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Life observations

Thank You, Greg Henshall

Greg Henshall
Greg Henshall (Circa 1983)
Photo by Brandon Walsh

I have always been interested in photography and many of the earliest pictures of me show me with a camera. Whether it was the Kodak Duaflex III that belonged to my dad, or the Instamatic-X35 I received as a gift just before my 6th grade safety patrol trip, I loved the idea that I could capture a single moment in time. It came as no surprise to my dad, then, when I told him the summer of 1978 that I wanted a 35mm film camera.  I had saved some money, but not quite the $800 I needed for a camera and a couple for lenses.

I had morning paper route then and dad decided it would be a good time to teach me about finances. He offered to co-sign a one-year loan for me at his company’s credit union so I could buy the camera equipment. Before I made the investment, though, he wanted me to learn more about photography from someone who worked in the field. He asked a photographer he worked with at Union Carbide to come by the house to give me a primer on photography and equipment.

It wasn’t long before Greg Henshall showed up with several camera bags filled with different cameras and lenses. Greg was in late 20’s, loved people, loved photography, and was close enough to my age that dad thought I might listen to what he had to say. I liked him immediately and not just because we shared a common passion. Instead, I liked him because he was genuinely interested in me, a gangling teenager looking for a way to express himself.

Greg spent a few hours with me that night, teaching me the basics of cameras and offering his thoughts on what kind of camera I should buy.  Once I bought a camera Greg taught me the technical aspects of photography—apertures, shutter speed, film speed.  A few years later, he was kind enough to let me tag along on a few of his freelance jobs—mostly weddings and portraits—where he taught me the importance of composition, view point, anticipating the action, and the importance of “waiting for just the right moment” to release the shutter.

In high school I was a photographer on the yearbook staff and at Greg’s encouragement began taking portraits of friends to practice technique. He loaned me lights and other equipment whenever I needed them, taught me darkroom basics, and gave me tips as I prepared to teach my first photography class for Adult Community Education when I was just seventeen. I took my first real job with WBPY-TV as a staff photographer in 1983 and Greg was there again to critique my work, offering suggestions on where and how to improve my technique. When I opened my own studio and processing lab in 1985, Greg was my first lab client. And when I burned-out on photography as a profession in 1988, it was Greg who encouraged me to stick with it as a hobby. That was the one piece of advice from Greg I did not follow; I put down my camera and did not pick it up with any enthusiasm again for nearly twenty years.

I lost track of Greg when I moved from Charleston in 1995, but we reconnected through social media in February this year. Through our new Facebook connection, I learned his wife had died in 2000 and he had retired from Union Carbide about the same time.  I understand he took assignments with FEMA documenting disasters for a while and more recently, he had become a “man about town” photographing events and activities for the local newspapers and his many, many, friends. I ran into him in Charleston over the summer and the first thing he said to me was, “I’m glad to see you picked up your camera again. I enjoy seeing your photographs on Facebook.” We briefly caught up, and then he moved on to take another photograph. He was always anticipating the next moment. Greg never stood still for long when he had a camera in his hand.

From portraits, to weddings, to natural disasters, to a night out with friends, Greg documented our lives with passion and empathy. He wasn’t just a good photographer we hired to do a job, he became a friend who instinctively knew what was important to us and did his best to help us achieve our goals. In doing so, he connected with each of us emotionally, giving a part of himself in a way that made that connection so special. That kind of connection is something few photographers, in my opinion, ever achieve.

Late last week I was heartbroken to learn Greg had died unexpectedly. Tuesday many will gather to celebrate Greg’s life and I am sorry I cannot be with them. But, I do want to acknowledge the important role he played my life.

I am thankful for Greg’s thoughtfulness and reassurance; he helped me find courage and self-esteem as a teenager. As a teacher, a mentor, and a friend, he helped me find a way to express myself when I words alone were not enough. For these lifelong gifts Greg helped me to find and foster, I find it ironic today that I can only pay tribute to him with words. Yet, words are the best way I can create a full image of Greg, one that truly captures how important he was in my development from a timid, gangling teenager trying to fit it, to the person—and photographer—I am today.

Thank you and Godspeed, Greg Henshall. You were one of a kind.

