Sparks Of Light – 9/12/11

Guard your blessings by using them for what they were intended for. They can be lost so quickly and recovering them so hard, if at all.

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The Last Blessing

The other day my son and I were attending a lecture. The topic was on the blessings we have in our life that we don’t normally think about. In the last year I have had many reminders of the blessings we don’t think about on a regular basis and it’s only when we lose a blessing that we realize what we actually had. So in this lecture, the presenter asked everyone to think of a blessing that we have that we normally do not think about. Someone mentioned trees. Now don’t get me started on trees, (as Trees are the Answer).  The presenter then started to enumerate all of the blessings that we get from trees, with the help of the audience giving additional suggestions; They give us oxygen, they consume carbon dioxide, they provide shade, they provide food and the list went on.

Later that day, I decided that it was time to fire up the grill and have a good ‘ol summer barbecue with the family.  Especially after spending a good portion of our summer so far cooped up in the house under quarantine so as not to infect the world with whooping cough.  So as I normally do, I made the call to the kindling brigade, my kids, who sprang into action gathering up twigs, sticks, pine needles and the like to help get the fire started.  Only this time the task seemed to have been completed much quicker than normal.

I went outside to find next to the barbecue a large pile of fine twigged branches.  On asking where they found these and my oldest son said from the dead birch tree.  He had taken a large stick and trashed some of the lower branches of one of the White Birch trees in our backyard.  I showed my displeasure with that and reminded him of the lecture that we had just attended.  He looked at me and said, “Well, this tree is dead, it has already given us all the blessings it can from its oxygen and shade, and so this is its last blessing, its wood, which will help nourish us by cooking our food on the flames it will produce.”  His statement floored me.

We used to have three of these beautiful trees in our yard.  Two winters ago, during a very strong storm, one was toppled over, leaving its two companions to live on.  Then some time last year the second tree lost its leaves and never grew new ones.  It still stands although just as a skeleton of its former self.

Upon hearing my son’s comment, I really started to ponder about the benefits we get from these delicate and lovely trees.  So I pulled out the camera, as I have done numerous times before trying to capture the essence of these stark white trunks against the dark green leaves in summer or vibrant yellows in autumn and started to photograph them again.  Only this time there was a deep connection with them.  They were more than just trees.  They were companions, helpers in my journey to my own end.

White Birch in Afternoon Light

What started out as an intention for a couple of snapshots turned into something much more profound for me. I moved from photographing the detail of the leaves and trunk to how these trees bask in the sun, taking in the glorious light and making their own food from it. What brought this lovely tree to its demise will be a mystery forever I suppose and the question that begets me is will the last standing tree suffer the same fate as its sisters?

Standing as a mere skeleton now, the dead birch has but a few branches left, luckily out of the reach of my over ambitious son in search of kindling. But nonetheless, its branches and twigs are much appreciated as they did most certainly kindle the fire that cooked our meal that evening. As I snapped the dried branches and piled them into the barbecue, I never once realized the blessing we have in the left over wood from dead trees. It just never seemed to register. We don’t see that wood as a tree anymore, but it was a tree.

The Last BlessingSimple twigs and sticks, not much at all to look at or to even ponder about, but it is from those simple little things that great results emerge.  A small spark, a flame, and the next thing you know you have a roaring blaze that brings warmth and the energy to cook our own food.  For tens of years, that tree stood absorbing the energy from the sun, making its own sugar as food through photosynthesis allowing itself to grow.  Each year adding more girth to its trunk and branches, producing shade giving leaves and then shedding them to the ground where they became the mulch and soil that the tree itself needed to remain firm and steadfast in the ground.  A cycle that continued until The Sustainer decided that it was time for this tree to stop, and the cycle was broken.  However the benefits continue.  For now, locked in its wood, the accumulated years of energy lies dormant waiting for that small spark to ignite the wood and release it for one more final blessing.

The coals that evening were particularly mild.  Hot enough to cook on, but with no scorching and very few flares that tend to char the food.  Red Hot CoalsThe coals themselves originating from hardwood trees themselves also finally gave their last blessing as well.  The entire evening was riddled with final blessings right and left.  For not only did these trees give us what they could in cooking our food, so too did the chickens whose meat we were about to cook, and the grains of Bulghur wheat, tomatoes and onions that were stewing on the stove, all giving us their last blessing as well.

I think we fail to realize that we are the end users of everything on this planet, from the air we breath, to the water we drink to the food we consume, to all the other natural resources that we use for our survival, comfort and gain.  How should we feel as the benefactors of all these blessings?  Do we feel gratitude?  Do we feel a sense of shame in front of The Bestower who gives us these blessings and we do nothing in return, not even giving thanks?  Do we feel any responsibility at all in returning the good we have received by doing good to others and to our world?  I shudder when I think of all the blessings I have in my life, for my benefit, for my comfort and gain, and I go heedless in life not realizing that all I do is take and give nothing in return.

