Field Of Depth

“Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away…”  (1973)  Kodachrome  Written & Recorded by:  Paul Simon

Many moons ago I was a photography enthusiast.  Actually, I still am, just not a practicing one anymore.

Around 1983, one of my co-workers was selling his gently used 35mm Canon AE1.  I never had a serious camera before, just happy with an Instamatic and Polaroids, but always wanted one.  It didn’t take long in life to discover I had a photographer’s eye and really wanted to dive in.  When he realized I was interested, he sold it to me for a little bit of nothing.  I made out like a bandit on that deal.  I guess I have taken a few thousand shots with it through the years.  These days it sits in my old dusty camera bag…in a closet I rarely use.

Lens - Canon AE1

My photo albums can testify how much I love real film, not to mention the scads of containers of photos stored away.  They are just visual moments in time documented for future eyes.  Recently, a fabulous photographer encouraged me to pick up the camera once again.  A big thanks to Darren across the pond at The Arty Plantsman.

Once I became an owner of a great camera, a telephoto lens and a telephoto zoom lens was added over the years.  All-in-all it adds up to some great shutter adventures.

If you’re new to a 35mm camera, one of the first things to learn is the focus of your subject in the viewfinder.  In the scope you find uneven lines to mesh together for a sharp focus of the subject targeted.  So vital.  Line up the focus lines and click away.  (I love the sound of the shutter.)  The field of depth can be tricky, but it can be mastered.  Let me show you some old pictures of mine to give some visual examples.

Below, notice the tight focus of the bee hovering over the blooms at the renowned Ft Worth Botanical Gardens in Ft Worth, Texas.  (Theses photos are from the mid 1980’s, so the color has faded with age.  However, I’m sure you’ll get the picture. :>)

Lens - Bee Long Focus

For the photographer, what I’m about to explain is simple common knowledge.  I focused sharply on the bee visiting the blooms, but when I “focused” on the bee, the background became “unfocused”.  Notice the leaves and branches are blurry.  It’s okay for a shot like this and frankly, it’s expected.

However, when I focused more toward the middle of the field of depth, and not closing up on a bee, all becomes focused.  See what I mean?

Lens - Bee Long Focus Dallas Arboretum

If Pinocchio came to my house I could zero-in on his nose, but it would leave the rest of his face out of focus.  Isn’t it true, sometimes in life we do tend to focus on lies, deceit, and untrustworthy words?  Panning back, one can always view the larger picture.

Here’s another example from my old Karate/Kickboxing days.  (I used to break concrete for martial arts demonstrations in another life.  Patio concrete slabs at Walmart were less than a dollar in those days.)

Lens - Long Focus Karate Demo

Notice the tight, sharp focus centering on the concrete slabs atop the mason blocks.  Yet, the back of the heads, in the foreground, are very much out of focus.  If I had focused on the back of the gentleman’s head on the right, then the stage area would be hazy in the field of depth.

One of my faults is a tendency to be a newshound.  With all the jarring frays in the American political world of late, I find I must walk away and focus on other things.  I guess you might say I need to fix my eyes elsewhere for a more pleasant subject in my mental viewfinder.  Simply put, I need to adjust my field of depth.  Do you ever feel that way?

Not long ago, I had a real issue with my 20-something step-daughter.  We first met about four years ago.  She lives hundreds of miles away making it a bit difficult to have a thriving, authentic relationship.  Over a Facebook post, harsh words were spoken.  Attitudes, which were hidden, suddenly bubbled out into the raw open.  It was a hurtful event.  (Much like political hearings on Capitol Hill.)  At first, I focused on the words said, words typed, and tried with all my might to keep from judging her too harshly.  Unfortunately, I already had.  What I needed to do, and eventually did, was to avoid focusing on the words, but also make efforts to step back to get the entire picture inside the frame from a different camera angle.  When accomplished, I was able to adjust my lens for a broader view to the point where the up close and personal issue, which involved me, became less of the subject in the field of depth.  In that way, the view of the world will always develop much better after possessing.  It’s an art, don’t you think?

