Sunday, August 24, 2008

In memory...

I wrote the following article a year or so ago in response to an email that I received that was so racist that it made me sick. I promptly sat down and wrote this piece, but then I never sent it out because it seemed too personal. It has never been published or sent out in any form, until today.

I look out the window at the Wyoming countryside. It seems more of a desert wasteland to me. "What a place to be buried, I mumble to myself." Perhaps she had liked it though.

The words of the obituary are still running through my head:

"Emelia ..., age 20, ... died Monday ... as the result of an automobile accident. She was born in 1981 ... Survivors are her parents ... six sisters, including her twin ... and a brother ..."

I couldn't get it out of my mind then and I cannot get it out now. I sat there at my desk and read it again and again. I was stunned. Now months later, I am still plagued by it all. So here I am, driving my old truck across the God forsaken Wyoming countryside. I glance over at the passenger seat, but the only thing there is a single red rose in a bottle of water. I look at the rose, and I wonder about it all. Why am I here? What am I doing all of this for? And even more of a question to me, why did she have to die? Twenty years old...

I pull up to the small cemetery and I sit there for a minute. Then I get out and I start to wander around in search of the gravestone. I cover the first half of the cemetery with no luck. "Where is she," I wonder out loud. Then I cross over to the second half of the cemetery. I stop to look at a particularly fancy headstone, and then I glance upward and out into the open end of the cemetery. There, about fifty feet away and all by itself, stands one lone headstone. It has a hanging flower basket next to it and I can read the wording from where I stand. My heart skips a beat and I catch my breath. "Emelia ... " the headstone reads. Simple, and alone. Out and away from all of the other graves.

I hesitate. Suddenly, I am not sure that I can go over there to it, but after a moment, I slowly walk over there and sit down about five feet away. I read the headstone again and again.

"To thine own self be true"
"Emelia ..."