Change

Photo by David HarkinsThe work I do causes me to think a lot about how and why culture changes, how businesses change to respond to cultural change and how we, as individuals, adjust engagement and consumption behavior in reaction to an external disruption–that change in our normal state–when it is forced upon us. Throughout my career, I have helped many companies facilitate change, and the most important thing I’ve learned from it all is most of us hate change because it is usually something we are forced to react to, rather than participate in. This is especially true in our workplaces, with the businesses we deal with, and even with our favorite products. If you need an example, consider “New Coke,” or the attempt by GAP to change its logo.

I think everyone realizes change is constant and there is no rational choice but to embrace it, evolve with it, or at least find a way to adapt to the impact it has on our work. Embracing, evolving, or adapting is how most of us manage change in our personal lives, too. Although, we probably manage change in our business and professional lives much easier than we do in our personal lives.

My friend, Wendy Lou, believes most of us just want someone to change with us. I believe this, too, and I think this is why a change in business and professional environments, as painful as it is, can feel much easier for us than personal change. While each of us may approach change differently based on our background and life experiences, we typically experience workplace change with colleagues who are all moving, together, in the same direction. Change is much easier to navigate and appreciate if others are with us on the journey.

In our personal lives, we typically tackle change, at least self-change, alone and this is precisely why such change can be difficult. When we need, or desire, change of our own it’s often self-driven or created by an internal disruption and not directly caused by external forces. When we have people in our lives who are capable of and willing to change with us, we can grow together. If not, then, unfortunately, we will grow apart.

Facilitating life change is intensely personal. After all, not everyone experiences change the same way, or at the same rate. Unlike in the work or business world, we are not all moving in the same direction or toward the same goal, at least not at the same time, in our personal lives. While others might empathize and support us on our journey, no one will truly understand our new path because they will navigate the unique twists and turns of their own path at a different pace.

Change is inevitable. Accepting our own need to change and evolve is an especially difficult, but necessary part of what it means to be human. Acknowledging that we may need to experience personal change alone surfaces the undeniable, and sometimes painful, recognition that we are solely responsible for who we are, who we will become, and the happiness we choose to uncover in the process of living our own lives.

A rabbi, of sorts

I did not know my parents while growing up. I knew what they looked like and where I could find them every day because we lived in the same house. They were my parents, and I never saw them as individuals. I thought their job was to take care of me; to make sure I had food to eat and clothes to wear.  I think most children feel this way about their parents until they’re well into adulthood. As for me, my perspective changed the summer of 1982.

momandad_fall1981

In 1982, my dad was on the board of directors for our community swim club and one summer Saturday decided he was going to fix a malfunctioning sump pump at the pool. He was up and out of the house early that day, as he usually was, with my little brother in tow. Mom was working. My sisters were sleeping. The house was still and quiet, making it the perfect morning for a 19-year-old college student on summer break to sleep a little later, too.

The phone rang about 11:00 a.m., my sister answered and then woke me to take the urgent call. When I picked up the phone, a family friend told me dad had been injured, and I should come right away. I grabbed a shirt, put on my shoes, and drove up to the pool alone, wondering what had happened and what I would need to do when I go there if I could do anything at all.

I pulled into the parking lot to see paramedics, firemen, and a crowd of concerned friends. They told me the sump pump dad had been working on was in a small well a few feet underground. He had his hands and arms down in the well when the powered-off pump released a residual spark, igniting fumes in the well, and sent a ball of fire shooting up and out of the top where dad and brother were looking in. It happened in an instant, they said, but somehow dad was able to get his face out of the way and move my brother aside.

Paramedics were treating dad for third-degree burns on his arms and hands, and second-degree burns on his face when I saw him. I talked to him briefly and he said he was okay, but I knew he was not. The skin on his arms had blistered, peeled, and rolled down around his hands. It looked as if he had been wearing arm-length latex gloves and had rolled them down around his wrists. My brother had a few singed hairs and some first degree burns—similar to a slight sunburn—on his face from the blowback.

The paramedic told me dad’s condition was serious. It was likely he would be airlifted to Pittsburgh to the regional burn center for treatment, he said. He also told me my brother wasn’t hurt, but like dad, he was in shock, and I should ride in the ambulance to the hospital with him.