Lens - Film Developed

Photo:  Chay Garciavia Pexels

While tell you this, I was hit with a biblical hammer.  The parable from Jesus, concerning the Good Samaritan, captures much of the same idea.  Here is my layman’s modern paraphrased version.  PG13…Suitable with the exception of extreme violence and nudity. (LOL)

A poor traveler was beaten, stripped, and robbed by a gang waiting behind the rocks on a path in rugged desert area.  They left him half-dead.  Soon, a priest came down the same road, saw the distressed wounded traveler and made it a point to look the other way.  In doing so, he went to the opposite side of the path to avoid him.  Not long after that, a Levite approached.  (A Levite was one who lived in the temple in Jerusalem, born to serve in the daily duties of temple business.  Much like a monk or nun.)  He too, quickly looked the other direction to avoid the traumatized one in need and walked around the naked, wounded traveler while fixing his gaze on the road ahead.  A Samaritan man (From a geographical locale called Samaria in mid-Israel.) came down the same road and saw the poor guy.  He had pity and compassion on him as he considered his terrible ordeal.  Although the victim was left naked, bloody and unable to walk, he immediately gave him first aid as he bandaged him with what little he had.  Then he, not caring if he soiled his own clothes, picked the bleeding man up and placed him on his donkey.  Not long afterwards they reached a small hotel.  He booked a room, taking care of him throughout the overnight.  The next day, he found the wounded man was still in no condition to travel.  He left him bandaged in his bed.  Before leaving, he gave the hotel clerk a generous amount of funds.  He instructed the clerk to take care of him.  He went on to tell him to supply whatever needs might arise concerning the unfortunate man.  He let it be known he would reimburse him for whatever expenses rose above the money offered when he returned from his trip.  (Ref. Luke 10:35-37)

Honestly, volumes have been written about the application of this parable.  There is so much taught from the tale.  As Jesus shared this parable, He was showing the true heart of God and what kind of heart God can place within each of us who are willing.  The “holier than thou” clergymen were focused on where they were going, their schedules, and their own concerns.  When the two “men of the cloth” saw the poor, broken traveler, they chose not to focus on him, just like the back of the heads of an audience at a Karate demo.  Although the victim was right there in their foreground, for them the idea was to keep the vision of him, and his needs, contained in a blurry haze of forgetfulness.  The Good Samaritan had a schedule to keep as well.  He was also focused on where his destination was, his clock, and the distance ahead.  But when he saw the beaten, bloodied traveler, compassion caused him to think to himself, “There but for the grace of God go I.”  Suddenly, he adjusted his lens to a sharp, clear focal point on the needs at hand.  His new focus allowed him to see clearly what needed to be done for this stranger who owed him nothing.  His new focus delivered a bias for action.  You might say, he chewed his gum and walked at the same time.  It’s clear, his field of depth changed as he refocused.

After I am dead and gone, my three daughters will be going through my photo albums, my plastic tubs of Kodak prints scanning some forty+ years, as well as boxes of snapshots I felt were important to keep.  When they do, they might learn far more about what my true focus was in life.  Hopefully they will discuss my authentic field of depth.

Focusing on the subject of need isn’t always easy, but it will add to your personal field of depth.  The viewfinder is always located in the mixture of fuel for the race.

“Let us fix (focus) our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2  (Berean Study Bible Version)

 

DNA And Me

Photo:  “Our” family reunion of 1902.

“…Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind.  Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were…Can it be that it was all so simple then?  Or has time rewritten every line?…” (1974)  The Way We Were.  Recorded by;  Barbra Streisand.  Composers:  Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch.

There’s much to learn from a simple photograph.  I adore antique photos, always have.  They are even more special when you find images depicting your own flesh and blood.  If you love family history, then you and I could share some time over a few cups of java.

