Ruminations at Christmastime

When I think about the things that happened this year, I want to go to a dark room and make everything go away.  And just like the college campuses around the United States that deem it necessary to isolate people supposedly investing their time to learn new things, experience a world outside of what they have known, and learn that life is full of the unexpected, it seems that the temptation to only feel, hear and see the good things in life is the answer to a life that doesn’t always have answers to questions that come about.  And yet, to shut the world out because it’s not what you want is to deny yourself the essence of what being human is all about.

Life is a series of events that in its eventuality is unstoppable, in its unpredictability predictable.  This year has seen the death of someone very dear, the death of others that have filled my head with ideas and my heart with love.  There was sadness all around.  For the realization that some voices will never be heard again.  Some smiles will never be seen again.  That a warm touch, that warm hug will never be felt again.  The mind senses that change has come.  The heart knows that change has come.  The spirit knows that while change has come, the world still beckons and that which are gone truly still live in our midst.

A Christian believes that the promise made by a loving Creator becomes manifest in the birth of a child.  Whether that child was born in squalor matters not.  What matters is that the God who created us all kept His promise to His people.  That love, true and unerring, triumphed over disappointment.  That forgiveness and mercy is more powerful than hate and betrayal.  That in giving His people His son, knowing that He in turn will be betrayed by His creation, God showed us the possibility of what we all can become.  If we let love reign in our hearts, we are capable of making the world we live in a world that all of us, whether we consider our self a child of Abraham,  whether we follow the precepts of Buddha, whether we find solace in the spirits of the forest – all of us the can transcend the limitations we place upon ourselves.   Respect one another.  Care for one another.  To see people not as impediments to our ambition but truly as a brother or a sister that we can nurture and love.

In the spirit of this season, we can find in the people around us, the world around us reason to be hopeful.  To be inspired by those who do small things and seeing countless small things bring joy to those who give so wholly of themselves.  I pray that today, we remember that salvation did not come with a proclamation of greatness.  It came from a Father that loved us all, from a couple who devoted themselves to the care of a child entrusted to their love, and eventually, the willingness of this child to give Himself wholly for the people He and His father loved.  In spite of the hatred and spitefulness heaped against Him, this Son of God and Son of Man gave Himself up to serve all of us.  To purchase, with His sacrifice, our salvation.

Love, freely given.  And today, we remember, if we so choose, that we are children of this same Father.  That like His son who died for us, we are tasked to take care of the world around us.  To be stewards of His creation.  To love all of His creation.  It is not always easy.  There are disappointments.  In the end, it is this selfless love that must inspire us to live a life of generosity.  Of giving.  Of sacrifice.  Forgiveness.  Charity.

Peace on Earth.  It starts with each one of us.  A small act of kindness, magnified a billion fold.  May each of us be a reflection of the love that made life possible.  And worth living.

Sometimes, it just withers away

I was looking at some of the pictures I took in the last year an a half and this one caught my eye.  Flowers, no matter how beautiful they are, always seem to have a lifespan.  Even as it fades, you can see the beauty that once was.  It didn’t wither because of lack of care.  The garden was the beneficiary of abundant rainfall.  The flowers were well taken care of.  In their time, their beauty was a reflection of the warm sun that nourished them.  And yet, as with all things, the flowers have an expiration date.

Each thing on earth has an appointed time.  In its time in the sun, each flower provides beauty and sustenance.  They may fade away, but each leaves a mark all its own.   And come next spring, another set of flowers will sprout and grow.  And like the flowers that came before them, they too dazzle the senses.

The circle of life.  Mysterious.  Essential.

Joy

Make someone happy.  Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life.  In our day to day lives, we are bombarded with messages, overt and subliminal, about the importance of being happy.  Live your life to maximize your happy moments.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  And yet.

In the height of happiness, everything seems possible.  The world is at your feet.  The view can be intoxicating – everything around you is orbiting a central sun.  The central sun that is you.  And yet.