Later in the day, Dad was flown to the burn center. After helping my sisters and brother settled with my grandparents, mom and I drove to Pittsburgh. We stayed for a little over a week while dad was stabilized, and then came home for a day. Mom returned the next and stayed for several weeks while dad was treated for his burns and had multiple surgeries for skin grafts. I traveled back and forth several times that summer.

On one visit, I was sitting with mom and dad in the room he then shared with a Rabbi, who had third-degree burns on his hands from a Fry-Daddy® explosion. Both dad and the Rabbi were being treated for pain with heavy doses of morphine, and while alert, they were anything but lucid.

“I used to be a Rabbi,” my dad called out to the real Rabbi in the next bed.

“You did? That is wonderful,” said the Rabbi. “Did you know, I used to kidnap little children for a hobby?”

My mother started laughing so hard—uncontrollably really—she had to leave quickly to find the ladies room. Of course, it would be in the moments after she left that dad would need the bedside urinal and I would need to help him because his hands were bandaged. It was at that moment helping my dad, when I realized my parents were people, too. They had hopes and dreams. They even had bodily functions at the most inconvenient times. Their life and their dreams were on indefinite hold now because of a freak accident.

When dad finished, and I took the urinal away, I needed to do something to take the edge of the awkward moment, so I asked him how to build an AC-to-DC converter to put on the starting buzzer I was making for pool swim meets. I wanted to lower the voltage of the power to the switch since the person tripping the switch would be closer to the water. I did not expect him to tell me. I didn’t think he was lucid. He described the circuit and told me how to diagram it. It worked flawlessly. Teaching me how to diagram a circuit while critically injured and under the influence of painkillers was not the first thing dad taught me. His first lesson was dedication and commitment to the task.

DadCarbiderPhoto

After graduating high school, dad did a short stint in the Navy where his leadership skills earned him an offer for recommendation to attend Officer Candidate School. He turned down the offer and was honorably discharged after three years of service. He moved back to Charleston, married my mother, and started a family. When I was three, he decided to get serious about his college education and began night classes, often carrying a full load each semester, while working full time and raising a family. Five years later, he had earned a B.S. in Business Administration and another in Mathematics.

For most of his life, dad has put the needs of everyone else above his own. My sharing the list of things I know he’s done would embarrass him, but I’m willing to bet the list of things he has taken care of without anyone’s knowledge would be at least twice as long. In this way, he taught me the principles of servant leadership—quiet service to others to build a more just and caring world.

Dad and David

Dad also taught me perseverance and the importance of perspective. When he was younger, he fell asleep while driving and was in a bad single-car accident, but walked away without serious injury. He was helping neighbors trim a tree and were knocked off the ladder by a swinging branch, and fell eight feet onto a pile of branches on the driveway and again, walked away unhurt. He was in the explosion at the pool, and he has had two heart bypass surgeries. Recently, he walked away from another auto accident without injury. My siblings and I encourage him to be more careful because he has used most of his “nine lives.”   He believes there is a purpose in his survival considering how frequently he has had brushes with death.

“I think there’s still someone on this earth I’m supposed to meet,” he says.

To the contrary, I believe many people still need to meet him. Maybe, just maybe, he was is a rabbi once.  of sorts.

Happy 74th Birthday, dad. I love you.

On the third day

Fall Eye © David L. HarkinsMy mother and I did not always agree.

As a child, I acquiesced as children must, but as an adult, I was prone to speak my mind. Once, at age 19, I chose to be too vocal within my mother’s reach and promptly had my mouth smacked. Stunned, I walked away in silence, not to rethink what I had said because what I said was the truth. Instead, I needed to reconsider the timing and delivery of the words, which were the cause of my stinging mouth.

Mom shared my gift of impulsive honesty with words, which is why she likely did not like to be the recipient of the same. Often she would speak without thinking, saying those things on her mind before others were ready, or even needed to hear them. My dad once told me, “Your mother thinks you should not say some of the things you say to her.” She saw value in her trait to cut to the heart of matters and speak honestly; she was less appreciative of it in others, particularly when she was on the receiving end of the words.

