The Beauty Inside

Years ago, while vacationing in Cabo, I decided to drive to La Paz, Mexico.  I didn’t have a GPS and I was adventurous enough to attempt to go across Baja California with a rudimentary map that I printed from the internet.  I wanted to see the clear waters of Balandra Beach.  So off I went, on my small rental car, driving between fast moving, close passing cars and trucks that seemingly were only a second or so away from colliding with me.  When everything seems like a close call, you just learn to go with the flow.  A few hours later, I was in La Paz.

After a quick lunch and a visit to the beach, it was time to go back to Cabo.  There was only one problem.  I only mapped out the path going eastward.  I had no idea how to get back to Cabo.  I was driving around in circles.  Every once in a while, I’d ask somebody for directions on how to get back to the highway that would take me back west.  There were so many helpful people, but it was readily apparent that my inability to speak or understand Spanish was a major liability.  People tried to help me by drawing pictures of the roads that I needed to drive to.  That only lead me to different circular paths.  Flustered, I stopped by a gas station to try to get directions.

Once again, I didn’t have much luck getting directions to Cabo.  I was panicked.  And then, something miraculous happened.  There was a beat up car parked in the gas station.  A man came up to me and told me that he can show me the way back to Cabo.  Follow him, he said.  He will take me to the highway to Cabo.  I did as he said.  I started my car and followed him as he drove through streets that were unfamiliar to me.  We reached a highway and he pointed to a certain direction, a sign telling me that I have finally found the road home.  I waved at him to thank him.  He smiled and in what seemed like an instant, he was gone.

I sped through the highway, heading westward.  A few hours later, I was back at Cabo.  Relieved.  Thankful.

The thing is, there are many beautiful things to see and experience in Cabo and La Paz.  Great food, great beaches.  And yet.  The thing that I remember the most is the kindness of a total stranger.  I was lost; somehow, this stranger found me, and set me back to the right path.  I could think of a lot of religious allegories, but I really want to say something about how many of us, including me, lead our lives.

All of us, in a multitude of ways, are attracted to beautiful things.  A beautiful person, a beautiful car, a beautiful whatever.  How many times do we ignore the things that seem common, the things we deem unexceptional.  We look up and see the bright lights.  And we gravitate towards the brightest of these lights.  We forget (truthfully, we neglect)  the other lights in the world.  Why is it that we choose to ignore so many things that can bring us so much happiness, so much joy?   I can’t even fathom how much I have missed in life by not paying attention to the things that really should matter the most.

We can spend endless amounts of money trying to stay young, to become more presentable, in the hopes of being likable enough for people to pay attention to us.  We surround ourselves with things to make us look comfortable, as if the look of success is somehow enough to impress everyone that we seek.  Somehow, we have allowed the constant bombardment of messages extolling wealth and beauty to distract us, to make us  forget what is really important in our lives.

I am so glad that I got lost in La Paz.  This unfortunate happenstance lead to one of most life affirming lessons that I have experienced.  In the midst of nowhere, a man in a rusty old car extended the hand of friendship to someone he didn’t know.  He didn’t ask for any compensation.  It was enough for him to give help when help was needed.  He didn’t ask me who I was.  He didn’t care that I didn’t speak his language.  He just helped.

I need to remind myself of this lesson every day.  Beauty comes from the heart.  Love freely given, without any expectation of getting anything in return, is the most beautiful thing of all.  Remember to be kind.  Remember to listen.  Be of service to others.  Expect nothing and in so doing, gain everything.

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A Christmas Message

For many, today is a special day.  A day to be with family.  To share stories.  To laugh, to eat, to be merry.  And that is all good.  To those who follow Christ, this is the day when God fulfilled his promise and gave us His Son.  Announced by angels, the child of God came not to condemn.  Or to belittle.  Or to oppress.  Or to destroy.  The Son of God was born from the womb of a woman, the new Eve, who willingly obeyed the Father who created us all.   Mary’s faith and obedience allowed God to became truly one with us.  To know the love of a human mother, singularly blessed.  To be raised by an adoptive father, if you will, who taught his son what it means to work hard, to be dutiful, to be faithful.  It was a life not rich in material things, but it was a life rich in spirit, in faith, in humility, in love.

