As the day winds down, I turn the TV on and sit transfixed. Mesmerized by the colors and the beauty of the latest Pixar movie – Soul. What can I say. This is another masterpiece from the geniuses at Pixar. This film has so many levels that I think it will take dozens of viewings before I even begin to digest the messages that the movie has to say. The most important thing that it brings to my mind, however, is that we as people waste so much time thinking that things can be so much better that we forget how to live life. It isn’t the glories, the heights of fame and success that defines a person. It’s how we live with our family, how we live in our community. How we touch the ones we love and the people around us. We live a life and we forget that every moment is special. I needed this reminder today. I need to remember this message every day. We obsess and work hard to get somewhere and then when we get there, it often feels like a disappointment. There is an emptiness, a feeling that we must have missed something. What we miss is the part of life that makes it worth living. Being alive means looking around, taking a breath, and watching the world around us. Whether it is in the company of others or in our quiet corner of the house, life is around us. In the warmth of the early morning sun. In the cold stare of Orion as he marches in the winter sky. Life is everywhere. Each step forward, backward, sideways takes us somewhere new. Each step is an opportunity to give meaning to the lives of others. And in so doing, give meaning to our own lives.
One can keep going to the garden and take the same kind of pictures. Overviews of flowerbeds with a wide angle lens. Macro photographs of bees. And you can come up with some incredible pictures. Here’s the deal, whatever you do. The most important thing that you can do to make a good picture is understand light. That’s it. Photography, after all, captures light reflected from objects. Or light emanating from light sources. Direct lighting. Diffused lighting. Specular lighting. Harsh. Soft. Color temperature. The angle of light in the scene. Background, side, foreground lighting. Light is always there, in every picture that you take. You might as well learn to work with it.
What does this little blurb have to do with these pictures? Well, you can use a combination of diffused lighting and strong back lighting to create pictures that evoke the feel of an impressionist painting. Are these pictures the next van Gogh, Renoir or Manet painting that takes the world by storm. No. Though when I look at them, I feel the beauty that they saw, and know there is still much to be learned. About flowers. About light. About art. About life.
And what lens did I use for these photographs? Not a macro lens. Not a wide angle lens. I was looking for birds, you see, and I saw flowers instead. Yes, that incredible Sony 200-600mm lens.
One of my favorite movies is the GREAT animated film, “Princess Mononoke” by the acclaimed filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Hand drawn animation at its finest, with a story for the ages (the environment, personal responsibility) – it is a masterwork that is not to be missed. The film features a fantastic soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi. The tune “Ashitaka and San” is peerless. And here is the music, acting as the accompaniment to a short vacation video I made almost eight years ago.
Photography is not merely the process of capturing an image. It’s not just looking at the world, looking at the things that are beautiful. It’s not finding cruelty or kindness, nor is it just looking for excitement, nor is it documenting the commonplace and the mundane. Photography is looking at the world and finding in it something that stirs your soul. It is not always bright and cheerful. It is not always gloomy and dark. It is, if you are honest with yourself, a reflection of who you are at the moment.
And because who you are constantly changes, the images captured is never the same. One can hope, however, that as in life, we can always find hope, even joy in all that we see. In the depths of despair there is always the promise of a better tomorrow. In the heights of happiness there is always a realization that moments like this are treasured, but not what we ultimately strive for.
Finding meaning in life, where you know yourself and understand that imperfection is not a curse but a blessing, when you see a world that is not closed but open to possibilities. When you look back not to long for what is past, but to learn that failure is not permanent but is always necessary. To know that success is not a singular achievement but a communal experience. To know that at the center of it all, is not the selfish tyranny of pride and conceit, but that in spite of one’s frailties, generosity and love prevails. That in every moment, great and small, the inner light illuminates the soul and that in all that we are, in all that we do, joy gives meaning to our existence.
And so it was yesterday afternoon, on a surprisingly cool day in July, I walked the grounds of Meadowlark Gardens. Paths walked so many times before. And yet, each step is always different, and so are the pictures.
Sometimes, you have to go out and smell (and take pictures of) the flowers.
In the wee hours of the morning, after another restless and near sleepless evening, I started listening to music. The notes played on and then I suddenly realized that at that moment, I wasn’t really in the room. My mind had wandered back in time, remembering a time when family members who are but a memory were still breathing the same air that I breathed. And in that moment, I found myself wondering. What is really important in my life? And in nearly the same instant, I thought about the people who are forever part of me. I didn’t remember the clothes they wore. Or the places we have been. I thought about how much I was loved. And how this feeling that never goes away always brings balance back into my life.
I was taught so many things by a great many people. The most important lessons were not imparted with words, but through actions, through example. Kindness is not optional, even when it is difficult to give. Respect other people, even when you don’t agree with them. Be generous to others, for what you have, even if earned, is a gift given to you, not to be hoarded, but to be shared. Speak the truth always, but never harshly.
And then the present, or the near present, came back to me. Sometimes, just seeing and being with someone is enough. Your heart always finds a way to tell you what it feels. And in the music, joyful and hopeful as the dawning of a new day, I remembered the thing that gives life to a life. Love. A gift, a treasure. A memory? Sometimes. Transient? Not when it is true.
One look says it all.
To all the mothers in the world. May there be peace and love in your heart always. A love that knows no boundaries, in this life and the next.
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.
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.
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.
And a welcome sight after five hours.
The Seattle music scene (not really, but the guy was good).