Twenty years old. I am stunned and I feel like someone has hit me in the stomach. From somewhere inside, all the frustration, all the questions, and the extreme sense of loss just tumble out. I start to weep bitterly, and I look up and ask the simple question, "Why?" "Why did she have to die?" But the only response today is silence. Even the wind is perfectly still.
...I stand on the warm sand. In the distance, the sun is setting. In the shadowy dusk, there is a variety of activity in the small village. The gentle breeze is a relief from the heat of the day. As I walk down the village path, I am drawn to a lady that is sitting outside a hut with a child in her arms. I approach them. The woman watches me, wary and cautious. I try to talk with her. She indicates that the child is very sick. I gently feel the child’s forehead and the woman does not stop me. I am shocked as my hand touches the small head. The little girl has a burning fever. The woman eyes seem to wonder if I can help and my heart aches to help them. Later that night, as I sit against the wall on the dirt floor and hold the child, I wonder about it all. She is a beautiful little girl. The mother comes over and looks at the child, gently changing the damp cloth on the child’s forehead. The cloth is old and worn, more of a rag than anything. It all seems so hopeless. There is hardly food here for the child if she should live. I wish to myself that I could see her eyes. I doze off to sleep holding her in my arms. In the early morning hours, I hold the child as her spirit leaves her body. The mother is overcome with fatigue and grief. As I carefully pass the small bundle to the mother, I realize: She is a child of God. She is in good hands now.
...I walk through the airport. I am here to pick someone up from a flight and it has been delayed. I stand and watch as the people come off of the planes. I smile as an older lady is engulfed in embraces by her grandchildren. I watch as a young mother rushes to meet her husband, with her baby in her arms. I watch as a soldier in uniform walks towards a group of family. He embraces his mother first, and there are tears in her eyes. I watch as young and old alike stand in anticipation, looking down the corridor. There are cries of "I see him" and "there she is." The joy, the anticipation, and the happiness are tangible...and as I stand there, I realize, these are all children of God....They have kindred, ties, and they love others.
...I walk around the ruins of Perge. It is evening, and the setting sun sends rays of golden light dancing off of the ancient city walls. In the street, where there was once a bustling city, there are a few women and children trying to sell blankets and trinkets to the tourists. As I stand there, a young boy comes up and holds forward some short twigs of some very fragrant plant. He is speaking Turkish and I cannot understand him, but I gather that it is some sort of herb or spice. I pay him a quarter for one of the twigs and he allows me to take some pictures. He then goes off to rejoin his family, selling blankets in a dead marketplace. As the last light fades, I leave the city ruins and I wonder to myself, what will his life be? Will he be influenced by radical Islam? I realize that there are hardly any Christians in his country. Will he grow up to hate Christians? I cannot tell what his life will be like. But, he is child of God....
...I knock quietly and walk into the room. The young lady is laying in the hospital bed. The room is quiet and it is furnished nice enough, and yet I wonder to myself if it feels more like a tomb to her. A place that she would rather be rid of. I talk with her for a moment and offer my condolences. She has just had an infant die after living for a few brief moments. I wonder to myself what I could possibly say that would mean anything? Later in the hall, I speak with her husband. He is fighting to maintain his composure and I can see that it is all taking a toll on him. I wish that there is something that I could say, something that I could do...but I can’t. As I leave the hospital, I take comfort in knowing that they are children of God, and that he will help them.
...The nurse shows me to the bedside of the elderly lady. The lady notices me and reaches for my hand. She firmly grasps it with both of hers. "Thank you for coming," she says. I glance around the nursing home room at the walls and furnishings. The dear lady is in her eighties at least. I inquire how she is doing. "It’s pretty rough" she replies, "But they are taking good care of me here". We talk of her family, and her sister. She is Catholic, and has a Crucifix there close by. After some time, I go to leave and she seems reluctant to let go of my hand. A couple of weeks later, I hear that she has passed away...I wonder about it all, and I hope the best for her. I am happy to realize that she is a child of God.
...I step out of the shower and grab the ringing phone. "Jeff died on Saturday, can you make the viewing and funeral at 10:00?" says the voice on the line. "Sure, I’ll be there..." I reply. I switch out for my suit and tie. As I drive to the funeral, I wonder what I could possibly say to Kim, Jeff’s wife. Jeff has been battling with cancer for several months now, and some time ago the doctors sent him home to die. As I walk in, I am greeted by members of the family, tears in their eyes. On the table is a collection of family pictures. Pictures of family, friends, brothers, sisters, his wife. And his kids. Three beautiful children. The oldest is a six year old boy. In an awkward moment, I get trapped in the viewing room as they close the doors for the family prayer. I try and shrink into the corner, feeling that I don’t belong there. I watch as the young lady moves to the casket with her kids, their tears freely flowing, trying to be strong and brave. My heart aches for them. I wonder about her...will she be okay? I wonder about the kids. How will they turn out? Will they all be okay? Later on, I kneel down and shake hands with the oldest boy. "I’m sorry about your dad." I say. It seems lame to say, but what else can be said? He looks at me and simply says "Okay". He is trying to be strong and brave. As I walk out of the building, I wonder what life will hold for them. I can only take comfort in knowing that they are all children of God, and that he will be there for them.
...The father steps forward and takes the small baby girl from her mother. "Please join me," he asks the brethren present. I am pleased to be able to participate with her father, grandfather, uncles and cousins in blessing her with a name. Later on, I ask the mother if I may hold her. As I sit there and look at her, she is sleeping peacefully. I ponder over the wonder of it all. The little body, the individual fingers, the little fingernails. Her little nose, eyes and mouth. She is beautiful, and almost seems like an angel. Her hair is long and dark. I wonder to myself, what will life hold for her? What trials will she face? How will she deal with the issues that life will throw her direction? Will she be okay? As I gently hand her back to her mother, I take comfort that she is a child of God. The fact that she is here is evidence that there is still hope.
...I sit across from a little girl and I look at her. She is a beautiful little girl, about three years old. She is truly radiant, radiant with a light that seems almost to come from within her, instead of around her. Her eyes are captivating, her hair blondish in color. She has a small smile, and gazes evenly back at me. I can tell that she is happy, and truthfully, I marvel at it a little.

"Why would you want to come here?" I ask her. "Look at everything. It’s a mess. The wickedness, the evil, the heartache. Why come here at all?"

"Because of the opportunity to love," she replies. "The opportunity to love in a way that is not possible where I am right now."

Sunday, August 17, 2008


It was quite a week for our nation, for athletes all over the world, and for me. Let’s recap:

I watched last Sunday and as America took the Gold in the Mens 4x100m Freestyle Relay. It was an amazing and fitting end after the Frenchies had been talking smack. I couldn’t help but just laugh. Then I continued to watch as Michael Phelps won gold after gold, setting new records all along the way and breaking his own records.

Wednesday, I watched as the US won the Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay – something like five seconds ahead of the next team and a new world record. Sitting in a restaurant Thursday evening, I watched as Phelps won his sixth gold medal for these games. The entire restaurant was riveted to the screen and proceeded to cheer and clap on the completion of the race.

Friday night, I stood in a crowded mall area and watched the big screen as Phelps won the 100-meter fly, by .01 of a second. Once again, everyone around me was clapping.

