Monday, January 30, 2017

Neighborly Compassionate Reminder.

Just a little while ago, I was looking out of my kitchen window. I live a few blocks from a senior living home. There is a fellow, Charlie, who is always out walking....rain, snow or shine. He is elderly and lives in the assisted living community. Daily, he walks by my house numerous times. He always inspires me to get outside when I see him. Today, I noticed Charlie walking by from my window...he didn't look quite right. He was stumbling and looked really dizzy. Suddenly he fell to the street. I rushed over to help. Two other neighbors immediately pulled up their trucks to also help. One ran over to the home to get a nurse, while myself and my neighbor Jason chatted with Charlie and made sure he was stable and alert and felt cared for. The staff came out and got Charlie in a wheelchair and thanked us for looking out. His blood sugar level had dropped and Charlie said he "bit a bit more off than he could chew today." He emphatically said he'll be back out again tomorrow, and I told him I'd make sure to say hello!
I don't tell this story to pat myself on the shoulder whatsoever. I tell it because lately, we have been inundated by the nasty and vitriolic things happening in our country. I have been consumed by it. I have let it profoundly effect me (as it should) to a point of almost paralyzation (which is unhealthy).
Today, was a refreshing reminder that we all need to look after one another. My neighbors jumped into assist and comfort Charlie. It made my heart smile. None of us thought about political differences, none of us thought about age, sex, gender, race....we just acted. I felt the compassion and pure human spirit again. It's still out there, and it's heart is still pumping and lungs still breathing. It was a poignant reminder to see the good in people and to get off my computer and TV screen and interact with my neighbors and look out for each other. Compassion is infectious. It's human. Thank you Charlie and to my lovely neighbors. I'll be seeing you out there tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Photographic Memories

Viñales Valley at sunset.

Juan with his coffee plants
Meet Juan. Juan is a 70-something year old farmer (He doesn’t know his exact age) living in Viñales Valley, Cuba. On my recent trip here, I had pulled my bicycle off roadside and was curiously examining coffee cherries. Juan walks up with a delightfully welcoming grin and says. “You like coffee?” I gleefully respond, “Yes!” Juan cordially asks “Would you like to come see my house and farm? “Por supuesto!” I affirm. 

We walk 15 minutes to his house. Upon arrival, we are greeted by his loyal mutt who’s tail circles like a helicopter (Petey Pablo reference anyone?) and exhibits a playful exuberance. I ask its name. “Perro negro.” “Black Dog.” I chuckle to myself…original! Juan forcefully, yet excitedly leads me around his farm allowing me to pick coffee cherries, oranges and see his small tobacco plot as well. We then return to his home.

Juan opens the door to his home. It is perhaps 75 square feet. Austere might be an overstatement. The faded aqua tinted, splintered wood leaves small gaps where sunrays dance inside resembling a disco ball lighting effect. 
Fresh Coffee Cherries

There are two chairs. They are on their last legs literally. It seems the next person to test their fortunes, will be met with a welcoming crash to the ground. There is a simple bed in the back and a small partition wall that separates the bed from the room with chairs. Juan opens the two windows. Rain has just fallen, so there is a genuinely pleasant crispness in the air. The wind rushes in and the verdant trees and hillsides are framed perfectly. It’s a simple moment, but my soul is undeniably satiated and my heart is full. I will remember this moment for the rest of my years.

“Take a seat!” Juan says. Uh-oh. Here it comes. I see it now. The good old elementary school guffaw as the legs break and I thump the ground. Juan will be left with one chair. “Take a seat. Take a seat,” he implores. Alright. Whatever. I’ll go for it. It holds! Magic.

There is still a sense of malaise, as I sit making sure I don’t break one of Juan’s 3 possessions. He walks outside, finds a coconut and artfully slashes it with his machete. He fashions a straw out of some sort of hollow vine and hands it to me. It is gloriously delicious. We start chatting about life. Juan lives alone. His children and wife live in a town 20 or 30 miles away because of work. 
Juan cutting open a fresh coconut for me.

He says, “Mi vida…mi vida es muy tranquilo pero es dificil tambien. Somos muy pobres aqui, pero en general estoy alegre.” “My life…my life is peaceful but it is difficult too. We are very poor, but overall, I am cheerful.”

Juan points to three tiny Polaroid taped to his wall. They are photos of visitors to his house. He says, “This wonderful lady is from America…California. This lovely one is from Canada. And this really funny guy is from….Europe? France maybe?” Juan beams with pride as he looks at these photos. “Will you bring a photo next time?” “Of course,” I say. He then asks me to take a selfie with him. Wait, what? A selfie? Juan doesn’t even have electricity. My camera is rather bulky, and I say with trepidation I don’t it will work. He beseeches me to try it. We give it a go. Eagerly, we look on the LCD screen to see the results. “See, he says. It works! Bring it a printout next time of it for my wall!” We share a laugh, and I tell him I will.

“These are such special people in these photos. They are memories, I will keep forever,” Juan states. It's a truly powerful moment for me.

