To share, you first must have

Later this month, I’ll present a photography workshop about how to have emotion in one’s photography. One of the key points that I will make is that “you have to feel it before you can share it.” That got me to thinking about anything that we want to share.

It doesn’t matter whether you want to share an emotion or a well-cooked meal or an artistic expression of a feeling…you have to have it yourself, first, before you can share it.

  • Have awe for the grandeur of the landscape before making the decisions to create a photograph that will instill a sense of awe in viewers.
  • Feel genuine excitement for your little leaguers hit if you want to share in words, photos or actions that you are excited about it.
  • Empathize with the person whose story that you are about to capture in words, photographs or sketches before tackling the creation of said works.
  • Reconnect to memories of your grandmother’s kitchen and her cooking of your favorite dish while preparing that dish for your family.

…and so on.

I remind photographers that to see better we need to close our eyes; the view is very different if we engage our other senses before seeing what or who is in front of us. (If this intrigues you, you might like my book, The Seeing, Not the Taking:  A Guide to Seeing for Photographers.) Anyone can take a picture – push a button – but seeing…that is another matter. How do we see others? See life? See beauty? See sadness? See anything in our lives? Only one way…with all five senses, not just one.

Immerse yourself with all senses in all of life’s experiences and the treasure chest of what you can share will always be full, and re-filling every day. Be open to love, emotion, feeling, awe, sorrow, joy…so that you can use it to share with others. We can’t share what we don’t have. Live full; share lovingly.

Thankful for Moms

It’s Mother’s Day. My mom has been gone for 27 years, but I use every day the things that she gave me. Maybe that is what the day is all about: Honoring and thanking moms for what they give us. To honor them most completely, we can share with others those good things.  Three, in particular, come to mind for my mom.

Love

Unconditional. Whether I was an angel or a brat at the moment, I knew I was loved. Whether she was having a good day or a bad day, I knew I was loved. Her epitaph reads “A tender mother and a faithful friend” because of how she loved her kids.

Laughter

The benefits of laughter comprise an extensive list of positives. Laughing with others makes the inevitable tears of life more tolerable. Mom laughed at good jokes, childish play, funny books (“The Egg and I” always had her in tears of laughter) and…life. She laughed with life despite the many challenges life presented her.

Wisdom

Mom was wise in many ways. She shared wisdom gleaned from life’s experiences through stories and conversations. Her wisdom borne in experiences and her wisdom developed through discernment are assets that I access to this day because she shared it. Wisdom should be shared.

There were other gifts, like patience, which she needed a lot of with me, but love, laughter and wisdom stand out as things that shaped me and as the things I hope to share with others.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you. Happy Mother’s Day, mom; miss you still and always.

The things we don’t know

“How are you doing, sir?” I called out to the man about 20 paces ahead of me in the parking lot.

He paused and when I caught up with him, he said, “After all that in there, I felt like my stuff was nothing.”

“All that in there” referred to what we both had just heard at the conclusion of our parish council meeting after I asked attendees if they had any special intentions for which they would like prayers. Among the needs shared by the 10 people there were for the man whose daughter in-law committed suicide, the parishioner with recently discovered advanced stomach cancer and several others with major challenges in their lives.

“Well, what is your stuff?” I inquired, only to find out about his three skin cancers that had been removed which required some reconstruction on parts of both the man’s ears. “They think they got it all and that it is contained,” he said. “You’ll be on the prayer list,” I replied.

That started a conversation about how little people know about others’ lives. We know not the troubles, concerns, fears, or frustrations that burden, distract, discourage, depress or diminish others, including friends, family, neighbors, and strangers.  We just don’t know.

It is not that we should know, either. Private matters are private matters. We should not presume to know anyone’s situation simply by observation though. Rarely is the impression we get by someone’s appearance, actions or attitudes the correct one. The things we don’t realize about people are often more important in our interactions with others than the things we do. While we don’t need to know, we can assume with 100% accuracy that whoever we encounter is dealing with more, coping with more, fretting about more, distracted by more…than we can ever know. Keep that in mind.

Would you like to try…?

“Would you like to try / Something you never dreamed of?” is more than a lyric to a song; it is challenge and invitation to all of us.

