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.

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.)

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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The (Water) Birds were there

Another Saturday, a very warm one, has come and gone.  In the early morning hours, before the first sip of coffee was even in a cup, I took my RX10IV and headed for Dunkin Donuts.  The one that’s two miles away from Huntley Meadows.  The sun had just broken through the horizon, and I needed the sun to go up just a little higher to clear the tree line at Huntley.  And I needed a little jolt to wake me up so to speak.

It was near 80F at six in the morning.  The day had barely started and the humidity was already beginning to make things a little uncomfortable.  Oh well, I was already at the parking lot, so I might as well take a walk through the woods and then into the wetlands.  As I crossed into the boardwalk, the moon was still visible in the sky.

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And the white flowers were there, just like they were the week before.  The air was heavy with heat and humidity.  As I walked further towards the wetlands, the flowers, with dew clinging to the leaves and petals, were backlit by the rising sun.  It was quite a thing to behold.  Hundreds, maybe even a thousand or so flowers, glistening in the early morning light.

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Sometimes, you need to stop and admire the things around you.  And enjoy the unexpected.  It warm.  It was humid.  The sun was up.  I was going to just quickly walk through and look for birds.  And yet.  In the heat of the rising sun, nature reminded me yet again to slow down and enjoy life.  Take the whole thing in.  The story is not just what we want it to be.  It is an entirety waiting for us, to discover, to find new things, to explore.  It is not always what we envision, but if we keep our eyes open, it can and is often better than what we imagine.

The red algae was blooming in the main wetland area.  Water was evaporating, as it always does.  The water level drops down as summer progresses.  With little rain to naturally replenish the wetland, the water was shallower, murkier.  I walked towards the observation tower, where I spied the egrets and herons wading in the shallow water.

I was amazed.  Huntley was alive this particular Saturday morning.  Two kingfishers were flying about.  Just a little bit to far to take pictures of, but you knew they were there.  A deer was foraging by some bushes.  The herons were in the water.  They were in the air.

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The herons were fishing.  And I thought that maybe, just maybe, this heron’s appetite was a little bit too much.

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And then an osprey flew by.  And caught a fish.  Not quite the magnificent catch I saw earlier.

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There were herons aplenty.  Herons grooming themselves in the “mirror.”

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Herons with unexpected visitors, like this juvenile white ibis.

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And suddenly, a flock of egrets flew by.  Land, I said to myself.  And land they did.  By the red algae bloom of the Huntley wetlands.

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It was hot.  It was humid.  That was to be expected.  The egrets in the wetland.  One or two, maybe.  A flock stopping by to rest, perhaps to cool down just a bit.  That was most unusual.  And on this summer day in July, it was most welcome.

 

Balance

In the wee hours of the morning, after another restless and near sleepless evening, I started listening to music.  The notes played on and then I suddenly realized that at that moment, I wasn’t really in the room.  My mind had wandered back in time, remembering a time when family members who are but a memory were still breathing the same air that I breathed.  And in that moment, I found myself wondering.  What is really important in my life?  And in nearly the same instant, I thought about the people who are forever part of me.  I didn’t remember the clothes they wore.  Or the places we have been.  I thought about how much I was loved.  And how this feeling that never goes away always brings balance back into my life.

I was taught so many things by a great many people.  The most important lessons were not imparted with words, but through actions, through example.  Kindness is not optional, even when it is difficult to give.  Respect other people, even when you don’t agree with them.  Be generous to others, for what you have, even if earned, is a gift given to you, not to be hoarded, but to be shared.  Speak the truth always, but never harshly.

And then the present, or the near present, came back to me.  Sometimes, just seeing and being with someone is enough.  Your heart always finds a way to tell you what it feels.  And in the music, joyful and hopeful as the dawning of a new day, I remembered the thing that gives life to a life.  Love.  A gift, a treasure.  A memory?  Sometimes.  Transient?  Not when it is true.

How So

Last Saturday morning, I woke up shortly after the sun had awakened and Huntley Meadows, one of the local wildlife refuges, beckoned.  There was only one thing that made me think that maybe, just maybe, I should stay in bed.  The sky was overcast and the weather casters predicted about two inches of rain for the weekend.  I was pretty sure I wanted to just go out, go for a short hike, and take some pictures.  There was, however, something weighing on my mind.  It was grey.  It was dull.  What pictures were there to take in such a day as this?  In short, while I knew what I wanted to do, how will the reality of the on and off drizzle mesh with my idea of taking pictures of birds in spring?  My heart said go ahead.  My head asked why?  How so?

Sometimes the head wins out.  Sometimes the heart flutters too much and like the sweet smell of sampaguitas, the feeling envelops you, and the world feels new.  Is new.  The dawn of a new day.  A little muted, perhaps, but alive with possibilities.

And so it was that three hours was spent walking around in the on and off sprinkles from the sky.  And sometimes, the sun decided to tease a little warmth into the cool May morning.  The heart may be a lonely hunter at times, but then again, it can only be so.  For in the ups and downs and ups in life, we find our way to life lived, a life lived well.

How so?  The answer is simple.  Make it so.  And here are the pictures to prove it.

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