We lived apart much of the last of her life, yet this did not stop our honest conversations. On the phone several times a year, in the silence of waiting for her response to something I had said, I would hear a “click,” and then a dial tone. Although the distance saved me from a slap across the mouth, I felt the sting just the same. Silence became my mother’s punishment of choice, or perhaps a necessity.

It was best to let mom take the time to think and regroup when she was angry. She always called when she was ready to talk again and rarely did she make mention of our last conversation. A few years before she died I realized she had a pattern in her periods of silence. Each time she disconnected from me, the breaks would be exactly three days. She always called on the third day, and I apparently was forgiven for whatever I had said in the previous conversation. When I mentioned this pattern to my dad, he said with a smile, “And on the third day, the son rises again.”

It occurred to me then, forgiveness and resurrection are not solely Christian concepts, nor a power and capacity only God possesses. Through her actions, mom proved to me we all have the power and capacity. In those three days of silence, I was forgiven and resurrected. Over, and over, and over.

For her love, for her lessons, for her forgiveness, and my repeated resurrection. I am, forever, grateful.

Photo Credit: “Fall Eye” ©2012 David L. Harkins

Isn’t it about time we all came out?

Today is National Coming Out Day.

Yes, I am coming out. In a manner of speaking.

I am a straight person coming out in support of the freedom of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals to love whomever they may choose, and to live life without discrimination and persecution of any kind.

I was raised to be tolerant of everyone’s differences and have endeavored to be so throughout my life, although I have admittedly been uncomfortable at times when around my LBGT friends. I don’t know why and would not dream of trying to explain such feelings when there’s no rational basis for their existence. I will tell you, though, that I’ve finally outgrown the discomfort.

We live in a different world than the one in which I grew up. Our culture is more open and accepting now. Today’s young adults learned as children–our children–that “everyone gets a trophy just for showing up.” While some may complain about their lack of ambition as a result of the way they were raised, I believe today’s young adults are perhaps the most tolerant generation in history, and their acceptance of everyone’s differences is beginning to influence their parents and grandparents.

Even so, many of my friends still cannot step forward and express their love for someone of the same gender, let alone marry this person in most states. While it appears we have made some progress, there remain far too many people in America who care more about what consenting adults do behind-closed-doors than about the contribution these same adults make to our society.

As for me, I am not interested in the bedroom behavior of anyone I know–regardless of their sexual preferences. It just doesn’t matter to me. How about you? Would you seriously want someone to know the intimate details of your closed-door encounters? The exhibitionists aside; I wouldn’t think so. I believe that you’d rather be judged on your contribution to our world and not on who you choose to love or your sexual desires.

If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, know there are people–even those you may not know–who love you and care about you as a human being regardless of whether you’re “in or out.” It makes no difference to us if you choose to step out today, or any day. If you do decide that today is, “the day;” I applaud you. I do hope, though, that you will consider your current circumstances. As you already know, there are still too many homophobic people and institutions whose intolerance will work against you once you express yourself. Please remember that your safety is more important than taking a stand today, or any day.

For everyone else; grow up, already.

We’re all human. Regardless of our race, ethnicity, or sexual preference, we’re more alike than we are different. We all deserve to love and to be loved.

It seems to me that life, and love, are hard enough without all the hatred. Take a close look the struggles in your own life.

Then, maybe you, too, will decide it’s time to come out.


 

Treasured mentors

Last Sunday, I had at least one thousand books adorning the shelves of my den. I can’t be sure how many were there because I gave up counting when I hit eight hundred. I don’t know why I started counting the books in the first place, or why eight hundred was the number that made recognize the absurdity of what I was doing.

At six hundred titles, I began to realize how difficult the process of purging a lifetime book collection was becoming. I still managed to keep at it for another two hundred more titles before I stopped. About one hundred of them made it to the dining room table for sorting before, overwhelmed, I abandoned the project.

I’ve looked at—ignored, really—those books on the table every evening this week. I also refused to acknowledge the more than seven hundred remaining books on the shelves behind my desk. I knew ignoring them would not make the task disappear. Still, I hoped that I would be able to come up with some rational approach to sorting out the books to keep, and those to eliminate from my collection. After a week of considering options, I arrived at the conclusion that a rational person would not have more than one thousand books in the first place. I am clearly not rational when it comes to books.

