Archive for July, 2011

“You Helped Me See”—An Encounter I’ll Remember

July 8, 2011

Recently I had the good fortune to photograph in northern France for several days by myself.  One afternoon found me making images on the beach of the village of Etretat, in an area known for its soaring white cliffs. As the sun descended, I made my way up the high trail to the south with my camera and tripod. Then, just before sunset, I retraced my steps down toward the beach, anticipating the evening colors that might appear in the sky.

A handsome couple approached me on their way up, and the man stopped and said something to me in French. I responded that I did not understand, that I spoke only English. He looked away, paused, then looked back. In retrospect I realize he hesitated to proceed to speak with me due to how limited he felt his English was. But he did proceed anyway.

“You photographed on the beach earlier, no?”

I nodded.

“You turned in many directions; you took your time with each picture. It was lovely to watch.”

He looked into my face to make sure I was following.

“It was so beautiful: the sea, the sky, the cliffs. But this was also beautiful: you standing in the middle of it all, photographing all that was before you. This afternoon you helped me to see the beauty that I might not have seen.”

He held up his hand to count first with his thumb and then with his fingers as the French do. “There were four beautiful things this afternoon: the sea, the cliffs, the sky, and you. And you were just as important as the other three things. I will remember that sight for a long time.”

Then he touched me on the shoulder and said, “Thank you.” I reached back for his shoulder and said, “Thank you!” Then we walked on in opposite directions, grateful in different ways for what we had experienced.

My story is more than just my story. It is a universal story. It’s a reminder that any of us can be giving a lift to someone’s day, we can be offering them an insight or an inspiration they’ll long remember, and we won’t even be aware of it, unless they happen to cross our path unexpectedly, and then make the effort to tell us.

Yet whether they tell us or not, still it happened, and we will have made a difference simply by being authentically who we are, simply by being genuinely alive, simply by doing whatever it is we do best, in the moment that they observed us.
That’s all. And ultimately, that is everything.

He Was the Other John—Remembering a Wonderful Man

July 8, 2011

How do you fully pay tribute to a man like John Schneider? What must you be sure to say? And what do you dare leave out, for the sake of brevity?

The method I’ve chosen is this: a short writing in nine concise chapters, a writing I imagine John would look upon with both a smile and a blush. I intended to name this writing The Gospel According to John. Upon doing a literature search, however, I saw that that title had already been taken. So, instead, we’ll go with this title: The Gospel According to the Other John.

Chapter 1, verse 1
Verily I say, you can search the world over for a school that plays intercollegiate sports worthy of your unswerving devotion and you will never make a finer choice than Michigan State University. You will not find two colors side by side that make your heart beat faster than green and white. You will not find a team mascot who calls forth your testosterone-laced cheers and shouts any better than the one named Sparty. [Reader’s note: John was an avid sportsman as well as on the faculty of MSU.]

Chapter 2
If you have been given what it takes to be a gifted teacher, then use your gift liberally. Engage students in the classroom, encouragingly, effectively. Educate participants in workshops and conferences, locally, nationally, internationally. All the while wear your rare wisdom so lightly that it’s almost unnoticed, though it’s deeply sensed and long remembered. And always, always relate nonjudgmentally and compassionately in these relationships, yearning for everyone who comes to you to find their own truth, to discover their own best self. And be, as long as you live, a true example of all great teachers–be one who is continually searching, continually learning, continually growing.

Chapter 3
Whatever you do, have a love affair with life. Relish the heavenly sights and the celestial sounds of earthly creation, and do this on a daily basis. Be forever enamored with the land and the light all around you, with the simple luxury of the Lake Michigan shoreline.  Whatever you do, watch for beauty wherever it manifests itself—in a landscape, a flower, a song, a story, a photograph, an artwork, in a face, or a hand, or two hands together. Whatever you do, let laughter ring. Even if you tend to speak quietly and thoughtfully, always let your laughter rise up from deep within and, when it wants, let it bellow. Sway to the beat of that unfettered drummer within. Whatever you do, launch out with your overflowing spirit and your child-like presence into the individual moments that you are given, knowing how precious those are.