In large part, the essence of my photography and power of imagery resides in this story. It captures a moment that invigorates our memory forever. It brings us back to that setting at its essence.  These photos of Juan, coffee and Viñales Valley will forever hold power in my memory bank and they bridge a cultural divide. They remind me of the power of simplicity, of the human spirit and how we are all in this together.
A typical home in Vinales Valley

I hope this story resonates with you, and the photos and story give a powerful feeling of the moment. I would challenge all of you to go find a photo/s that means a lot and write about it/them. Tap into your memory and emotions and capture that image! It forces you to slow down. It conditions your attention span in a time where we bounce all over the place. It is cathartic; especially right now with everything going on in our troubling world! If you do, please share your stories with me!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Never really engaged with my blog.  I wrote one post, and then just led it fade away. I am back with renewed vigor and intention.

As Obama just stated, "This is not a period, it is a comma."
I jotted down this stream of consciousness in my journal while watching the Presidential Inauguration. Reflection via my pen and paper is cathartic. Flawed, surely; Complete, never; Genuine, absolutely:
Transitions. Shaken to the core but my indelible spirit remains. The day is here. With vigor I write, my pen scalding. Emotions complex, raw. Vulnerability perspiring, yet solidarity brimming. I tear into every fiber of this page. A flame is ignited. I stand for compassion. I will fight for equality. Light will give way and respect the dark. Extreme nationalism is antiquated. Acknowledging my fortunate freedoms by birth, utilizing them. Progress is imminent. We, the world will rise up. A world of wonderful diversity. A world that faces climate change together. A world that must come together. A world that opens our hearts to the people of Aleppo, to South Sudan, to Veterans who have sacrificed so much and are silently crying for help, to anyone in desperate need for a sense of worth.
Extreme patriotic rhetoric is no panacea to prejudice. We're not bounded merely by borders. Imaginary lines isolating us, and systemically creating notions of superiority. Wealth derives from compassion and the human spirit...not money. Time to look beyond the self and extend not merely a hand, but a resilient empathetic spirit. Even to those I vehemently oppose, I will listen; but I will not be quiet.
We are equipped with the greatest weapons of all. Love and perspective. They will prevail. The human spirit is strong not just the American one. Yes, as Americans we can use many of our collective privileges and creative aspirations and actions to stand up for what's right in this world. Thank you Obamas for your undeniable integrity. Thank you for being the face and voice for so many. You tackled our "crumbling infrastructure." You began building the bridge that brings our world together. You are truly an inspiration and your legacy resides inside my very core. Shaken as it is, it has never been more awoken.  Yes we can!

I wrote this as a follow up to a friend who commented on the writing above saying they wish they were hopeful as I was. The following is my response:

I wouldn't necessarily deem it hopeful. I'm unsure of the exact sentiment (hence the stream of consciousness and grappling of complex emotions), but I know many of us who loved the Obamas fell into a bit of complacency. We had a leader who connected with our core values and progress felt inevitable. America just felt more "human." I know I live in my bubble, but throughout my travels many in other countries spoke honorably of Obama and what our country was doing. It was rather humbling, and I felt as American as I ever have. 

Now the tables are turned, and we see many of what we considered "progress" albeit at its nascent stages... highly threatened. We have been so battered by this election and inundated with hate. negativity and inequality... it has re-ignited those core values, and we feel a greater need than ever to continue on with what the Obamas started. It's their legacy. It's our legacy that progress is forthcoming. Even Trump said in his speech today, 'What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people." We, the MAJORITY of the people have to stand up and keep the progress train rolling, some semblance of hope alive, listen and hold the new government accountable. I believe in the power of the people, and I do think we are as fired up as we have ever been. I see this election result as for lack of a better term..."The white man's last stand." We are becoming a nation that is more and more tolerable and open to diversity. Sure many in middle and rural America felt unheard, and had their traditional values challenged. I have a modicum of empathy for them. Progress feels threatening. Many have never even crossed state lines before much less seen other areas of the world. So, it's difficult for them to think beyond themselves...but many of them are respectful, honest and hardworking people and they felt neglected. (Most were duped by Trump and time will show that) They felt inferior to some of the elitist attitudes that were stewing; however, I don't find anything elitist about promoting education, having tact, having integrity, compassion and a sense of class. If anything, it's what I hang my relative patriotic American hat on...Our ability in America to be creative, use free speech, be compassionate, tolerable and chase our dreams. 

The only thing I see fit right now to counter what has transpired is... By action. By listening. By not acting better than anyone. By acts of service..By compassion and by using our collective voices in whatever form that is. All that being said....we are going to face some extremely difficult times...many of us are deeply struck at the core, and I am hopeful that we will act. It's the only thing we know to do. It's not about "I" or "Making America Again" rhetoric. It's about "we" and "Making our world a more equitable and sustainable place for human beings and for our environment." It's the American thing to do". I feel many of us represent this worldview and go beyond the insular thinking of "America First". That is supremely selfish and unbecoming. I am trying mightily hard (and it's not easy) to have a fraction of the class and dignity the Obamas have embodied and had throughout this arduous election cycle.That's my rant ...actually probably not, I am sure much more to come. And of course these are merely my opinions and hold no definitive truth.