Today, we yearn for great things.  For ourselves.  For our country.  We often think that we alone have the answers.  That our way is the only way, our needs the only things that matter.  We must have the loudest voice, the biggest house, the biggest bank account.  We have an incessant need to glorify ourselves, often at the expense of others.

Two thousand years ago, that was not the message that the Creator gave to His creation.  God did not boast.  He did not bully.  He did not seek attention.  He did not punish.  No, through His Son Jesus Christ, He showed the world that we are all one with God.  We are all children of God.  Jew and gentile alike.  Christ did not carry arms nor did he extol others to oppress or to punish.  He lived a life of humility, of obedience, of subservience.  Our Creator became our brother.  He taught us that we are no longer alone.  That no one is alone.  He taught us to give ourselves to each other.  To respect each other.  To treat each other with dignity, as we are all brothers and sisters in the sight of the Almighty.  He taught us that it is through the giving of one’s self that we are made whole.

Let the gift of God, and the sacrifice of the Son, live in your hearts forever.  When you see someone in the corner needing help, look not in derision.  Share what you have.  Use the talents that were given  to you.  Not to accumulate wealth.  Nor intimidate the weak.

Each of us is unique, with gifts uniquely are own.  To be used, in our own way, to serve all of God’s creation.  Be a friend.  God knows no borders.  God sees color everywhere and rejoices in diversity.  With love, everything is possible.  Even people who do not share our faith are our brothers and sisters.  Treat them as you would have God treat you.  With respect.  With kindness.  With understanding.  If you believe that God created all of us with a purpose, then how can you look at someone with a disability, or someone with a different pigmentation, or someone with a different set preferences with disdain?  Each of us can teach the other.  Each of use can learn from one another.

Jesus came to cleanse us of our sins.  An act of forgiveness.  An act of sacrifice.  A gift, from our Creator, showing us the way to a life of happiness and peace.  Share what you have.  Forgive others and ask to be forgiven.  For in forgiveness, love will come.

Let a flower bloom in your heart.  Be the seed that grows into a tree that gives comfort to all.  Let God’s love, ever present, live within you.   And so I end with prayers, from different points of view.

For those who do not believe in the Almighty, live long and prosper.  Remember to share in your prosperity.

May the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, creator of the Universe, bless you.  May your life be fruitful.

May Allah grant you and your family good health and prosperity.

May Jesus, our savior, Son of God, instill upon your heart the beauty and wonder of God’s love.  Share with others what you have and in so doing, share eternity with all of God’s creation.  Let there be peace.  Let there be joy.  Let there be love.

 

Shell Game

On my walk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I happened upon these shells neatly arranged on a split log.  Somebody went through the trouble of finding the shells and then arranging them in the log.  All the work so I can happen upon the shells and have something to take a picture of.  Amazing.  Thank you, unknown artist!

And before I forget.  One more picture of an autumn leaf.

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Or leaves.

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Green ones too.

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And then, Yosemite

When I was young, my parents used to take me along trips and vacations to see the wonderful places the world had to offer.  I remember driving to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park for the first time.  My father was ecstatic looking at the mountains and the seemingly endless views of the valley below.  My mother was busy posing for photographs.  I was unmoved.  A typical teenager, I just wanted to stay home and do my own thing.

A few years later, my grandparents were visiting us in Virginia and they decided to visit their friends in rural southeastern Virginia.  If the barely two hour drive to the Shenandoah was long, the drive to Richlands, Virginia seemed like an eternity.  Mountains, hills, valleys all melded into a mosaic of interstates and highways, rural roadways, the occasional town.  It was a happy time for all – friendships rekindled, beautiful mountain air – with the exception of the grumpy teenager who just wanted to stay home.  And of course, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was only a “short” distance away.  So what to do?  Drive through more mountain roads, look at never ending forests, gaze upwards to look  at yet another mountain peak, and meet native Americans for the first time.  That part of the trip was actually interesting.  Clean mountain air, the fog that covered the mountains that made for spectacular sunrise and sunsets, the breezes that made the hot summer days bearable – I didn’t breathe, see or feel any of that.  I chose to ignore the beauty that was around me.  I just wanted to be home.

When my father bought me my first real camera, I started taking pictures of my friends.  Eventually, I started taking pictures of the monuments and landmarks that were so close to me.  Visit to the woods and parklands soon became a favored diversion.  I started to read about the great places to visit in the United States.  Shenandoah National Park.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Yosemite National Park.