The meal that night was fantastic.  We all ate to our fill and to our satisfaction, and in some part wishing that we still had more for later.  The benefit from that meal has already passed through our bodies, but what we learned from it, what we can give back because of it can go on for a very long time.  I am going to be more cognizant of the blessings I have and will make more of an effort to give back to the world at least some portion of the good that I have taken from it.  I invite all of you to do the same, so that in times to come, others might say of us what we can say now of the blessings we have.

Peace.

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Forsaken

What if we were forsaken?

A few days ago during the first of three weekends of the 2010 Open Studio exhibit, I included my 4×5 camera as part of the show.  Placed on its tripod it served to initiate conversation about how the displayed photographs were made.  I warned my children to stay away from the tripod and not to engage in horseplay in or around the exhibit.  Little was heeded of what I said.

Late on the first day while I worked in the studio just a few feet from the display outside, I heard a crash.  As I peered out the door I find my youngest on the ground wrapped around the legs of the tripod and the camera…well it was not pretty.

As the camera lay on the ground that afternoon, I scolded my young daughter for what she had done.  I sent her to her room in tears and once I picked up the camera and examined it to find the damage I returned to her room and scolded her further.  I made up my mind not to speak to her until she came forward and apologized for what she had done.

I picked up the camera and removed it from the tripod and just set it on my living room floor and continued with the exhibit meeting and speaking with visitors, all the while wondering how I was going to continue making photographs without a camera.

That night I searched for a replacement online.  Disappointed with what I found, I retired.  The next morning I proceeded to disassemble my camera and asses the true extent of the damage.

Broken 4x5 camera

Taking the camera apart was a bit intimidating, but once the screws were removed and the full extent of the damage seen, it did not seem like the damage was not repairable

Broken 4x5 camera

The broken side rail was fractured in two places and ran back about two inches.

Broken 4x5 camera

Broken 4x5 camera

I used a liberal amount of Elmer’s Wood glue and clamped the pieces back in place and waited for the glue to dry.

Broken 4x5 camera

For the remainder of the day I did not speak to my daughter.  Although to her it seemed as if the incident never occured!   Throughout the day she would call to me with her sweet little voice, “Babaa…”  It was absolutely heart wrenching not replying to her calls.  When she would persist, I would turn away from her hoping that she would get the message and show me some remorse for what she had done.

The next morning I came into the studio to examine the camera.  The glue had dried sufficiently and I proceeded to stress the joints lightly to see if they would give.  Just then my daughter walked in and with the sweetest of voices said “Baba, I’m sorry”.  I asked her why she was apologizing and she said “for breaking your camera” and then began to cry.  I gave her a hug and dried her tears and then I asked her what she thought I should do now without a camera.  Her reply, “I’ll make you a new one!” About a day later, a perfect little box camera, complete with tripod was sitting on the dining room table and  is now part of my camera collection. Getting it to work is a whole other ball of wax.

New mat board camera

New mat board camera on Tripod

Later that day after putting the 4×5 camera back together   I was reflecting on what had transpired.  In some respects I had, at least for a day, forsaken my little girl.  It was painful to do so, but I wanted to show her my displeasure in what she had done.

I then pondered on our condition, that is the human condition on a whole, with regards to the state of our world.  Everything is chaotic.  I began to wonder if our collective behavior, our plundering of the Earth and of each other and our general disobedience to our Creator has not in some ways rendered us forsaken with respect to the Divine.  Yes we still have our daily bread, at least most of us, but where have the blessings in that bread gone?  Why is it that the food we eat has become so unhealthy?  Where have the blessings in our time vanished to?  Most of us work everyday of the week just to keep afloat leaving us with no time for what is important in life – namely family.  And what has happened to the blessings of family?  It used to be that when hardship fell, family was there with a net to catch you and get you back on your feet.  Today in place of family, we have turned to virtual digital friends in cyberspace – but they really don’t exist outside of the computer monitor that you see them on.  And more than half of all those trying to start their own families end up broken in divorce!  That should be very alarming.

Are we in fact forsaken?  I hope not, I want my prayers and calls heard and answered.  Be excellent to each other my fellow cybernauts, and be good with God.  Let not our actions be a reason for finding ourselves without the hand of providence there to guide us.

Peace.

P.S.  I really like my new camera. :)

P.P.S.  I think the repair on the 4×5 will work, the camera seems functional.

