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.

DSC05484_sDSC05485_s

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.

DSC05502_s

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

DSC05511_sDSC05513_s

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

DSC05522_sDSC05529_sDSC05536_s

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

The Inner Light

My favorite episode of Star Trek is “The Inner Light.”  Star Trek has always been a show about what it means to be human.  Yes, it has a lot of flashing lights, special effects, green aliens, esoteric worlds, starship battles and journeys to countless planets and stars.  And yet for all the glitter, the show, at its best, is a grand exposition of the human condition, the human experience.  In “The Inner Light”, Captain Picard is thrust upon a life totally different from his own.  Instead of commanding a starship, he was a man with a wife he didn’t know, on a planet slowly dying.  He didn’t want to be there, but there was this woman he didn’t know who nevertheless tended to him, nurtured him, loved him.  Slowly, the fantasy became a reality and in a scant twenty minutes, Picard experiences a life he had never known.  A love he had never known.  A wife who adored him, children who loved him, needed him and in the end, taught him that being a parent elicits emotions ranging from worry, consternation, disappointment, pride.  All the by product of the most basic human emotion of all.  The ability to feel and to give love.

It is a masterful story and when I need to find meaning in my own life, I watch this show again and remember that all that glitters is not gold.  Kamin was not rich by any means.  His family was but one of many families in a village being ravaged by drought.  Yet the life he was living seemed so much more complete, so much more fulfilled than the life he lived as the dashing captain of a Federation flagship.  And when the illusion ended, when he realized that what he had thought was his life was actually a mental recreation, he did something extraordinary.  He took a flute, sat by a window, gazed at the stars, and he began to play.

We can go through life and be dazzled by the success that we are taught to go after.  We can go through life looking for the next star, hardly stopping to even look at the world that we are in.  We can go through life and experience ecstasy, the heights of fame, the allure of power, the spoils of wealth and yet feel empty, broken.  When we look outside ourselves for validation, we allow others to judge us from their point of view; to tell us that in order to be happy or successful, we must follow someone else’s dream, live the life that someone else envisions.  Is it such a surprise that a life that always looks outward misses the simple joys that life can bring.  A fluttering butterfly.  A cool breeze on a warm day.  A sprinkle of rain blurring one’s view of the world, for an instant.  So many small moments that can bring meaning to a life.  Do we spend the time looking at the world in its own terms, feeling the infinitely small breezes of fluttering wings, feeling the hair on our forehead dance, just a little.  Do we look inward and in our heart find that inner light, the one true beacon that can bring meaning to one’s existence?

It is like the nondescript houseplant pictured above.  Green leaves on a pot.  These leaves have a secret.  They are the leaves that will bring sustenance to this plant, that will eventually provide the nourishment for flowers to bloom.  These are the leaves of a sampaguita plant.  Jasmine.  Beautiful and sweet.  A flower, that to many, symbolizes purity and humility.  It is, in many ways, ethereal.

So as the year ends, I think of this special Star Trek episode.  And of a beautiful flower.  And look inward and see the beauty that the inner light reveals.  It is within all of us.  And when you find it, share it.  Be kind.  Be gentle.  Be generous.  In the grace that the beatitudes bring, we experience the greatness of all creation.