And last night, I fired up my Blackberry to see if he had made his eighth gold medal in the Mens 4x100m Medley Relay. Sure enough, he had done it.

Quoted from an NBC article by Alan Abrahamson:

"…Michael Phelps set out before the Beijing Games with the most audacious goal in the history of the modern Olympics, to win eight gold medals at a single Games."

"…I'm almost speechless," Peter Ueberroth, the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee said Saturday after watching Phelps beat Cavic. "He's beginning to set a whole new standard for his sport and for America."

Way to go Michael Phelps!

And in another sport...

I sat in a restaurant and watched Nastia Liukin perform her beam routine during the US team prelims and I was stunned by the rhythmic and beautiful flow of it all. She is a testament to the fact that women’s gymnastics has always been, and hopefully always will be, an artistic sport and not just a technical one. She was a joy to watch with her graceful execution of routines in the all-around competition. I missed the end of the event and I was glad to hear later that she had won the Gold. Despite the ankle injuries last year and everything else, she made it, and it just rocked that she won.

Way to go Nastia Liukin!

I also enjoyed watching Shawn Johnson and I was really glad that she took Silver. And how about when the US Mens Gymnastics team took that Bronze when no one expected them to even medal?

It just makes me smile and laugh to think about it all. Yes sir, America rocks!

Of course, the Olympics are about people doing great things. They are about people doing better and better. They are about people doing the seemingly impossible.

I summoned a little piece of my own history for myself this last week. I received a contract in the mail for the largest deal that I have ever closed. Over a quarter of a million dollars. Over one quarter of my gross sales last year, but in a single contract. Almost double any previous contract landed by me. I have worked on this deal for almost two years. It has moved between three general contractors, and somehow, our company stayed in the game.

Sure I’m a little nervous, because getting a contract doesn’t mean the job is done, but I am excited. And I’m grateful. I’ve had to take some time to sit and contemplate how I got here, and where I am going. I used to dream of closing a deal this big, and now here it is. I’m a deeply spiritual person, and I can’t help but be thankful to a higher source for this success. I just sit here in awe and I wonder what else might be in store for my life.

I told someone that I didn’t really start on this deal a year and a half ago. I started on it at least ten years ago, when I first started in sales as a 20-year-old. It was some of the hardest stuff I had ever done and definitely the most depressing. I have been privileged to have had some of the best teachers and mentors that a person could have asked for, and I want to say thank you to them. People like David Mathews & Ken Bolinder; and great writers like Og Mandino, Steven R Covey, Vash Young, Napolean Hill, and a host of others that I don’t have the space to write here.

Over the last couple of months, and especially the last couple of weeks, I’ve rediscovered the books, the materials, and the ideas that I have studied for years. And suddenly, I am seeing them with new eyes, and I am excited to see where it leads. I feel almost as though I have been in the doldrums and I am awakening. It is almost as though a new me is emerging. And yes, it feels very, very good.

I just smile at how it all happened this week, with the Olympics and all. At the 2002 Olympics, here in Salt Lake City, I had just gone bankrupt with my Golf Store. I had been forced to close it down because of insufficient funding and I owed thousands of dollars to various creditors. I was a smashed person and the night of the closing Olympic Ceremonies, I came home and sat in my room. I took an old book from the shelf that I had never read. It was a book from my Dad titled, A Fortune to Share, by Vash Young. I read it clear through that night and, it changed my life.

So here we are, at another Olympics. And yes, life is changing. And you know what? ...It's going to be okay.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Deep Magic...

It's a good day today. The deep magic is very much alive and well! :)

But seriously, let's talk about number strings for a minute. Consider the string 72572. That has to be just about the coolest numerical string I have seen in a while. And while were talking about it, what do you think about the number 9? Nine has to be one of the coolest numbers around.

But before you think that I have flipped out, let's talk about this photo.

I took this in October of 2006. I went out for a Sunday afternoon drive and I ended up at the bottom of Wolf Creek pass. I went for a walk and took the camera. I took several shots as the sun was setting. It's really nice up there. I would love to live in that area, except for the commute.

In 2007, I submitted a black and white variant of this shot to the PPA International Print Competition. In this competition, a print either earns a merit or it does not. There is no limit on how many prints can earn a merit, regardless of the number of submissions. They did not merit ANY of my prints. Then in the review, they decided to pick them apart technically without ever even discussing the spiritual/emotional value. That was the day that I decided that I was done with PPA. I decided that I would have to care less what they thought about my work. I do wish that I had sent this one instead of the black and white one, maybe they would have liked it better.

I just decided that I wasn't going to modify my style just to please some commercial organization so that I could claim to be a PPA "master". My true style was more important.

