Sunday, March 28, 2010

Happines Has Many Forms

What makes people angry?  Lately I've encountered more than my monthly quota of angry people, and have had to endure their rants and raves about everyone in their life that has caused them grief. I listen to stories of liars, cheats, idiots, and thieves as the tellers recount their woes, blaming the world for all of the ills that have effected them.  I attempt to offer counsel, but it's evident that the grieved do not want it.  Instead they're happy to wallow in their own mud hole, as if it gives them a raison d'ĂȘtre; their life is defined by their own anger, they don't seek nor even desire peace.

Happiness, it seems, comes in many forms.  Maybe to some, attention seeking through anger is their form of true happiness, giving them the peace of being surrounded by consoling and attentive "friends". They reach out with their anger like a fisherman casts a line hoping that someone will pay attention and offer the attention that they are looking for. I can't do it. I can't find the compassion within me yet to allow myself to strike at the line and be netted into their world of drama. Instead I ignore, telling myself that this is truly what they need, my inattention is therapeutic for them. That, it appears, is the lie that I tell myself.

Monday, March 22, 2010


 A drainage cover on a Chicago street.  Not particularly interesting, but I like the colors.

I know an explosion when I hear one, and that was an explosion. Within a few minutes,  a wail of sirens in the distance as the firetrucks and ambulance approach.  My neighbor's car has spontaneously caught fire and clouds of black, greasy smoke rise above the rooftops.

My first thought is to drive around the block and ensure that everyone is alright, both my medical kit and my camera pretty much stay in my Jeep just for this reason.  When I arrive the fire department is already working on the car, and everyone, it turns out, is just fine.  I watch the blaze, instinctively wanting to reach for my camera but 'am halted by the fear of trampling on the sensitivities of my neighbor. I project myself into his place, how would I feel if my car were engulfed in flames and my neighbor was happily shooting photographs of it?  Yes, restraint is called for; I let my camera lie.

How is my neighbor any different than anyone else that I take photos of?  I make my way into their world, often uninvited, and proceed to shoot their moments of great emotion, loss, elation, pain, happiness, etc.  I'm not good at that, I believe that I'm far too sensitive of others feelings to impose myself.  This is why I would make a lousy photojournalist.

Friday, March 19, 2010


 I'm in "my office" this morning known to most people as Starbucks Coffee, and while this is my office, Barnes & Noble is "my church".  I come here to read, write, edit photos, and watch people, the last is my most favorite pastime. 

This morning people are lined up three-deep at the counter ordering every sort of caffeinated concoction, feeding the American coffee culture.  This fascination with coffee is not something that we necessarily share in large degree with the rest of the world.

Many years ago I was living in Santiago, Chile doing the bidding of Queen and country, and in Chile, like most LATAM countries at the time, coffee came in tiny cups that looked like they were part of a little girl's tea set. The Chileans just didn't eat much of a breakfast so the idea of morning coffee was a bit foreign to them.  Coffee was something that allowed them to stay up into the wee hours attending dinner parties.

Down the street from my apartment, not far from the U.S. Embassy (a brilliant idea) a Dunkin Donuts prepared to open for business; this would be the country's first, and I can't describe the excitement that streaked through Santiago's ex-pat community.

On the first day that the shop was open I steered clear because the line was outrageous.  Ex-pats wanted a taste of home, and Chileans were morbidly curious as to what the excitement was all about. From all accounts it was an authentic Dunkin Donuts and the Americans, especially those from the northeast, were beside themselves with glee.

The very next day I made sure that I was first in-line when the door opened in the morning.  I strode in all giddy and excited to have my first massive styrofoam cup in well-over a year of American-style joe.  I placed my order, however the Chilean attendant frowned and told me that the coffee wasn't hot yet, pointing to the urn positioned underneath the brand new brewer.  I politely asked him how that was possible, as "The coffee comes out hot", I exclaimed .  He tapped the metal urn and said, "No, todaiva no".  It then hit me, he had left last night's coffee in the urn and had simply turned on the hotplate and was waiting for it to get hot.  Yea, I can see we still have a ways to go.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Past Mosaics

Oriental rugs for sale 

We went on a 911 call last night to a lady that had fallen.  I let my EMT partner run the call as it was well-within his scope of practice, and I was content to drive the ambulance to the hospital.  Sitting next to me during the 10-minute drive was the patient's brother, an older African American man who struck me as being both very pleasant and very supportive of his sister.

A conversation ensued and I discovered that the gentleman had spent over 15-years working for the U.S. Postal Service, however prior to that he had retired from the U.S. Army after twenty years of military service; that was our common link and became the subject of a short conversation.

What struck me was that my new friend didn't wear his military service nor his time spent in Vietnam on his sleeve.  He confessed that it was his goal when he retired to leave that part of his life behind and to look forward to other new adventures and opportunities.  My friend did not want to be one of those retirees that spent the remainder of his life in the VFW reliving his past; identifying and labeling himself as a veteran for all to see.  He believed that if he did so his entire identity as a person would be contingent on something that he had done many, many years ago and not on who he was today. 