Check out the cover shot I placed above.  This is a 1902 family reunion from my paternal side.  No doubt it’s from the summer time in Texas, yet there’s all that clothing.  Look at all stiff high collars, neckties and gowns that crawl up to the chin, along with the hats.  Summers in Texas can reach 100+ degrees easily.  How did they do it?  In all honesty, the southern tradition was to have an event like this right after church on a Sunday afternoon.  Maybe that’s why everybody is in their Sunday-go-to-meetin’-clothes.  I see watermelon slices, cakes, pies, etc.  And then there’s that guy on the back row, just right of center, swigging a big bottle of….well…uh…Okay, who knows. But remember, church was over. LOL

Being from the south, there is a depth of Confederate soldiers in the family.

Alexander Ambrose Timmons Great Uncle-in-law 1866ish

Photo:  Meet Great Uncle Alexander Ambrose Timmons (1865)  Now THAT’S a knife!

Lewis Pinkney Brooks Great Grandpa 1866ish

Photo:  Meet my Great Grandpa Lewis Pinkney Brooks (1866)  After the war, he rode a mule from Georgia to west Texas to stay.  He found himself to be a cattle drover, pioneer settler, homesteader, 2nd sheriff of Young County, Texas, stage coach inn owner, and Indian fighter.

Yes, sometimes inside family history one can find skeletons which may not be politically correct by today’s self-imposed standards.  I’m not one to erase history.  In fact, I gaze at it, study it, and recognize the truth of the way we were.  We need to see how far we’ve come.  We need to discover how and why issues in society arose.  We are in need of understanding before we repeat some aspects of our history which may stain us as a culture.  We also should value perspectives.  One can title a person an “Indian fighter” but often neglects the realities of circumstance.  As for my my great-grandfather Brooks, he dealt with the pains of pioneering.  Tonkawa and Comanche often raided his barn overnight to steal horses, cattle, and mules.  Another time, he and his cousin were building a three-foot herd wall, made of stone, when they were attacked unprovoked.  Grave plots had to be topped in layers of large stone to discourage grave-robbing for clothes and jewelry.  Outlaws are outlaws, no matter the culture.  Yes, it was a lawless wild country in very different times.  Only after years of fighting back in defense of his wife and children did peace began to rise.

Pioneer women were of a different breed.  They were tough as brass doorknobs while growing and nurturing families in the harshest conditions.

Mary Lucinda (Cinnie) Moore-Brooks Great Grandma 1877ish Photo;  Meet my Great Grandma Mary Lucinda “Cinnie” Moore-Brooks (1877).  She was not a doctor, but performed medical aid for the citizens of the county when needed.  There are stories of her alone on foot, in late night hours, traveling to attend to women in labor miles away.  Once a young family in a covered wagon, headed for the western frontier, stopped at the homestead asking for medical aid.  The couple had a baby who was ill.  The family lodged in their house for a good couple of weeks as Mary Brooks tended to the infant.  Sadly, the child couldn’t be saved.  They buried the baby in our family cemetery on the land.  Brokenhearted, the couple got back on the trail and was never heard from again.  She was not only a woman of great courage, but a woman of heart.

Great Aunt Alverse Brooks 1905ish

Photo:  Let me introduce you to my Great Aunt Alverse Brooks (1905ish).  I don’t know much about Aunt Alverse, I just love her face.  I do know she liked to swim in the Brazos River with her sisters.  She lived as a single woman.  (The men must have been pushed away, or simply stupid.)

Grandma Brown with two sisters 1911ish

Photo:  Say hello to my Grandma Bessie Brooks-Brown, with her two sisters, swimming in the Brazos River just below the family homestead (1909ish).  This lovely refreshed and digitized shot is nothing but a joy to look at.  My grandma is on the left.  Notice the swimwear where EVERYTHING is covered.  How many layers do you think they were wearing?  However, it didn’t keep that guy behind them from gawking in his ten gallon hat.  Yes, times were different.

You might be asking yourself, “Why is Alan forcing all these family pics on us?”  There’s a method to my madness.

Have you seen those DNA test commercials?  How can you miss them?  You know the ones where the actor says something like, “I thought my family came from Scotland, so I bought this kilt.  Then I had my DNA tested and found out I’m actually German!”  Recently I had been given a birthday gift card encouraging me to get my DNA tested.  It’s something I always wanted to do.  One of my thrills comes from reading family trees.  This is a notch above the tree.  So, I ordered a DNA kit.

