Being Present

April 8, 2010

A mother and her two children were seated a few tables away from my wife and me last night at dinner. The mom looked to be in her late 30s, her son around 14, and her daughter a few years younger than him. Perhaps it was because we were sitting in the corner or maybe it was just an acoustical phenomenon of sorts, but despite the relatively loud music, we could hear their conversation—perfectly.

The mom’s remarks were short, but she seemed very focused on proper protocol… sit up straight, shut your mouth, sit still, leave your sister alone, use your fork, be quiet, ignore him, don’t speak that way… and so on. Then I glanced over to discover her real focus—a mobile phone. She was texting and didn’t want to be disturbed. Sadly, she continued doing so throughout the entire dinner. Try as they might, neither kid could get her to join them in their world—the real world. Both were vying (unsuccessfully) for her attention.

I tried ignoring them, but it was difficult. She was oblivious… unaware that some day she would look up and they’d be gone. I felt compelled to go over and explain to her that whatever it was she was texting about would almost certainly pale in comparison to spending this special time with her two offspring. But I didn’t. “Maybe it takes grown children to be aware of these things,” Anne suggested. She’s probably right.

Even so, this mom seemed blind to the fact that precious moments only appear once—then they’re gone—forever. That’s how moments work. Each one is uniquely special… and then it’s gone. Life happens with or without us. Our kids grow up, our peers and loved ones move on and eventually we all die… that’s reality. Life exists within each moment… and when we aren’t present, we miss it.

We can’t travel back in time and do it again. In life there are no “do-overs”… this is it. The past and future exist only in our minds… the present is our only reality. Whether it’s business, family or a random encounter with a stranger… don’t waste your precious moments not being present. Reality is right now… this moment. For both the giver and receiver, being present is the greatest present of all… a real gift.

Fragments of Johnny Cash

February 3, 2010

I never met Johnny Cash in this lifetime, but in a way, I feel I know him well. Shortly after his death, a friend of mine was hired to produce a pictorial biography about his life. After remarking, “I don’t have much time or a big budget, but I still need some great images,” he asked if I would do him a favor and create photographic still lifes of what Johnny had left behind. Spending days intimately walking through Johnny Cash’s life… his personal notes, poems to his wife, unfinished lyrics, sketches, photos, guitars, correspondence, passports, calendars, albums, clothes, bible scripture tests… memories and clues to nearly every piece of his life… didn’t really feel much like a favor at all. So I agreed.

As promised, I was left alone and given total access to “be creative.” Staying focused and on task was difficult. The amount of material was vast and my mind wandered like a school kid in class. I was so hyper-focused on the subject matter, the assignment seemed meaningless.

At first I felt a little uncomfortable… like I shouldn’t be reading his personal notes, handling his guitars, or messing with his stuff… like his boots or blue jumpsuit from San Quentin! But then I realized Johnny kept all these things for a reason. Collectively, they represented him… his memories, thoughts and special moments on earth. Some were fragments… personal pieces of a complicated puzzle, clues from an unconventional life. Many of his notes, sketches and lyrics were scribbled out on random sheets of paper, crossed out, rewritten, edited, and often left unfinished. It was these pieces that I connected with most. The fragments… ideas he had worked on but never finished. The idea seeds… the work in progress… the unsolved mysteries that we all carry with us throughout our lives… hoping to someday find them a home. Read more