I listened to the wisdom of this man seated next to me in the shadows of the ambulance, and it was as if he were speaking for me as well.  Like him, it was my fervent wish when I left the military; no U.S. Army Retiree baseball caps, no veterans license plates.  It was my life then and now it's not.  It's that simple.

This is not to say that people should not be justifiably proud of their accomplishments in life, but don't let them become your sole identity.  We're all so much more than what we did in the past.  A better measure may be what we are doing right now.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I've changed the template and the layout of the blog, it's the first time that I've done so since it's inception three years ago. I have no eye for graphic design so thankfully there are templates to choose from.

I was never a huge fan of change, but over the years I've come to almost ignore it. Everything changes; not for the good or the bad, it just does. It's not the change that's good or bad, but rather the qualitative value that people want to hang around it's neck. If we could stop evaluating, categorizing, naming, or judging things I think we all would certainly find greater happiness.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Karma At Barnes & Noble

As I was walking into Barnes & Noble yesterday afternoon a young African American woman approached the door at the same time from the opposite direction. She was nicely dressed in jeans, a colorful shirt, and knee-high boots. Just as she approached the entrance a voice cried out in a leering tone, "You're awesome! I'm married, but you're just awesome. Come over here for a second and talk to me". A middle-aged African American man was leaning up against the wall, obviously waiting for someone, but the girl just continued on her way and eventually entered the store.

I felt sorry for her and the the fact that she had to endure that sort of treatment from a complete stranger on the street. Why did the man feel it was appropriate or acceptable to speak to anyone that way? I wonder what he would say if someone approached his wife or daughter like that. "Wow", I thought, "your karma sucks." Then I realized that it wasn't just his. He affects how that woman, and probably countless others, view men, of which I'm included. So his karma is now linked to mine. When I realized that, I opened the door for the woman and apologized that she had to endure that sort of treatment. Can we delink our karma from others? I don't think so. What one person does, affects us all. Please smile at the next person you see, because that guy at Barnes & Noble is going to need all of the help he can get.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Random Thoughts From A Himalayan Cave

Door knocker on the door of a Chicago Chinese restaurant

I've spent the last several days pretty much by myself, which is generally a good thing for me. I'm not a very social person, and would do very well in a Himalayan cave meditating for eight years. To that end, here are some random thoughts.

- I don't like zoos. While I understand the purposes; money, research, and display. I think we as humans can do better.

- BRicks (Bike-Run, ick!) workouts are the bane of most triathletes, and I dislike them as much as anybody, but they're a necessary evil for me this year as my bike-to-run transitions suck.

- I need to go to the zendo tomorrow morning and sit… a lot.

- Matt Damon's Green Zone is a good movie, and I enjoyed it very much. I like Matt as an actor.

- Paramedics need to think clinically and have a good medical reason to "collar and board" a patient. Mechanism alone is not enough.

- Chain sushi restaurants tend to be not very authentic and not very good.

- I like Barnes & Noble's electronic book reader, the Nook very much. I'm an Amazon Kindle owner, but am considering trading up.

- I don't understand why funeral processions have the right of way and are allowed to inconvenience hundreds of people along the route. Certainly this wasn't the deceased's last wish? I want to pass the deceased in my car, not drive over him.

- I need to go fly fishing but the Chattahoochee River is too swollen with all of the recent rains. I'm not a good enough fly fisherman to lure a trout out of a fast-flowing, murky river.

- I need to call my parents.

Just Live A Good Life

I had a conversation with a life-long city EMS medic a while back and we were speaking about traveling. He told me that during his fifteen years of EMS that his one great regret was that he had never really ventured very far away from his native city, certainly not overseas. We exchanged stories over coffee and he confided in me that he was actually envious of my life; that I spend it traveling from one distant land to another, having the chance to see so many places and their people.

I've been down this road before and cautioned my friend that everything has it's downside. He looked at me quizzically as I pointed out that he has the luxury of coming home every night to his family, his wife and kids, never missing a single birthday, a ball game, or a school play. In many ways it was I who was envious of his life, doing what he loved and sleeping in his own bed every night.

As the morning coffee ended I think that each of us realized that we were both doing exactly what we wanted to do, however no life is perfect. Everything has it's upsides and its downs, and not everyone's DNA is programed to explore the world and conversely not to remain static. Each has it's own goals and aspirations, neither bad nor good, just to live a good life.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Chicago-style houses. What a great city!

I spent a few days in Chicago this past week, a city that I don't have a lot of exposure to. I made it a point to walk around a little bit and explore with my camera. I wanted to shoot in RAW, which is an uncompressed image file direct from the subject right to the data card on my camera. The RAW files are large, but have a lot of detail, and I wanted to see the difference between RAW and JPEG. I also played around with some other settings on the camera, as well as the new version of Apple Aperture to edit. The result was 120 shutter snaps and six shots that I edited and liked, well below my average. Maybe I'm becoming more selective.

I enjoyed Chicago immensely, it reminded me of a much bigger Boston, as city that you really want to walk around and explore. I was impressed with the number of athletes there, the running and biking trails were full of early-morning athletes braving the frigid downpour. I need to come back again.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Path

I got an email from a wonderful friend of mine the other day asking about Buddhism. I typed my response to his questions, and later thought that it may, in some way, assist others that had similar questions. I'm by no means an expert, so your mileage may vary.