Years ago, after reading The Aladdin Factor, I created a list of more than 100 things I’d like to accomplish in life. I accepted an invitation to join an adult softball team because of the book; I had on my list the desire to hit a home run. I realized that my chance of accomplishing my goal was nil if I wasn’t “in the game.” I did not get a home run, but I did get a “grand slam.” (Read this post for the explanation.)

The list also including writing a song and watching a music recording session. I got the chance for both, and the result is “Wrangler’s Ballad.”  It was written as a tribute to the clients of New Danville, where I work as their development director; it is a community for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

“Would you like to try / Something you never dreamed of?” sticks in my head.

Try things; dream things; try things you haven’t even dreamed was possible. More than messages in a song, they  are reminders to everyone.

Telephone booths and what they said about us

I remember my grandmother and mother using an expression that is rarely or ever used today.  “Have they no shame?” they would ask when they witnessed people say or do things that would possibly diminish observers’ respect for the person saying or doing the something. Whereas in “those days,” people held restraint and privacy of actions in some regard, it seems like those qualities are lost.  It might do well to harken back to then.What got me to thinking about that was a photo of a telephone booth. They served a much greater purpose than giving Clark Kent a place to change into his Superman garb. The booths provided a place where a person could stand or sit and have a private conversation.  Private.  The assumption was that the world didn’t need to know, shouldn’t know, and wasn’t interested in the caller’s conversations and all the details entailed. Nowadays, cell phones make all conversations public; for some, everyone within ear shot hears both sides of the conversation. The more people in the vicinity of the person on the phone, the louder they speak and the more people who hear.  It is hard to ignore all the conversations that are nearby. I am sure we have all heard things that we wished we hadn’t, be it details, emotions or vocabulary from total strangers. No one seems to care if they are overheard.Sometimes it is impossible to hear with much specificity because there are so many people on the phone within earshot. Privacy by aural overwhelm, I guess.Merriam-Webster cites the primary definition of shame as “A painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.” Looking at each word of the definition, it seems there is, indeed, no sense of shame in society. To have shame requires standards against which behavior or actions are measured and the humility to know that one does not measure up.The more I think about it, the more I miss the age of telephone booths because in their disappearance seems to be a vanishing of the reasons to have them.

 

To See Life More Clearly

A few years ago, I wrote an article about how hearing aids, literally and figuratively, can help an organization’s leadership and management, based on a nonprofit’s executive director’s comment about her need for hearing aids. Having just been fit for my first pair, I can attest that these devices are good for a lot more than improving hearing. They help you see life more clearly; “see” has many definitions.

It is not like I am deaf or anywhere close to it. I attribute my diminished ability to hear on the high end of the spectrum to some good concerts, particularly the one when I stood in front of the speaker stack. I got great photos though, 45 years ago.  The audiologist revealed the results of the hearing test and explained that the auditory nerve will quit conveying particular wavelengths if they are not heard for a long period of time (many years). I decided to get ahead of the curve and get the devices. Along the way of the process, I was reminded about some important lessons about life.

Save what you have
Whatever asset, skill, attribute or capability you have, work to recover it, save it or improve it. Time and  age, or injury, may require compensations or workarounds, but so be it. Just because you can’t do something now like you did 5, 10, 20 or 40 years ago doesn’t mean that something should be abdicated or forgotten. Fish with bait if the constant casting of a lure irritates arthritis; play less sophisticated chords if your fingers can’t hit the ones they used to; walk or hike instead of jogging, or jog instead of sprinting; try knitting to make things if the miniscule sizes of needle eyes make sewing frustrating…and millions more.  There are always a multitude of ways to access the activities and pleasures of life despite changing personal abilities.

Hear and listen in order to see.
I’ve told my photography students the same thing for 40 years now:  “If you want to see better, close your eyes.” My goal is to get photographers to use all their other senses and then open their eyes to see what is in front of them. The aroma of food may change the perception of it, and therefore the inspiration for images; the sound of waves crashing will inspire a different approach to photographing waves than simply seeing them come in; the taste of sweat dripping into the corner of your mouth will change how to convey heat or strenuous exercise…and so on.

