Sidewalk Ghosts / “after that; I’ll never take what I do for granted again.”

It was October 9th, 2011, exactly one month since the beginning of Sidewalk Ghosts,as I flew back from a Hawaiian journey. My mind wandered as looking at clouds out the window, I reviewed the impact the trip had on me.

The whole experience was fresh in my heart as streaming through my head were visual thumbnails of those I had associated with. Entranced as I mentally re-lived five days of training I provided to a military organization that had contracted me. We’ll get to more of this in a minute.

If you are a regular reader of my posts, maybe you have gotten a sense of who I am, or maybe not; and for those of you here for the first time, may I extend a warm welcome to you. But, whatever the case, I’m resolved in taking chance to let you into my life as my ranting’s ever evolve. If you stay with me, or better yet, with us, you’ll read some stories of great depth, others rough and brief. Yet in all, I make you one promise, they are heartfelt.

A revelation I sincerely extend in challenging you to do the same as I invite to free yourself. To evolve as you too continue to own your personal and unique point-of-view in forwarding all you do. For the more you truly listen to your life experience, the more you allow your internal dialogue to direct you in seeing the world in a very personal way. Your intuitional sense will expand as you not only find direct path to self-expression, but also a renewed conviction of your own self-worth. The grandest outcome being loving others for who they are as you do the same for yourself.

Like I said, I rant a little. But I guess; that’s just what makes me the sweet man I am. A person, who suspect to the influence of others as well as my own baggage, is, just like you, a work in progress. Feelings brought to me, and ones that I am now sharing, as I look back at how I was affected during above-mentioned visit to the Hawaiian Islands. Seems that the new friends I taught, the strangers I met, and a life of looking into the mirror of my own reflection, had me staring into the eyes of my real self.

The saying goes, all things happen for a reason, and if it is a true proverb, it stands to reason that it would be a great disservice not to acknowledge what I had gained through spending time with the people I had trained, a joint division of the military titled JPAC. In describing the team, character is the word that radiates when I think back to each individual member of the unit. A hidden community who, as flawed and gifted as we all are, somehow managed to come together in a spirit of solidarity. Sure, some days they frustrated me to clenched fist, other days I witnessed the best of what man and woman could offer. A host of emotions that eventually left me pondering a most humbling question: Who was the wiser, the teacher or the student?

I pulled down the window shade; clouds on the horizon obscured as closing my eyes, the resonance of jet engines disappeared into the background of what I visualized. In front of me a set of chapters containing the many stories expressed by those I had become close to during the training. Many leading me to believe, as I mentioned earlier, I may have gotten the better deal.

To protect the privacy of the individual, I will not give names or show photographs, and for the purpose of legalities, I am not at leisure to publish the images. But even without photos, the message stands strong.

Picture a unit of diverse personalities, some passionate, others not. Charge them to think as a group with no option to choose who they will be working with or where or when they will deployed (many time to very difficult places). Imagine telling your loved one’s, with less than one week notice you would be going to Laos, in one day sent as a first responder to the tsunami aftermath in Japan, deployed deep in the jungles of Cambodia or not allowed to reveal your classified destination. Then on top of that, ask yourself to be self-sufficient for forty-five to sixty days. At times working solo with minimal resources in highly dangerous situations. Add to that carrying fifty plus pounds of equipment for endless miles, all while constantly being pressed to see creatively and show compassion toward the task at hand: That being finding, documenting and bringing home the remains of those lost in action or killed by disaster.

In my preparation for JPAC I had been briefed and my objective was clear: Provide a workshop designed to train technique, creative thinking and story telling. What I was not prepared for was the visual slap in the face I encountered when I laid eyes on the imagery presented to me. World-class works that portrayed the best and worst of humanity, all unseen by the public and captured by a host of unrecognized image-makers. Pictures that as I critiqued and heard the supporting stories, brought tears to my eyes. Exquisite, heart tearing and beautifully executed images the captured relevant moments in history. Scenes the likes of child’s toy buried in the dirty mud of tsunami horror; an image that paused my feedback as the creator re-lived the full story.

“It’s a tribute to a tsunami victim,”she began, taking an emotional breath as she went on to reveal the behind the image detail. “Four minutes before I took the photo, I assisted in recovering its owner, a four-year-old girl who was dead, drowned and under in the mud just next to the doll.”

I critiqued her second image, an equally compelling image of a vintage photo on a cracked wall in a water-destroyed residence.

“It’s a portrait of the child mother as a baby,” described it as “another tribute to the girls parents, who were also lost in the tragedy.”

Again I was taught as this brave and compassionate soldier summarized how the day affected her, “after that; I’ll never take what I do for granted again.”

Another photographer brought me a seemingly impossible set of photographs—overhead views of jet fighters over Iraq. Each frame produced at standards better than those of the highest priced action shooters. His motivation was pure and free of capitalism,

“I love photography; I shoot anything.”

He showed me other images of varied subject matter, each equal in quality. Proving to me he could capture anything with a signature style the held strong with the best of the best. No exaggeration, works better than masters the visibility of the great Jay Miesel or Pete Turner.

Above are just a few references and the smallest sampling of what I viewed and experienced during my week with JPAC. Varied imagery that, as I re-author this story linger in my mind, background visuals that I will never forget. Yet, the greater lessons were not visual, nor linked to picture or based on level of photographic talent. They were lessons of service and unity as the unit embraced me as one of their own.

Sure, there were a few wandering sheep. Absolutely, I counseled the group through moments of frustration and looked at some less than inspiring work. At times even having to stand in the middle of arguments and disengagement. Yet under all was a noble code of conduct. An occurrence that rang loud and clear whenever any topic hit the fan or when opportunity to attack or disgrace was at hand. A unified decision that was more than obvious to recognize: No one was to be sacrificed.

A lifestyle void of self-aggrandizement was shown me as I witnessed a respect for others that was awe-inspiring. An example modeled which propelled me to reexamine my reactionary self and perspectives toward how I handle competition as well as my assessments of competition and others; and as a result, my vision was cleansed to see the world with a set of compassionate eyes.

Talk tomorrow my good friends,


Readers, if you are returning, so nice to be with you again. If you are new, looking forward to getting to know you.

To all: please comment, like, and forward. Every engagement goes a long way toward connecting us; as together, we grow a movement that betters the way we view and treat one another.