Moments of happiness never last.  They are not illusory, but they are transitory.  A lifetime lived pursuing happiness is a life lived in selfishness, self centeredness.  A life that puts one’s self in the center of everything is a life that means nothing.  A life that constantly searches for affirmation, for the next big conquest, the next big raise, the next mountain to climb – is that really a life worth living?  A life where the self is the centerpiece of existence will experience moments of happiness.  And it will experience moments of sorrow.  Moments of pain.  Moments of great accomplishments mesh with moments of great disappointments.  A life that centers on the self and the self alone leaves the soul barren.  And the heart empty.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we need to understand that true existence must be centered not on one’s self, but on what one can do for those around us.  Selflessness instead of selfishness.  A soul exist within the body and outside its confines.  An existence that seeks to give, instead of take.  Not the material things that we all covet.  But one’s self.  To let others see you as you are.  The crooked smile, the thinning hair, the not so perfect eyebrows?   These are not the things that define you.  It is that smile, as imperfect as it may be, given to others that may be in need of a smile.  Helping someone cross the road, in a stiff wind that blows your hair into a frenzy.  Listening to someone, with eyes wide open, eyebrows raised, to let them know that they are not alone, that you can share their burden.

Respecting people, no matter who they are.  Embracing differences as a means of recognizing that an individual is but a part of a greater whole.  To see the weak and the oppressed and then realize that their struggle is your struggle.  Our struggle.  To understand that the sense of self is completed when it becomes entwined with the many selves that surround us.  Understanding that it is a kind heart that allows joy to permeate a life.

Joy.  When happiness subsides, there is something that centers us.  When sorrow overwhelms, there is something that supports us.  When we feel pain, we somehow know that like happiness, it will not last and a new page will eventually be written.  Joy allows us to know ourselves; to find value not in what we have done, not in what we have accumulated; but instead, to find value in who we are, in what we give of ourselves to others.  When our heart is filled with generosity, we can truly love.  In the selfless abandon of truly sharing who we are, what we have, what we do with others around us, we find that in moments great and small, in the important and in the mundane, there truly is meaning in our lives.  That in the core of our existence, there is joy.

The Stars at Night

As I gazed upon one year old twins, I think about my own youth.  Once, I was the baby on the crib, nurtured by parents who provided for my needs, sheltered me from the elements, protected me from harm.  As I grew older, they grew older and so it is with every person, of every generation.  We are like the sun, first rising slowly, lighting a path on a dark planet.  Slowly but surely it rises higher and higher, and soon enough it reaches its zenith.  Then slowly it starts to sink towards the horizon and when the last light of twilight is extinguished, the world turns dark again.

And yet, I could not escape the thought the sun is but one star in the firmament.  Each of us, as we grow older, as we climb higher in the horizon, begins to blot out other things in the sky.  And yet, elsewhere in the heavens, other stars continue to shine.  And I am heartened to think that each one of us, each of our ancestors, is a star.  Even as our lives shine bright and we become the center of our universe and seemingly outshine other lights around us, the stars are always there.  And so it is that I remember my father and mother, now gone.  And grandparents.  And uncles and aunts, and the many people who came before me, who came before them.  In the evening, before I sleep, I look at the window and see the stars that are always there.  They are never truly gone.  And if we listen carefully, we can still hear the voices within them.  They can still teach us.  If we let them.  In our dreams we are in some ways always children, always protected, always loved.  Awake, we know that life and love are eternal, shining forever, in the heavens around us.

On an August Day

It was, for August in the Washington D.C. area, a relatively cool day.  In the midst of summer, it was time for a walk in the garden, to take the sun in, to find that even in the undulating continuum that we call life, beauty always beckons, just waiting for us to find it.  We need not look far.  It is always within ourselves, if one decides to live a life not solely for one’s self but also for others.  Happiness comes not from selfish abandon but from selfless generosity.

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Not Quite Sleepless in Seattle

On the way to an unexpected trip to Manila, the first leg of the trip was a stop at Seattle, Washington.  I have never been to this city and I was hoping that there would be a relatively cloudless view of the surrounding area as the plane approached and landed in Seattle.  Well, it was a fortuitous day indeed.  Hopefully a harbinger of good things to come.  And with the Pixel 2 XL in hand, why not post unedited pictures while in the airport.  So here goes.Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-22,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YMaker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-22,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YMaker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-22,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YMaker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-22,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YMaker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-22,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YMaker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-22,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YMaker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-22,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

And a welcome sight after five hours.Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-22,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

The Seattle music scene (not really, but the guy was good).

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The setting sun, not in focus

Many people obsess about keeping the subject of their photograph in focus.  How every part of the image has to be sharp.  How great the bokeh is.  And all that stuff.  Sometimes, you just have to take a picture that you have in your mind.  And if that means the subject is not in focus, then so be it.  Is everything sharp?  Is that what’s really important?  Photography is about light.  And a photograph is something that makes you feel something.  The sharpest lens on the best camera in the world?  No, but I like what I saw through the lens of my camera.  Pictures of the setting sun, even when though the sun is not in focus.  It makes me appreciate the beauty of the world around us.