With hearing aids bringing the high end sounds back to me, I am reminded about the value of hearing, and listening to what is heard, in order to change what is seen (again, using the various definitions of “see.”) My wife and I sat on the back porch to start the morning with conversation and coffee while enjoying the sights and sounds of the early day. The sights changed because of the sounds. I was almost giddy with the “new” sounds of so many birds making a variety of chirps, tweets and beckonings. I turned off the hearing aids and heard birds; I turned them back on and heard a symphony of winged instruments near and far. I couldn’t help but look for the creators of the sounds; I listened to the distinctive sounds and sought out the makers in nearby blooming trees, on the roof, on the fence and so on. Hear; listen; see differently.

Pay attention
Pay attention and stay out of cruise control. Pay attention to the details of information (“Go too long and you’ll lose the high-end spectrum forever.”); pay attention to nuances and subtleties; pay attention to distinctions and differences…pay attention to everything; you’ll learn and grow from the process and will soon see life more clearly, with better understanding.

Something New or Something Better

Should I use some time to learn something new or to get better at something I’m pretty good at? Yes. It is a quandary since time is finite. There are always things to learn and there is nothing that each of us are good at but could also get better.

I’ve always wanted to learn to play a musical instrument. Piano lessons when I was a lad failed, though I believe that dealing with me likely benefitted Sr. Dolores on her path to heaven. I tried again at 16. I did pretty well until the lessons required getting my left hand involved by cooperating with my right hand. My left hand has a mind of its own.

In the intervening years between piano attempts, I showed a proclivity to writing and photography. I seemed to have some talent in those areas and have embraced them throughout my life. I can get better at both…of course!

But some things just gnaw, like wanting to play an instrument. When I went through the “what I want in my life” exercise described in the book The Aladdin Factor, I included learning to play the acoustic guitar. Two years ago, I bought a guitar and enrolled in a learn-to-play-in-30-days program (and ongoing instruction). One month. It has been almost 24 and I still don’t know how to play. To be fair, I was making reasonable progress until a couple of hospital stays in the summer of ’21. The lessons were going pretty well until I needed more compliance from my left hand…the one with a mind of its own. Lack of progress led to frustration to lack of practice to…back to step one. I have not surrendered; I am re-grouping.

I think that is okay. By tackling something of interest, it has the called the question as to whether I should use time to get better at the things I know how to do well (but could do better) or persist by changing patterns to learn something new. After all, I am still a young man…at least in my own mind. I discovered the answer to the question is “yes.”

Words to Live By

I only met Vernon twice, but he had an impact. The first was a brief conversation after a meeting at my job, the second was when I had gone to interview him and his wife for the newsletter I produce for the nonprofit I work for; I left feeling like we were life-long friends. He had that effect on many, as evidenced by the crowded church at his funeral the other day. As the pastor said, “The church has not been this full in two years.”

The closing sentence from the short bio about him that accompanied the service’s program read, “In all life’s journey, he lived out his true calling as a pastor.”  He was studying chemical engineering when he was commissioned into the Army through ROTC. His life of ministry began during his military service in Vietnam when he decided to become an Army Chaplain. This engineer was also ordained after graduating from the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. He returned to engineering later in life.

Of the many things said during the two eulogies presented by his sons, and comments from the various pastors who spoke during the service, two stand out as words to live by.

Be present and listen. These were the words of advice that Vernon shared with a young minister who was struggling with how to be pastoral in a specific situation he was working with. Whether we are with family or friends, strangers or alone in prayer, his simple, powerful advice holds true. It is easier not to, but more loving to do so.

Merriment is good medicine; dad was well medicated. One of his sons shared that insight. Laughter from the attendees affirmed what was apparently common knowledge about Vernon. Several people cited Vernon’s special sense of humor. The images shown prior to the service revealed a life full of smiles and laughter; many smiles were wry. Of all the advice and information that we hear about medicines of all sorts, this is the one we should perhaps pay most attention to. Be well medicated with heavy doses of merriment.

It takes a special person to create a sense of lifelong connection after only an hour of conversation. Vernon was that kind of man. We should all aspire to connecting to others in such authentic ways.

