Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shadows

Last week was one of those exquisitely beautiful autumn weeks.  The air was simultaneously warm with a light chill, the leaves were dancing circles on the breeze to the ground and the sun was coming at the most interesting angle through the remaining leaves on the trees creating a golden glow.

Everything seemed just a little magical and other-worldly.

I happened to be in Indiana, my home-state and where my mother and many of my friends can still be found and somewhere I go as often as possible to escape my now and step back, in many ways, to who I was a lot of yesterdays ago.  And as is my custom when I am home and have spent too many hours in the warmth and stillness of my mother's kitchen, I walk the country roads that are laid out in such grid-like precision that miles are easily stepped off and exact measurements of time can be given to worrying mothers so they won't, well, worry so much.

And I had my camera.

It was late enough that the sun was starting to sink in the west and the shadows were getting long.  I love that time of evening especially for the light and shadows, regardless of the season, but especially in the fall for the additional colors that are showing up on tree-tops and in field furrows.

As I walked this particular stretch of CR 800, I came upon a tree still standing but shattered by time and weather.  I am intrigued by trees.  One might say I am passionate about trees, especially when they have been defrocked by the seasons and are standing proud and strong, showing their species by their bare-boned limbs.  This one, though, had been standing naked for a long time.

I stopped to take in this tree, watching the play of light and color from the setting sun behind me and tried to find the best spot to capture the tree's remaining essence.  I also liked the idea of capturing me taking the picture via my shadow.

The picture was snapped, and I continued on my walk finding many other lovely Indiana fall images that would make it into my camera and, eventually, my photographic journal of this particular trip home.

Back home again in the heartland, I reviewed all my pictures and was particularly pleased with this one.  The colors were lovely, though the tree wasn't quite as singular in the picture as it had been the moment it was taken.  I am always amazed at what the human eye sees in the moment that somehow the camera never can capture.  Still, I liked this picture.  And it haunted me.

 I was reminded of the spiritual lesson of the continuous shadows in our life - the lesson to be conscious of the shadow, ever-present, that is really working for the accolades of 'job well done, good and faithful servant'.   When we work at the soup kitchen in order to show compassion for others who don't have the luxuries of plentiful food and dependable shelter, is the compassion shaded with the relief of 'thank God that isn't me' or the hope that this small kindness is building another step on our stairway to heaven?  When we write a check to the homeless shelter or the soup kitchen or the church, is it considering the need at the other end, or the tax deduction on ours?  When we ask for prayers for another, is it truly lifting that person up or is it a more acceptable, elegant form of gossip?

And my personal shadow game is that of jumping to judgment or conclusions about another only to honestly have to admit that what I am not liking in their actions is something I recognize and dislike in my own.  My lovely teacher and mentor reminds me again and again that we cannot see in another what we don't recognize in ourselves.

That lesson applies to the beauty and talent and specialness we 'recognize' in another as well as the ability to see and label bad behavior.  A friend of mine routinely flies into fits of road rage when fellow travelers aren't driving in a way to suit him/her, but is one of the worst drivers I know.  Another friend is  the first to love the gentleness of a human spirit, but fails to recognize their own gentleness.  Another announces they 'hate liars' but doesn't seem concerned about the small deceits that pepper their own reality.

If I am wounded by a lack of compassion or understanding, have I given any thought to my inability to empathize with the one who is the seeming perpetrator?

I have caught myself jumping to conclusions and judgments recently and thankfully am recognizing the sameness of those judgments and lingering guilt inside of me.  Not only is it time to release my opinions of others, it is time to finally let go of the corresponding sadness inside of me.

Shadows are everywhere in nature - outdoors and internal.  Sometimes they are nearly invisible, when the shining light of personal recognition is directly upon us, and at other times they stretch long into our horizon.  Shadows aren't bad or good.... they just are.  Just like that weathered tree.

So I labeled the picture - A mere shadow of her former self.

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