I began pulling the books from the shelves today. I sorted and separated them—several boxes to the church yard sale later this month and most of the rest to the public library for the annual book sale. Among my collection were paperback copies of A Brave New World, required reading in 12th grade, and All the Kings Men, from a college English class. Death of A Salesman, Mass Appeal, and American Century were among the many scripts from plays in which I had performed or directed. Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and Og Mandino’s Secrets For Success And Happiness, both given to me by my dad when I was in high school and, of course, countless quote books, were also on my shelves.

There were novels and biographies, too. John Grisham, Robert Parker, Elmore Leonard, Thomas Wolfe, John Irving, and David McCullough took much of the space in that section. My collection of business books outnumbered them all with complete sets of Tom Peters and Seth Godin, alongside the best works of Peter Drucker, John P.  Kotter, Phillip Kotler, and Zig Ziglar. There were hundreds of others, which had served as a reference throughout my career, and all were sitting quietly with hopes of being used once more.

It occurred to me as I paged through the books that my difficulty in parting with them was not about the possibility of needing those future references, or even the remote desire to read them another time. Instead, it was about what the books represented in my life. Each one had helped to stoke my imagination, shape my thinking, or give me the courage to become the person I am today. They were not simply books. They had become, in some small and perhaps sad way, treasured mentors and companions in my life. For seven years, very few of them served any purpose other than to take up space on my shelves.

I realized then I could not begin the next chapter of my life until I acknowledged I had learned all these books could teach me. Once I did this, letting go was easy and boxing the sorted books went much more quickly. I even made a second pass and eliminated more from my “keep” pile.

When I finished, I had kept only about two hundred books. Among these were all of my autographed copies, the Elmore Leonard novels I do like to re-read, my Lincoln collection, and the complete set of Tom Peters books. I kept the books with a particular meaning to me, such as Secrets for Success and Happiness and The Power of Positive Thinking. I also kept the dozen or so books purchased this year, but not read. I even kept the writing reference books, although most of those will likely find new homes later this year.

This was a hard thing for me to do, letting go of such excellent teachers. Passing them on was easier knowing they still had life and others could learn from them, too. Growing up means passing on what we’ve learned. I only passed on the books today, but I hope I pass on a little of what I’ve learned from them, every day.

A purveyor of positivity

I stop at a coffee shop near my office on the way to work several days a week. I started this routine about six months ago when I decided to resume my caffeine intake, in moderation, and I had no caffeinated coffee in the house. We do have free coffee in the office, but it’s not very tasty, and the endless supply will call my name throughout the day. Drinking bad coffee all day long is not a habit I wish to pick up again.

The large “Americano” I get is usually enough coffee to last me all morning. Some mornings it gets cold before I finish it and if it’s past 10:30, I don’t bother to reheat it. I’m a morning person, so I don’t need the caffeine. I just like the taste of good coffee. The little I have most mornings—somewhere between 5 and 16 ounces—satisfies my desire for the stuff and helps me keep the caffeine consumption lower. The coffee is great, but the cashier at the coffee shop satisfies my need for a morning dose of positivity.

Melanie is a bundle of energy packed into a petite frame. She’s about my age and wears her blonde hair in a ponytail under her cap. She greets me with a big smile and a hearty, “Good morning!” when I walk in the door. She knows what I normally order, but confirms it as she punches it into the register. If the shop is slow, we’ll sometimes make small talk about coffee or a new pastry she thinks I should try. Melanie’s success rate with pastry upsell is very high. Even when I don’t buy a pastry, she always says, “Thank you! You have a wonderful day, dear! We’ll see you next time,” as I leave her station.

I’m sure Melanie says, “You have a wonderful day, dear! We’ll see you next time,” to hundreds of people a day with the same energy and smile from the first person to the last she sees on her shift.

I doubt that Melanie knows my name; if she does, she’s never said it. The fact that she remembers me and my order, and takes a few moments from her day to help me start mine with a dose of positive energy makes it worth the $2.50—okay, most of the time it’s $4.93 with the pastry—I spend when I go into the shop. I’m sure the other customers feel the same, considering the way their faces beam when they encounter Melanie.