I visited family and friends in San Francisco and they offered to drive me to Yosemite.  I was unprepared for what I saw.  I knew that the place was beautiful – who hasn’t seen the pictures of Yosemite taken by Ansel Adams and other great photographers.  I envisioned cliffs, mountains, streams.  Instead, I was treated to one of nature’s great cathedrals.  Yes, El Capitan, with its granite face was a sight to behold.  Half Dome, Yosemite Falls – they were indeed impressive. Still, they are but backdrops to the true beauty of Yosemite.  The life sustaining valley nestled within the great peaks of the Sierras.  The stone monuments, beautiful as they are, are the supporting cast to this place that the trees and animals call home.  Yosemite.  A monument for the ages.  A cathedral for the living.  A gift of magnificent beauty for all.

We all make mistakes. We all learn.

It was 1996.  Eleven years earlier, Steve Jobs was ousted from his job at Apple.  The investors believed that Jobs had outlived his usefulness at Apple and replaced him with a numbers man.  A very good numbers man.  John Sculley, hired by Mr. Jobs, orchestrated his removal from Apple.  For a while, Apple thrived.  Not too long after the coup, however, Apple started to lose its way.  The Macintonsh went through various product updates, but it was losing market share to the IBM PC and its clones.  What was magical became mundane, as Microsoft introduced iteration after iteration of Windows, each version closing the gap between the Macintosh and the PC clones.  Windows, the upstart product from Microsoft, was at its peak – Windows 95 reigned supreme in the computing world.  The Macintosh, the first successful personal computing product that utilized a graphical user interface on top of its operating system, was losing its innovative edge.  And market share.  A succession of products from Apple, while technologically competent, failed to capture the imagination (and wallets) of the American consumer.  The company developed cheaper products that offered fewer and fewer features that differentiated them from even cheaper products from the myriad of manufacturers that sold IBM PC clones running the Windows operating environment.

Gil Amelio was brought in to save Apple.  He saw the need to update the item that made the Mac unique in the first place – its operating system.  After some exploratory talks with several companies, he decided that Apple’s best way forward was to buy a company called NeXT and use the operating system it developed, NeXTstep.  It bought the company, it got its operating system.  It also got something else.  Steve Jobs.  Jobs started NeXT after he was ousted from Apple.  Jobs had said that he learned a lot from his failed first stint at Apple.   He used the time away from Apple to hone his skills as a leader, as a marketer, as a salesman, as a head of a company.  He didn’t let failure stop him.  He adapted.  He bought Pixar.

In February 1996, Apple was in trouble.  The acquisition of NeXT was still months from completion.  Investors were restless.  It was becoming an afterthought.  It was a body without a soul.  A year later, Apple had Steve Jobs back.  A man that was mercurial.  A man that had flaws.  A man who had vision.  A man who believed in his vision.  In early 1996, the world was not expecting a second Renaissance.  The headlines proclaimed the death knell  of a great American company.  Looking back, the headlines were probably right.  And yet, Guy Amelio was about to make a mistake (as far as his future employment status was concerned) that caused, as they say, “a great disturbance in the force.”  Guy Amelio wanted one thing.  A new operating system for the Mac.  He got what he wanted.  Apple ended up gaining engineering knowledge and knowledgeable engineers.  And it got one other thing.  Steve Jobs.  The rest, as they say, is history.

What can we learn from this?  We all fail.  Many times.  As a species, we are all prone to failure.  What separates us from other animals on this planet is that we get up and try again.  Failure is the catalyst for learning.  For improvement.  For developing a vision that is all our own.  We can enjoy the accomplishments and work of others.  And learn from others.  In the end, it is the development of our own personal vision that will make what we do interesting and meaningful.  We may not be as groundbreaking as a Steve Jobs.  We may not have his impact in the world that we live in.  As long as we develop our own sense of self, our own vision, through failures and successes, we can make our own impact in the world we call home.  Think different.  That was a slogan that was bandied about decades ago.  Let these two words serve as an inspiration in the things that we do.  In our art.  In our photography.  In our lives.

We are a part of a collective, yes.  Let us not forget, however, that our greatest contribution to the world will not be borne of our need to do the same things that other people do, like the lemmings in that first Macintosh commercial.  We are one community of different individuals.  Be your own original you.  Think different.