"To thine own self be true." It's a motto I try and live by. Be true to your better self. Be true to your own style.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Meet Paul...

Just for the record, this post has nothing to do with photography.

Saturday, I went wakeboarding for the first time. It was probably one of the most terrifying experiences of my life so far. It was one of those times when your logical mind is telling you that you are fine, but your body is screaming at you that you are going to die. I've walked three story walls, jumped off of roofs, shingled on steep roofs without ropes or toe boards, worked on all kinds of truss systems way high in the air, hiked backcountry mountains all by myself in the middle of the night, and a myriad of other scary things, but I think this took the cake.

I went up with a few of my friends. I watched Andrew go first and he made it look pretty easy. Then Paul asked if I was ready. I figured what the heck. So I went to the back of the boat and strapped onto the board. "Okay, just jump out as far as you can from the boat, and fall forward, not backward."

I'm standing up, I have both of my feet strapped onto some piece of composite plastic that is four feet long. I looked at the water, and I looked at Paul. Jumping in wasn't quite what I had in mind. I wanted to slip gently into the water and slowly get used to the cold and the wet. "Just jump in?" I ask. "Yeah, just jump in" he replies. I look at the water again and suddenly, this just doesn't seem good. But, I couldn't see any other way, so I jumped out, as far as I could.

Let's just say that my initial reaction to jumping in was not pretty. Firstly, it was the deepest water I have ever been in. And I fell forward alright, with the cold, the wet, my face under the water. It just wasn't good. It was an all-out battle to try and get my mind rational and under control. The water was cold to me, and I had to get used to it for a minute so I could even talk. I was on my stomach, just holding my head above the water. Sure, I had a life jacket on, but my body was still telling me I was going to die.

The first order of business was learning how to flip the board around so that I was on my back. Looking back at it, it was a lot like when I took my sisters skiing and I had them fall over on purpose and then try to stand up. They always really struggle with it. It's the first exercise I do with new people, because they have to learn it before they can move on. Finally, I just had to grit my teeth and I was able to flip the board around. Then came my first tow.

It went okay for maybe a second, I was in no way ready for the massive force of the boat pulling me and I think I went clear over forward. I was determined to hold on and as a result, I got dragged for a second before I let go. I was on my face again. Choking and sputtering, I waited for the boat to come back to me.

I think on the second pull I got up for maybe a second and then lost it. I learned to let go a lot sooner and that helped. As the boat came back to get me, I told them that I wasn't a quitter but I just couldn't do this. They got me to keep trying though, and I went for it a couple more times. At that point, I just couldn't take it any more, I had to get out of the water. I had swallowed what felt like gallons of water, and I was shaking all over.

I sat in the boat while Paul went next and I took the picture above. I was so unnerved that I forget to set my camera right and I shot everything at f2.8, so most of them were blurry, but I had two that weren't.

We had problems with the wakeboard so I didn't go again that day. I want to learn it though. I think that it would be really fun once you got used to it. It reminds me again of when I learned to ski. The first day I only skied a couple of hours, and I was thrashed. The second time, I hurt myself and I almost stopped after the first hour, but I stayed and by the end of the day I had a pretty good time. The third time, I had a blast.

So maybe that is how it is with wakeboarding. Perhaps I just need to get a couple of times under my belt. It's important to me that I learn how, and I feel a bit bad that it didn't go better. I also need to get over my intense fear of water.

On another note, I think that maybe I work to much. By design, I spend most of my time working on one thing or another. If not on my job then I spend it on some project or class or something. It seems like I always have something going and I don't do a lot of recreational things or socializing with other people. It was great to go up there and just hang out with my friends, watch them with their kids, and play games. It really was good, and I had a really great time.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Badlands, South Dakota. It's amazing really, the difference that a little light can make. This is the same tree and field that was in the last photo. The composition is a bit different.

I spent Saturday looking at locations for an upcoming engagement shoot. I had a rush wedding shoot on Sunday, (they asked me Saturday night) and I photographed a very large family group (45 people) on Monday night. I am extremely busy at my real job, so it's crazy to say the least. I'm way behind on getting people's pictures back to them and I'm going to have to start turning people away.

The conclusion: I am in desperate need of an assistant.

I don't know if I will keep doing large group shots. I may just bag them altogether because I am having a lot of problems with getting them to look good. I am really struggling with them on everything from posing, to lighting, to stupid things like sharpness.

I need to go back and take some really serious photography courses to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. The problem: I need the time!
Maybe I will stop doing weddings, and stop doing large groups, and focus on individual, couples, and very small group sessions. I dunno. Something to think about.