Not long ago I was reviewing some of my medical lab work from a blood and urine sample.  There was an indicator of a possible unknown ethnic bloodline hidden in my genes.  I was shocked.  I do know of some Native American on my maternal side, but I just assumed Anglo-Saxon was the balance of my strand, due to surnames.  The DNA test will spell out the surprises.  It will be nice to get to know the authentic “me”….or will it?

I find it funny how some of these DNA test ads speak of “…finding the real you”, or “I never knew I was this, or that.”   One TV spot had an actor speaking a line similar to, “I ordered my kit because I wanted to know the true me.”  Of course, I understand what the meaning is behind such scripted lines.  I get it.  My issue is the idea of “the true me”.

Lately I’ve been deeply diving into Larry McMurty’s novel series, Lonesome Dove.  I guess I enjoy tales of the state from which I call home.  Reading of its wilder, unsettled times is a blast.  Frankly, it helps me to understand my family in our photos.  One main character, a former Texas Ranger and drover from the Texas Republic years, lost a leg and an arm in a shootout with a Mexican train robber and serial killer.  After he realized he would live as an amputee for the rest of his life, his bolt, staunch personality changed.  He became more withdrawn. I guess you could say the heart of the man shrunk.  His words often consisted of how “HE” was no longer who he was, or used to be.  He saw his missing limbs as tools that identified his toughness, his persona, and his legacy.  It’s not unusual for depression to invade an amputee’s psyche shortly after the vacuum of trauma.  Yet, why look at an amputated limb on a table and think, “Hey, that’s me over there on the table?”  It’s a terrible mistake that tends to haunt.  A disabled vet can testify to this depression-fed mindset.

A leg, an arm, even a DNA strand does not say WHO you ARE.  These things do not relabel the soul and spirit of the individual person.  After a tragic plane crash, or the sinking of a ship, they do not report, “100 bodies were lost.”  Traditionally it’s printed, “100 souls were lost.”  One can be robbed of a limb, a featured look, or a physical profile, but the person inside has not been altered on the operating table…unless the individual cuts away at it by choice.  Whether I am a burn victim, a man of extreme age, facially mutilated, newly unemployed, or an amputee, I know WHO I am deep inside where flesh doesn’t live, grow, or die.  MY DNA doesn’t alter the ME which turns me to the right or the left.  My genes have no power over the ME which molds behavior, or makes eternal decisions.  No bloodline rules and reigns over the ME who chooses to love, serve, or share.  No bloodline from my family tree can measure up to the ME I select in life.  After all, flesh turns to dust in a future grave, or ashes spread by the winds atop a west Texas bluff.

Have you ever heard someone’s final words on their deathbed to be, “Oh, how I wish I had a Celtic slice in my DNA strand.  I would have been a better person?”

We all have our choices, no matter the accent, skin color, cultural slants, or the soil of our birth.  Even a surname doesn’t register the YOU inside your core.  The heart is key.  It’s what God said He evaluates, nothing else.

I look forward to the DNA reveal concerning the body I host.  I know this because of the intake of fuel for the race.

“…Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  – Jesus – Luke 12:6-7  (Berean Study Bible) 

My Tribute To Larry Bierl

“I will remember you.  Will you remember me?  Don’t let life pass you by.  Weep not for the memories…”   I Will Remember You, (1995).  Recorded by:  Sarah McLachlan.  Composers:  Sarah McLachlan, Seamus Egan, Dave Merenda

Cover photo:  Anne Neville/Buffalo News

Life sure has its ways of reminding us how we should have corrected ourselves at some point and time.  The rear-view mirror can be a teaching tool.

I lived in Williamsville/Amherst, NY, a Buffalo suburb, from 2003-2008.  It’s approximately 5,300 in population.  I chose Williamsville because it was a beautiful, quaint little area, away from the city where I did a radio show.  The property taxes were higher, with the safe neighborhood, as well as the school district.  It was a superb place for my three girls.