We all need more positive people in our lives, don’t you think? Even if their positive energy lasts for only a few moments of each day, these people establish the tone—much like a tuning fork does—for which we unconsciously adjust our attitudes to match as go on our way.

Melanie is a Purveyor of Positivity, and I gladly pay for her energy and attitude each time I visit. The coffee, and sometimes a pastry, is a bonus.

That’ll be $4.93.

You have a wonderful day, dear! I’ll see you next time.

___

Photo Credit::Coffee hello by BXGD

Technicolor® memories

It never occurred to me when I was younger that I might so easily remember the many details of my life experiences once I reached middle age.

I remember things I didn’t consciously commit to memory, but somehow I’ve retained them nonetheless. For example, my first day of elementary school; the time I insisted on tasting Crisco® because I was sure it was whipped cream, or; the first time I held a girl’s hand.

I certainly didn’t think I would remember my first telephone number and almost every number since; the theme of my 9th grade dance, or; the beautiful owner of the bright smile and infectious giggle who surprised me with a welcome, yet unexpected, midnight kiss as we rang in 1982.

For most people, it’s easy to remember a high school or college graduation, the first job, the first car, marriage, children, or retirement because these life events or “Memory Moments,” as I call them, are really known as episodic memory and are a key aspect of our personal identities. Memory Moments are similar to those “Kodak® Moments” we see inside theme parks, except we use our brain instead of a camera to capture snapshots of our lives.

For me, every day of my life is like a series of these Memory Moments. A single day is not just twenty-four hours of time; it’s a collection of little stories that I unconsciously make note of and file away for future reference. I love stories and I’m such a visual person that my brain seems to hold onto memories as short movies of my life that it allows me to play-back at will inside my head. All I need do is recall the correct reel to locate a memory.

While I know there’s no guarantee my memories won’t fade, or simply be lost to time, my hope is I’ll always be able to recall those many cherished memories and continue to create new ones as I get older. I’d like to believe that my brain is hedging its bets against future losses based on the sheer volume of memories it allows me to recall now. There’s memory safety in these numbers. At least, this is what I tell myself.

Most of us live our lives in the blur of time that occurs between the memories of our life events. For better or worse, nearly every day of my life becomes a life event that’s captured in living Technicolor® and stored for future showings.

My life has very little of the blur.

I prefer it this way.

______

Photo Credit::Technicolor kiss by pbump

Precious seconds

I don’t get to my hometown much anymore. Even though I only live four hours away, life and work all too often get in the way of a visit just for the sake of a visit.
Dad understands and it’s okay. We make the most of our time together, even if it’s only 3,600 seconds, as it was today.

He doesn’t know this, but I measure our time in seconds. It forces me to focus. Time feels more precious if I’m conscious of each moment.

While hours will pass mindlessly, precious seconds are not something I care to waste.

A modern-day Prince Charming

Img_0890People without shoes, sadly, are not uncommon on the streets of a big city.

The same cannot be said of shoes without people.

Naturally, I wondered what the neatly-placed shoes were doing, alone, on the streets of San Francisco. After considerable thought, I’ve concluded that the shoes are in search of a new owner.

Whether they began this search by their own volition, or whether they were dropped in this location by their former owner, matters not to me. I’m happy to live in a country where people, and shoes, do their part for those less fortunate.

I just wish I saw more shoes, neatly-placed on the sidewalk, looking for new feet that fit.

Star light, star bright

It’s cold in the mountains tonight. I have a fire burning in the stove to take the chill off the room. I glanced out the window and suddenly felt compelled to step onto the deck to look at the sky. The night is clear, and the stars seem to float in layers, each star pulsing brightly against a pitch-blackness of the sky. I have not seen the sky as dark, or the stars as bright in years. There’s a three-dimensional feeling to it, and I almost believe that I can take a few steps forward, pluck one from the sky, and stuff it in my pocket before anyone notices it’s gone.

It makes me smile just to think such childlike things, and I’m glad to know a little boy still breathes inside this aging body.

Somewhere along my life journey, though, I took these stars for granted.