Zen, or more generally, Buddhism is many things to many people. For some it's a religion, for others its a personal philosophy. The great thing about Buddhism is that it doesn't care one way or the other. No one will ever tell you what to believe; this is right and this is wrong, this is good and this is evil; Buddhism lets you make those decisions for yourself.

As far as books, there are a plethora; most of which are very ethereal and difficult to understand for the brand new lay practitioner. Having said that, my favorite book in this whole world is Lama Surya Das', Awakening the Buddha Within. I read this book every year, and while Surya Das is a very practiced Buddhist he only uses Buddhism as a framework to find greater spirituality in one's life. So it's really applicable to everyone that is seeking. Surya Das' book serves as a great primer for Buddhism and how it can fit into and augment your daily life. That's my number one recommendation.

As stupid as you may think it is, Buddhism for Dummies or Idiots is a good book to sort of help you make sense of the larger things that you may see or feel. In other words, what is the difference between Soto Zen, Rinzai Zen and say Tibetan Buddhism? It helps you understand the major muscle movers.

I'm just back from Haiti, now working on the ambulances for a few days before I jet off to Mexico for a few months. Good luck in your search.... I hope that you find nothing (Zen koan).


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Los Chilenos

The jury is still out as to what exactly this is. I saw it buried in the woods as I was driving down an Atlanta country road during a "snow storm". It was like seeing Bigfoot.

Just as I was loading my final dirty clothes from Haiti into the washing machine , Chile happened, and I considered the possibilities of immediately deploying to the new earthquake zone. After five weeks in Haiti the prospect was not that appealing, besides I was on Daddy duty all week while wife attended an out-of -town conference.

I lived in Chile for over a year and have traveled what seems like every mile of that country, from it's Antarctic base in the south (I concede that it's not sovereign territory) to the salt flats of the north near the Peruvian boarder. Chile is not Haiti. The Chileans are no strangers to natural disasters and are well-prepared to respond to them as evidenced by rapid mobilization of it's military and world-class police force. In Haiti, I didn't see any public security on the streets for three weeks, in Chile they are in every media shot coming out of the disaster.

Granted the Chilean quake was of a different nature than Haiti's, but even so the damage was minimized with strong construction techniques, disaster preparedness plans, and superior medical capabilities. I would venture to say that aside from the west coast of the United States, and the country of Japan, Chile is one of the most well-prepared countries in the world to deal with earthquakes. Bien hecho los Chilenos.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In The Blink Of An Eye

Cameraman captures explosion near Baghdad's Green Zone

A shopping plaza sits just off the highway in southern Atlanta's neighborhood of Camp Creek, an area that is almost all upper-middle income African American families.  It's on my way home from picking up my son from school, so we stop into Barnes & Noble to do his homework and maybe a quick breeze through the pet store to look at the reptiles; he's six.

On the way into the pet store a man crosses the parking lot and heads towards the store entrance as well.  My spider-sense starts to tingle, this guy doesn't belong.  He's white and disheveled looking, two things that make him stand out among the normal cliental.  He's not a laborer on his way home from work, and his gait is way too strong and purposeful. 

In an instant I switch over, my senses heighten, and I'm totally aware of EVERYTHING.  We enter the store and head to the back, moments later the man appears again, brushing past me as I move between him and my son.  As he walks up the isle away from me he does an odd little twitch with his right elbow that is a common tell-tale sign of someone that is carrying a gun that is not used to doing so. Time to go.  I grab my son by the hand, located the man in the store surveillance mirrors, and find the best way out to the car and away.  

In the car I tried to explain to my son why we left so quickly, but it was beyond him.  I took stock in how quickly I switched over, all of a sudden I was in Haiti, Baghdad, Colombia .  It all came on like a flash of light; skills, senses, angles, egress, contingencies, it was game-on in the blink of an eye.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Un-Buddhist

When people find out that I'm a practicing Buddhist they're a little surprised, I suppose because I don't fit their image or notion of what a Buddhist should be like or even act like.  That alone is an issue, but not for me to wrestle with here.  I normally respond to their quizzical looks with, "What?!!  I have the haircut." 

People's preconceived ideas of what Buddhism is or isn't is actually a source of great humor for me.  Practicing Buddhists are seen, at least in many minds, as peaceful, stoic, and deeply thoughtful, but I'm here to tell you, 'that ain't me'.  My wife often chides me about being the most un-Buddhist Buddhist that she has ever known; of course I think I'm the ONLY Buddhist she has ever known for what it's worth.

Being a Buddhist, in my very uninformed opinion, does not make you emotionless, its exactly the opposite.  Emotions are very intense and well-felt.  When I'm happy, I'm happy; when I feel saddened by something, I'm sad.  It's that simple.  I think the difference is that I don't carry those emotions around with me for days on end, letting them dictate my thoughts and actions.  Emotions are like a house-guest, when they're present they get all of your attention, and when they leave… they're gone.

As far as being 'deeply thoughtful' is concerned… not so much :)