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Appreciation

“Whoever is not grateful for blessings is asking for them to vanish.  Whoever is grateful for them ties them up with their own tether.” ~ Ibn ‘Ata illah

All to often life takes hold of us and runs us so ragged that we forget to appreciate our blessings.  From our health to our homes to our friends each is such a blessing that words fail to adequately describe.  I don’t know if we ever really understand or appreciate the significance of these blessings.  I do know that I am guilty of forgetting and when confronted with the loss of a blessing, only then do I realize what a blessing it was.

The great spiritual Guide of the 13th century Ibn ‘Ata Illah in his famous Aphorisms said “Whoever is not grateful for blessings is asking for them to vanish.  Whoever is grateful for them ties them up with their own tether.”  2009 was a hard year for most of us.  We have seen much good fortune vanish.  Businesses have disappeared, jobs lost, homes foreclosed on, people left homeless and in some cases worse.  I need not remind  anyone of all that as we are still in the midst of the fallout, and we probably would all like to forget all that and move on to better times.

The consensus among all those who have written commentaries on the Aphorisms of Ibn ‘Ata illah is that we show ingratitude for our blessings when we misuse them.  Blessings are a gift from the Divine for us to use to bring us closer to the Divine, to recognize the Divine, to give thanks to the Divine and to show appreciation for what we have.  I think we could all understand how we would feel if we graciously gave someone a gift who then scoffed at, ridiculed and disregarded that gift.  We would be hurt, regretful for giving it and possibly wish that we could take it back.  It is chilling to think that being heedless of the good things in our lives would result in those very things being snatched away from us, but it does happen.

To tether our blessings we must appreciate them.  We must use them properly and care for them.  I am sure, like me, we all have more blessings than we can enumerate or even realize.  Nevertheless I want to reflect on two.

Photography is something that fell into my life that I never intended on.  It was truly a gift as it has helped me realize how beautiful a world we live in, which is an amazing blessing in its own right.  Every photo I make has significance to me and hopefully to others as well.  One photograph that I made in the spring of 2003, ‘After The Rain’, has risen head and shoulders above all the rest.

After The Rain

Photographed on the foundation of respecting another’s property while most were violating it, After The Rain, reached the 250th print sold late last month!  Most photographers that I run into on the art show circuit that offer limited edition photography limit their editions at 250, at such high number it is assumed the edition will really never be discontinued.   Reaching this number is a hallmark for me, a mark I never thought would occur but very grateful it was met and hopefully it will continue to meet new marks.

The caption that accompanies this photo eludes to showing gratitude for the rain – “As gentle rain falls from the sky it moistens the hard sun baked hills and the Earth drinks to its fill. Seeds, from a generation of grasses and flowers long gone, drink as well. And with that drink they start to come to life by the Mercy of the Merciful. In their gratitude for the Mercy of life they come out in blazing colors glorifying the One who sent them the Rain and the One who gave them Life. The Mercy of God, the Creator, follows the rain, as the Rain is God€™s Mercy. For without it, all life would cease. Be grateful for the rain, the flowers are.”

However, our gratitude needs to encompass much more than the rain and we need to appreciate every moment we have, the sweet ones as well as the bitter ones, for without the bitter moments, the sweet ones would not be as sweet.  At that level, we would find all of our blessings well tethered.

Desert Fare

The second blessing that I want to reflect on is the patron.  As an artist in business the patron is absolutely crucial.  In fact whether the business is art or the manufacturing of microwave energy wave guides for communication satellites, the end customer who seeks your product is king and needs to treated as such.  Even if you are an employee you still have a manager that comes to you for your contribution to the end product, a manager who must be pleased with your contribution, and then takes it and promotes it to the next level.  Displease your pseudo-customer and you could find yourself …well let’s not go there.

I have always known that customer service and satisfaction is key in business and I have always done my best to treat my patrons well.  And even though I was always grateful for a sale, a registration for instruction or any request for any of my many photographic services, I don’t think I was ever truly appreciative of their patronage until this past year.  Patrons were definitely far and few in between in the economic desert of 2009.  Much like the desert wildflower bloom of 2006, one of the meekest on record, as depicted in the photo ‘Desert Fare’ above, patrons were still there.  That spring did not dazzle photographers nor the viewers of the photos captured, but we photographed it anyway.  And like that, I still provided my services to those that still appeared from the barren economic wasteland we find ourselves in.  However, now each patron was the most important patron I ever had, for without them my ability to exist as a photographer would be put in jeopardy.

So I think that is all I have to say right now.  I know I lost some pretty heavy-duty blessings this past year and so I will definitely be tethering what I have left, you included – you are appreciated more than you know.  And hey if you think Organic Light is anything of a blessing in your life…well, I’ll let you put 2 and 2 together about how to tether it.

Peace to you all, and a better 2010!

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