The night lights of even the smallest cities in which I have lived for much of the last thirty-years have turned the deep black sky to gray, creating such a dense fog of light pollution that all but obliterated the stars from my view. The sky that I—most of us, I think—have come to accept looks more like a piece of gray construction paper with mini Christmas lights—some with burnt-out bulbs—poking through in random places. It makes for a dull and one-dimensional view of what lies ahead, or beyond.

We build monuments to achievements we believe to be so grand we light them both day and night. And yet we have become so afraid of the dark, or what may occur in the dark; we choose to light every building from dusk-to-dawn in unsuccessful attempts to eliminate theft or injury. I don’t think these artificial lights serve many purposes. All we seem to achieve with this showmanship is a bit of visual misdirection that does nothing more than blind us from the real beauty we should be drawn to when the darkness falls each day.

I wonder why we do such things to ourselves.

The stars hold hope, I believe. These beautiful layers of bright lights twinkling against the darkness of the night gave promise to the journeys of millions of men and women over thousands of years. It’s humbling to look at these same stars, thinking about how many have relied upon them to light their way, and how many of us look to them still for guidance. All too often I think we miss the depth of opportunities along the path these stars light for us because we’re surrounded by the pollution of our vanity.

Yes, it has been a long time since I’ve seen these stars with such clarity and depth. I’ve missed their beauty. While I know they were there all along, I lacked the motivation, or maybe desire, to look for them. Until tonight.

It seems all I needed on this cold night was the courage to step outside a fog of my own creation, and just look up.

What do you need to do, to see the stars again? Will you do it?

Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight;
I wish I may; I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.

—–

Photo Credit::Day 277 by brianazimmers

You are not now, who you will become

Not long ago I sat in the bleachers looking down on a class of eighth-grade students taking their seats for a middle school graduation. They walked into the room in alphabetical order, but it was easy to spot the jocks, the geeks, the nerds, the goths, the cheerleaders, the mean girls, and the band kids not by what they wore, but by the way they carried themselves. As they took their seats, I wondered what they were thinking about as they marked this milestone in their life.

Were they thinking about going to high school? I was certain most were. Many of them probably had chosen a college, selected a career, and planned the size of their future family. I imagined when they thought of themselves as adults they simply saw an adult-version of who they were on this day. This self-awareness, if they possessed it at that time, had a far greater potential to be life limiting than they surely realized.

I’m sure they didn’t understand that each of us should constantly be growing.

I can’t imagine now that any of them really knew how every-day living would shape them far beyond the vision they had of themselves that day, or how each person they would encounter in their lives—from that day forward—would help them become, or in some cases make them, different people.

We do become much different people as we grow older and not just in the physical sense. Our hopes change, and so do our dreams. Our goals, achievements, memories, and feelings each have a different meaning than they did when were younger. I like to think we get a few gifts, too, as we add the years: We all gain experience, many of us gain wisdom, and some us are fortunate enough to earn a little more respect, if not by our accomplishments, most certainly by what we have endured.

I hope that we’ve found a wider sense of our own purpose, too.

Somewhere along the way, if we have listened closely to life’s teachings, we should have also learned that while our lives are ours to live as we see fit, we are most fulfilled when we share our lives with each other. I have always believed that some people come into our lives to teach us, while others come to learn from us. We will encounter very few people who can balance the teaching-learning scale and we we do find them, we should make sure we never let them leave. Of course, we have to balance their scales, too.

Here’s a secret I’ve learned: We are defined not by the events of our lives, but by the people whom we have known.

The people we meet, the people we choose to invite into our lives, the people we love, and the people we lose; all of them make us who we are and they never stop coming or going as long as we’re breathing. No matter how old we are at this very moment, we are not now, who we will become, because of this never-ending stream of people who touch us in ways that we often never realize in the present.

It’s the people in our lives who fuel our perpetual state of becoming.

My grandfather always told me, “Time flies; the older you get, the faster it goes.” We all know that time moves at a constant speed throughout life, so it is not that the seconds click by faster. Instead, I think what he meant was that as we get older we begin to understand how precious the moments of life are because age grants us a higher sense of appreciation and purpose for the gift of our own lives, and for the lives of others we have come to know.

No, you are not now, who you will become. Neither is anyone else.

What are you going to do about it?

Remember, time flies.

_____

Photo Credit: The Old Grandfather Clock by sburke2478

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