Often times, while driving into the quiet, older downtown village of Williamsville for a dinner run, or a nice walk down to the Ellicott Creek waterfall in Glen Park, we would see a mysterious man walking the sidewalks.  He was quite the oddity for the setting of Williamsville’s more upper-crust reputation.  He was a homeless man, or so we assumed.  The majority of the homeless were seen in the city, not the norm for the Williamsville/Amherst section of Buffalo.  More than likely you would see him clad in camouflage coat & pants, or a pair of cargo khakis, hunting lace-up boots, and long heavy yarn scarves wrapped around his neck that hung down to his thighs.

One evening, while sitting in the car in a parking lot, waiting to pick-up my daughter from a musical rehearsal, I saw the man was nearby, digging through a trash bin outside a Wendy’s fast food location.  At closer glance, I observed the scarves with a better perspective.  The scarves were not scarves at all.  They were extremely long strands of thick, matted hair, appearing to be mufflers of wool.  These strands were not dreadlocks, with crafty braids of hair art, although many attempted a good spin by calling them dreadlocks.  They were as thick as a dock rope.  It was an amazing sight, and certainly highly unique.  It told part of this man’s narrative.

My oldest daughter, Tabitha, 16 at the time, worked part-time for Spot Coffee, a popular coffee and pastry bar.  He made a semi-daily stop there for a tall cup of straight java.  He was offered free coffees and food from most of the businesses in the village. or wherever he showed up, but he always paid when he could.  Empty bottles and cans were his prey.  It was a familiar scene, a plastic trash bag full of the soon-to-be recycled items, draped over his shoulder.  He had a zip-lock plastic bag of coins and dollar bills stashed in the thigh pocket of his pants.  Nobody ever saw him begging on the street corners.  However, the community members, not allowing judgement to overrule them, donated money to him coming and going.  One might wonder how the business owners and the police dealt with him.  I am proud to say, very kindly.  Everyone understood, this man was part of our community, living a life of his choosing.

More days than not, if you drove by Spot Coffee, you would see him sitting at one of the patio tables with coffee in hand, gazing off toward the horizon.  He seemed to live in his own world.  He was gentle, never causing trouble.  Although he was not one to enjoy talking much.  He would respond if spoken to.  My daughter has a big heart.  She made sure she spoke to him while serving him coffee, or whenever she was close enough on other occasions.

Larry Bierl AT Spot Coffee Photo:  Carole Taylor & Buffalo News

Sometimes you could see him sitting outside a Burger King on a sidewalk bench, eating a burger.  Other times, he would be stuffing one into an old worn backpack.  It was not unusual for him to decline someone offering him fries to go with it.  My opportunity was one August afternoon as I jogged by the bench.  You guessed it.  I looked straight ahead listening to Fleetwood Mac on my headset, pretending I didn’t notice him.

Many have seen him walking the campus of the University of Buffalo, watching the pigeons.  There is a subway station there, on the south campus, where he often took shelter.  With that said, I think he simply enjoyed the peaceful surroundings of the campus, even under hostile weather.

After a year of living there, this man just became a fixture to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I no longer acknowledged his presence, but rather I expected to see him…somewhere.  What’s truly nagging at me is the fact he had a story and I didn’t know it.

Although he was an icon, even a staple in the area, most only heard rumors concerning who he really was.  Not many ever knew his name, including your’s truly.  One rumor painted the man on the street as an alcohol and drug addict.  Another rumor dubbed him as a military vet from the Vietnam conflict.  Because he often paid for his coffee and food, many believed he was covertly wealthy, wanting to experience the street life of the poor.  It’s funny how we can extract scenarios about someone when they are shrouded in mysteries.

One thing is for sure, he was a tough soul.  During the decades of street life, he braved some of the worst winter blasts Buffalo/Niagara had to offer, and they are many.

My middle daughter, Megan, still lives in Buffalo.  Recently I asked if she has spotted the roving man after all these years.  She said he stays pretty much in the Amherst/Williamsville suburbs, but nothing had seemed to change for him.

Last week, Megan posted an article from the Buffalo News newspaper.  During the horrid polar vortex weather system, which blew in sub-zero temps, and all that goes with it, Buffalo was hit extremely hard.