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Ephemeral Beauty

I look up a pink hued sky
And my heart beats in rhythm
With nature’s beauty, enveloping me
With warmth in the still cold April day
I gaze upward, and in the midst of the cherry canopy
I see a flower, standing still, yet moving me
My soul trembles with joy
And for a moment, an instant
The spirit of love overwhelms me
And my heart, changed, is finally free
Embraced by an ephemeral beauty
That lasts an eternity

The Wonder of Creation

When you find someone that makes life worthwhile
You remember that God created all of us for a purpose
And in the wonder of creation, He made sure
That each person can find Him
In the eyes, in the smile, in the heart
Of those that they hold most dear

We who are Created in His Image
Celebrate the true meaning of Creation
It is not to glorify one’s self
Nor is it to seek attention to one’s self
But to give one’s self in service of the other
Selflessness, you see
Is the revelation of the Truth
That above all else in the Universe
It is love, shared, that makes us whole

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Our Little Planet

One of the interesting things to see at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is the nuclear power plant in the not so far off distance.  It is a tribute to nature’s resilience and diversity that one of the symbol’s of mastery of the resources available to him is readily seen in what is a reminder of the place that we live in.  The little blue marble that hangs like a jewel in the night, that delicate ball of water, minerals, air, the third planet from a smallish yellow main sequence star, the rock that we call Earth.  To walk at Bombay Hook is to appreciate nature’s gift to man.  A place of beauty, a place teeming with life, a place that must be nurtured if it is continue to be a dwelling place for all the creatures that live and visit there.  A place that is a microcosm of the ecosystems around the world that we live in.  We have diverse environments around the world, many of which are threatened by unbridled and undisciplined human activity.  Why do we throw out so much plastic every day, every year?  What happened to water fountains?  Or at least that reusable jug that we carried water in?  We think that the most visible and egregious symbols of environmental destruction are the wanton release of hydrocarbons in the air, the precursor to an unstoppable, runaway greenhouse effect that will doom the planet into a Venus like existence.  The nuclear plants that can release dangerous radiation into the air are often seen as threats to the world we live in.  And yet, they are efficient power generators that provide the electricity to millions of people and make industry and technological advances possible.  There are arguments for eliminating or at least reducing our reliance on systems that threaten the health of our world.  Lost in the discussion is something that we see with our eyes every day.  Our disposable society has made as much of a negative impact on the health of the planet as any other man made “intervention.”

I have some training in science and engineering.  I believe that someday, we will be able to remove gases from the air to lessen the effects of global warming.  We will be able to generate power more efficiently, more cleanly (though I worry about migrating birds running into vast power generating turbines on the shores and in the open fields).  And yet, will the climatic changes that are currently under way be stemmed (or reversed) by some future scientific endeavor?  Also, the debate presupposes that we have all the facts and that the answers are already clear (when it comes to the global warming debate).  I have some questions still.  How much of the perceived global warming is an artifact of human activity and how much of it can be attributed to a natural cycle that we do not understand?  The sun’s radiation output is not uniform.  Random events that release dust and gas into the atmosphere (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, meteor strikes) have short and long term effects on the environment.  If we pass through a “dusty” part of the galaxy, will there be a measurable drop in the amount of solar radiation that reaches the planet and what effect will it have on life?  So many questions left to be asked.  And answered.

All I know is that we must be better stewards of the world that we live in.  Higher efficiency power generation, less reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power plants.  Less pollution, more recycling.  The mantras of today’s environmental movement.  All good things.  And yet, we can start our own revolution at home.  Use less water when washing clothes.  Use less plastics.  You say they are bio degradable?  If they take hundreds of years to degrade, is that really harmless?  Drive less, walk more.  Use the bicycle a little bit more.  This would mean that the cities and suburbs that we live in may actually look like neighborhoods again.  Accessible stores, libraries, restaurants.  And if you walk enough, you may even meet someone new and interesting.  And if you walk enough, you may see that there are a lot of things that we  individuals can do to keep our planet cleaner.  Safer.  If you walk enough, you give yourself time to think about your own life, and maybe make it better.  So, here’s a random thought.  Walk a mile or two and in your own small way, foster a revolution that will make our planet a better world for all of us.  Today.  And ensure its future as that blue marble teeming with life, a world of varied ecosystems, all in harmony with each other.