Delaware Sunrise

I was driving to northern New Jersey for a Christening.  I figured, what the heck, wake up early, try to get to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge by sunrise, and watch the sun rise.  The sun and the clouds and the sky cooperated.

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I came for the birds, and ended up with the sun.

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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.

A Beautiful Flower

A beautiful flower is a wondrous thing.  Such beauty did not come about by accident.  It is a product of careful nurturing, sprouting from roots lovingly cared for by someone who truly loved what they were doing.  And when it finally emerges, it is stunning to behold.  Those who truly appreciate its beauty know the love that is in full display.  When you find that special flower, it will be something that you will always treasure.  A lifetime is never enough.

Wondrous Wyoming

The boat across Jenny Lake at Grand Teton National Park afforded us an incredible view of the Tetons.  Upon reaching the shore, the mountainside trails beckoned.  Up we went, some slower than the others.  In due time, the spectacular waterfall that would be one of the hallmarks of this trip came into view.  The Teton peaks may give Grand Teton National Park its name, but the lakes, the waterfalls, the flowers of spring, the clean air, the beautiful mountainside hikes, and so much more make this park better than grand.  Eloquently beautiful, sublimely inspirational, incredibly inspiring – no superlatives can truly describe this jewel of the national park system.

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The Window to Miracles

New Mexico was, to me, one of those states on the southern border, somewhere between Texas and California.  At least until a chance visit to Santa Fe.  The air fare was low and the accomodations was free, so what the heck, why not.  When I got there, I could not believe how beautiful the city was.  And the Tex Mex or Mexican or whatever food that was there was incredible (except for the Chinese food, but even that may have improved by now).  One of the greatest surprises in all my travels.  Even now, I can see myself living in this town, semi arid, nestled in the mountains.  The people are friendly.  The arts are alive.  And Santa Fe is just plain old beautiful.

And yet, the trip to New Mexico will be remembered for an even more unexpected interlude.  A visit to the town of Chimayo.  It is one of the few towns that dot the road from Santa Fe to Taos, New Mexico.  At least that’s what it was on the map.  And so, before driving to Taos, I did a little research on the High Road to Taos.  I read some mention of a church in a small town that people from all over the world visited, in search of miraculous cures to all sorts of afflictions.  Curious, I decided to drop by and visit the church.  At the very least, it is an old, historic church in the mountains.  It was a good photographic opportunity.

I ran into a man who was friendly and was more than happy to tell me about this special place.  His name has been forgotten now, but his story is still in my head.  It turns out he is a four time cancer survivor.  When he first got cancer, his chances for survival was not good.  Guided by faith, he went to Chimayo, took some of the soil from a room in the church (it is freely given to all who visit), and took it home with him to Chicago.  He applied the soil like a balm over the afflicted area.  And miracle of miracles, or so he told me, his cancer was cured.  His cancer would recur three more times, in different parts of his body.  Each time, he went back to Chimayo, took some soil, and each time he was cured.  I asked him if he was there seeking another cure.  No, he said.  He was just there to give thanks for the gifts that were given him.  A life to be lead, a life that he was able to use for some good, and the grace to be healed of his afflictions.

I was dumbfounded.  I always associated miracles with Fatima.  Or Medjugorje.  Or Lourdes.  Chimayo is a beautiful but unassuming town nestled in the mountains, on a road between two major tourist destinations in New Mexico.  And yet, it is this town that I always think of when I think of New Mexico.  There is something there, a feeling there, that I can’t explain.  It’s not something metaphysical.  It is this feeling of peace and joy that emanates from this small church.   People may visit Chimayo in hopes of a miraculous cure to some sort of physical ailment.  To me, though, it gave something else.

When I entered the church in the middle of mass, it was mostly locals attending the mass.  After the mass, someone told me something that has stayed with me forever.  It was a message that was surprising and uplifting.  Even now, I recall the events of those few minutes spent in that church in Chimayo, of that quiet conversation.  Grace can come in many ways.  You don’t have to ask.  Somehow,  it just comes to you.

There are special places that leave you with an inner peace.  A feeling that stays with you for your entire life.  To me, one of those places is this church in the New Mexico mountains, in the town of Chimayo.  The window pictured above is in the room that contains the miraculous soil.  I can only say that what I remember most from that visit is not the window, not the church, not the town, not the mountains.  It was that quiet conversation, wholly unexpected.  In that moment, I felt forever blessed.

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