Mail room lesson in humanity

We live in a community with a central mail room that serves all the residents of the community. There are no mailboxes on the street or at homes. Tonight, I realized the mail room is life. It reveals humanity.

The centrally placed building is a gathering area, of sorts. While retrieving mail, one might run into a friend or meet a neighbor. You can also see the fullness of life, providing a view that provides a great perspective on how we’re all in this together.

This is the second time I have lived in the community. A quarter century ago, the area proved to be a great place to raise kids. My three sons enjoyed the small-town feel, fishing on three lakes and the overall environment. The gap between leaving here as a father to teens and returning as one of the senior set is 20 years. My perspectives now are richer, and, hopefully, wiser.

It’s a close-knit community; there are a lot of us seniors in it. It is not unusual to find notices on the door about a resident who has passed away. The bulletin board inside the building reveals all of life leading to its conclusion.

Notices abound, tacked to the cardboard. You can find used sets of golf clubs for sale; some are sold because the seller is improving their game, or aging out of it. Some are offered through estate sales.  There are offers for tutoring assistance in classes ranging from middle school math to college physics (we live in a “college town”). Invitations to fund-raising events for local charities can almost always be found on the board; there are always people in need and people who want to help. There are also invitations to join bridge clubs or pickleball groups, as well as many other activities that young people or retirees like to participate in. The pinned papers reveal people’s desire to socialize, engage and support. Yesterday, I noticed a message that bundled all the aspects of humanity; a resident who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2015 was looking for others to join in the creation of a support group. I paused to absorb the wording and left with a profound sense of mortality, along with an affirmation that the way to make it through life and its challenges is with other people.  The entire board reflects the same wisdom, each sheet of paper in its own way. Amidst the “for sale” sheets and event notices stood a card of gratitude from one of the women who works behind the counter of the mail room. It has been there since the Christmas holidays, expressing her thanks for the gifts and well wishes. It stood out for its look and message; gratitude has a way of doing that.

My truck was the only vehicle in the parking lot as I headed out the door. A car pulled next to mine as I made my way through the lot. The driver seemed to be in no hurry to get out of his car. He was moving slowly when I called out, “How are doing this evening, sir?” He rose slowly, his pace clearly age induced. “Getting older,” he replied with a smile. “God willing, we get to do that every day,” I said. He nodded. “It’s the end of that that I’m worried about,” he said, his smile giving way to a look of resignation.

My trip to the mail room was a lesson on humanity and the human condition.

It’s 3 a.m., do you know where…

One of the vestiges of my month-long COVID fun during the summer (one week sick at home, one week in the hospital and two weeks recovering at home) is that of waking up around 3 in the morning, sometimes 4. When I was in the recovery phase, the early wake-up was welcome if I had had a good night’s sleep; at that time, I would get up, as would my wife (because she was awake, too), and we’d chat or read, or I’d get some writing done and then we would lay down for a solid nap later. Now when I wake up at those times, I remain in bed because I need the sleep for a workday that will start in a few hours.

It usually takes quite a while to get back to sleep; sometimes I simply can’t. But I lay in the dark, say some prayers, watch my wife breathing and rub our dog’s head. Used to be, what was on my mind would likely surface in the night with frustrations about work, or worries about projects, or … but now it is different. A question popped into my head a few nights ago as I lay awake. “It’s 3 a.m., do you know where your heart is?” I do.

When I was growing up, a public service announcement would be broadcast on television at 10 p.m. on weekdays:  “It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your children are?” It was a good reminder. I liked my answer when the heart question popped into my head a few days ago. I eventually went back to sleep, likely with a smile, before the alarm went off a couple of hours later.

I think it is a wonderful thing to wake up knowing where your heart is, more telling than waking up with things on your mind with it being scattered over dozens of places. I believe that your heart will be with things that matter while your mind will be on things to be done or issues that demand attention. There are no such demands on your heart.

I don’t know whether a sense of peace came from the odd sleep schedule during the COVID time or the sleep pattern came from the sense of peace I had then. Either way, a sense of peace has a lot to do with knowing where you heart is.

Peace.