a little dog park/patch right next to it (and I mean little, but it serves its function).  Oh, the artist left his calling card.

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Great comfort food, a nice day, beautiful wall art.  A joyful morning indeed.

Sunday

Twenty four hours later, I am back at Huntley Meadows.  And the place looked different, not only because the algae moved but because of the fundamental truth that lies beneath our existence.  Every moment is different, change is constant, so embrace the challenges that this brings.

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I think I am going to have to take pictures of other birds, whether at Huntley or elsewhere.  My heron and egret quota are full.  Now, if only I was better at spotting birds.

(Here’s the thing.  If you want to say that you’ve reached some sort of quota, then you are not living life to the fullest.  Familiarity does not need to lead to contempt.  It should lead to further exposition and deeper knowledge.)

Who Watches the Watchers

Years ago, in the third season of Star Trek the Next Generation, an episode with this strange title aired.  I had to look up the synopsis of the actual episode since I haven’t seen it in years.  Unlike my favorite Star Trek episode of all time, “The Inner Light”, I had only retained the most basic of remembrances of this particular episode.  And why bring this up now?

A few days ago, on an early Sunday morning, I took another early morning walk at Huntley Meadows.  There were quite a few photographers out there at half past six in the morning.  What were people taking pictures of?  Birds, birds, birds.  More specifically, egrets and herons.  I had the feeling that there would be quite a few people at the wildlife area.

The day before, I also took a morning walk at Huntley.  For a Saturday morning, there were more than a dozen photographers at the start of the day.  Normally, you see five or six photographers in the early morning but last Saturday was different.  Someone had taken a picture of a fox walking on a log to take a drink of water on the wetlands.  It probably happens quite a bit all over the world.  In suburban Virginia, fifteen miles from Washington, you don’t see that very often.  And someone posted the pictures in the Huntley Meadows Facebook page.  Needless to say, there were a lot of people looking for the fox.  Alas, we saw nothing that looked like a fox.  Saw quite a few birds, but the fox was AWOL.

Sunday came and I went back to Huntley to look for kingfishers.  The water is getting shallower as the rains have not come and the heat of the summer is taking its toll on the wetlands.  I heard the kingfisher’s call, but I could not find it.  There were, however, a lot of egrets and herons in the wetlands.  Like everyone else, I took a lot of pictures of a fairly large group of birds in the water.

About an hour and a half after I got to Huntley, I was looking at a group of photographers when one of them exclaimed “it got a fish!”  Instinctively, I walked over by the group of photographers and saw heron catching its morning meal (probably one of many).  A good picture taking opportunity, but the photographers were so engaged in photographing the bird that for five or so minutes, all we could look at is this heron with a fish.

The heron, with it’s catch.

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The fish was quite active and the heron wasn’t quite ready to eat its meal.  It lifted it up, as if to see if the fish was still actively moving.  It was.

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The heron turned around and started to brush the fish over the log.

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After a minute or so of this, the fish had “calmed” down and the heron was a happy fish eater.

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This was the first time I actually watched the whole sequence of “catch and eat.”  It was “fascinating.”

When There is Joy

Photography is not merely the process of capturing an image.  It’s not just looking at the world, looking at the things that are beautiful.  It’s not finding cruelty or kindness, nor is it just looking for excitement, nor is it documenting the commonplace and the mundane.  Photography is looking at the world and finding in it something that stirs your soul.  It is not always bright and cheerful.  It is not always gloomy and dark.  It is, if you are honest with yourself, a reflection of who you are at the moment.

And because who you are constantly changes, the images captured is never the same.  One can hope, however, that as in life, we can always find hope, even joy in all that we see.  In the depths of despair there is always the promise of a better tomorrow.  In the heights of happiness there is always a realization that moments like this are treasured, but not what we ultimately strive for.

Finding meaning in life, where you know yourself and understand that imperfection is not a curse but a blessing, when you see a world that is not closed but open to possibilities.  When you look back not to long for what is past, but to learn that failure is not permanent but is always necessary.  To know that success is not a singular achievement but a communal experience.  To know that at the center of it all, is not the selfish tyranny of pride and conceit, but that in spite of one’s frailties, generosity and love prevails.  That in every moment, great and small, the inner light illuminates the soul and that in all that we are, in all that we do, joy gives meaning to our existence.

And so it was yesterday afternoon, on a surprisingly cool day in July, I walked the grounds of Meadowlark Gardens.  Paths walked so many times before.  And yet, each step is always different, and so are the pictures.

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