Chapter 4
Live a life of integrity. Become a model for trust, without ever intending to be a model at all. Always speak the truth. And never go looking for a confrontation, but never back away from one if it clearly involves a matter of justice, a matter of what’s plainly right, a matter of alleviating unnecessary suffering.

Chapter 5
Without drawing attention to what you’re doing, be a person of generosity. Give freely of your means, give lavishly of your love, give humbly of your labors, without need for any accounting. When you can help bring New York City firefighters from 9/11 to Traverse City so they can experience renewal and healing, then give. When you can add your skills to support local programs for returning Iraq veterans, then give. When you can tie one end of a rope around your waist and the other around a central tree, and then laboriously mow an exquisite labyrinth in the field beside your house, and keep it mown week after week, for anyone to use anytime they want, then give. When people call, asking for your listening ear, then give.

Chapter 6
Make friends, enjoy friends, treasure friends, keep friends. Carefully maintain your connections, through the years and across geographic boundaries. Be an inveterate bridge builder between all sorts of people with whom you come into contact. Be the sort of person who, when you die, and telephone calls must be made to inform the wide network of human relationships, person after person will respond, “Oh, he was one of my dearest friends.”

Chapter 7
Adore your children, and be ever so proud of them at every age of their lives. Underscore their uniquenesses. Empower their strengths. Go with them, wherever their unfolding development calls them. Put butter on their sandwiches when they’re young, send them boxes of cherries with loving notes when they grow older, and steadily convey your belief in them for as long as you have words, or for as long as you can gaze into their eyes. As for your grandchildren—what is there to say? Hold them, love them, coddle them, care for them. And make sure you take a full dose of ibuprofen before you see these young ones, so you can toss them in the air and roughhouse with them on the floor before your aging body begins to complain.

Chapter 8
In the second half of your life, marry your soulmate. Marry someone who’s every bit as generous as you are, who laughs just as freely as you do, who is your mirror image when it comes to seeing the healing potential in all human beings, who is your spiritual equivalent. Write notes to her often, expressing your affection, offering your encouragement, and naming your wonderful good fortune in ever finding her. Be the kind of life companion about whom your wife will say, “I had 23 years with the most remarkable man I have ever known. It was he who helped me become the person I wanted to be, just as he did for so many other people.”

Chapter 9
There will inevitably come a time when you will lose—lose a home, a marriage, a job, your health. There will come a time when someone you love very much will die. When that happens, remember to ask yourself three questions.

First, what have you lost? Become clear about the extent of what is now gone. Remember that if you have loved deeply, you will hurt deeply. Remember that sometimes a person touches your life in such profound ways that they leave behind a very large hole. When that happens, go ahead and feel the loss. Grieve. Grieve in your own wonderful way. Be alone if you need. Be with others if it helps. But give yourself the time and the freedom to do your letting go.

The second question to ask yourself, if not today, then tomorrow: what remains? What do you still have that has not been taken? What remains that can never be taken? What have you been given, by this person, by this relationship, by all your experiences together, that still fills you, even in your emptiness? And look around for who remains, so you can lean on one another, and share with one another, and hope for one another.

The third question is, what is possible? Is it not possible that the one who no longer walks the earth beside you can now walk ever so closely inside you? Is it not possible that the love he shared can now be multiplied because he has come to reside in so many whose lives he has touched? Is it not possible that the truth for which he stood and to which he bore witness can be lived out wherever you go–that deep grief can be transformed, in time, into equally deep joy, and that rich laughter can one day sound again, made richer by all you have felt, all you have known? Is it not possible that the celebration of one man’s life can represent the celebration of all of Life itself–Life with a capital “L”? And is it not possible, even on a day like today, that this is beginning even here, even now?

So ends this reading of The Gospel According to the Other John.

1-Minute Inspirations—They’re Catching On

July 8, 2011

I posted my first 1-Minute Inspiration the first Wednesday in October 2010. Except for when I traveled in France last month, I’ve created a new one for release each Wednesday morning, totaling 38 of them so far. You’ll find the latest one, entitled “Wall,” at this LINK. It includes a couple of images from my most recent photographic excursion to Normandy.