At the height of the storm, he had gone to one of his coffee hang-outs, a Tim Horton’s location, but it was closed due to the travel ban with the deep freeze encasing the region.  (It’s highly rare to see a Tim Horton’s closed due to weather.)  He then entered, for the very first time, the lobby at a nearby luxury hotel.  The manager of the restaurant and bar, offered him coffee and a chair, which he accepted.  Seeing that he was suffering from the penetrating polar winds, he was generously offered a room for the night.  He declined.  (Even if he had accepted, he would’ve abandoned the accommodations soon after.)  The manager then offered hot food, a warm hat, as well as another coat.  As it was his usual form, he declined.  After a small time of warmth,  the poor man began to make his way to the lobby door.  The staff begged him to stay longer, only to watch him nod as he made his frigid exit.

Lawrence “Larry” Bierl, age 67-69, was found the following morning, January 31st, just two blocks down from the hotel, on a bench at a three-sided plexiglass bus stop on Main Street.  Somewhere in the overnight, he had passed away from the wrath of the polar vortex.

Main St Bus Shelter Buffalo

Photo:  Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News

The Buffalo News article had published a beautiful letter from Larry’s extended family.  Nobody was aware he had family at all.  His sister was the writer.  As the family revealed Larry’s story, I could hardly hold my mouth closed.  Larry held a master’s degree.  He was once in management of a well-known airline corporation.  He never was a vet.  He never was a drug addict, or alcohol abuser.  One day, in the mid 70’s, for no apparent reason, he walked away from his life as he knew it to be.  He traveled the country, often hitching rides with truckers and hopping trains, only to return to Buffalo to live as a homeless man.  The family did all they could to help him.  They tried for years to convince him to get help.  He declined.  After many years of tracking him, pushing him to get the much needed assistance he deserved, the family surrendered to his wishes.  Nobody in his family ever knew exactly what happened to his mind, or what derailed his life, but he lived with a mental illness.

After reading of his terrible death, along with his story, I must admit, I cried.  As I write this blog, my mind still hasn’t come to grips with how I feel, or how to process this.  Why?  Because I never spoke to Larry, although many I love had done so.  Not once did I ever offer him a meal, a bottle of water, or a new pair of shoes.  It came to mind to grab a gift card at a hair salon, or a clothing outlet, but I never did.  Clearly, God gave me opportunities, but apparently “I” was more important.

“…Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Jesus –  Mark 12:31a (NIV)

Sure, there were internal excuses.  They went something like this,  “The Buffalo City Mission downtown will take care of him.”  Here’s another,  “My neighbors will do it.”  Of course the most common,  “I don’t have the time on my schedule today.”  Ironically, I’ve volunteered at missions and shelters since I was a teenager.  You could’ve found me feeding the homeless at various soup kitchens, from time to time in my life.  But Larry….not one thing, not once.  Mentioning him on my radio show would’ve been acceptable.  I could’ve brought more awareness to Larry’s plight.  No, I didn’t open up at all.  I had the chance to make a difference in his day.  I did nothing of the sort.  Part of me never wants to hear rejection, even if it’s offering a pair of socks to a homeless one who may decline.  Well, that’s my lame excuse.  Frankly, my tears weren’t just for Larry, but they were also for my seemingly growing jaded outlook.  God forbid that my heart grows cold and hard with age.

Someone very wise once said, “Never cry for a life lost.  Rejoice because it happened.” (Paraphrased)  One sour soul might say Larry’s life was a wasted life, a waste of time, and a waste of space.  However, the hundreds that helped Larry, who gave of themselves through the decades, were enriched by the man.  Think about it.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – Jesus (Quoted in Acts 20:35 – NAS)

It might be wise to deice, or defog the rear-view mirror first, before going the extra mile.

The ice melts.  The sub-zero temps vanish.  But life…life makes its stamp.  Somewhere in Williamsville/Amherst, NY, if you go to a quiet place, you just might hear the whisper of Lawrence Bierl, “I was here.”

Remembering and serving, floods from the river of fuel for the race.

“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh (and blood)?”  Isaiah 58:7 (NAS)