Saturday, November 22, 2008

Rising From The Ashes

The majority of my time for the past two days has been spent at the Sylmar Recreation Center. This is where Saint Didacus Church has organized a tremendous donation effort for the Oakridge Mobile Home Park residents who lost their homes in this month's firestorm. Close to 500 homes (approximately 90 percent of the community) were destroyed or damaged.

A & L - 'Til Death Do Us Part
A and L are married. They are a young couple, perhaps in their mid-thirties. L has been diagnosed with stage 4 cervical cancer, which has spread to her ovaries. She has already lost weight. Her clothing disguises the significant weight loss. She knows that she is dying and candidly states that to me.

What she next relates to me, however, sends shock waves through me. She tells me that Medi-Cal either won't or doesn't cover the treatment that she believes would cure her. In essence, as a result of what Medi-Cal will or will not cover, Medi-Cal has signed her death sentence. I look at her in disbelief. Yet, she shows acceptance of her fate and displays no self-pity.

Soon after this, L asks timidly and politely if it's okay to take one of the donated items. I am in awe. I tell her that everything around her is there for her and for the other fire victims as well.

Her husband, A, is equally polite and thanks me for whatever assistance I provide him regardless of the task involved. He is not at all prideful and willingly sorts through various undergarments to find anything that might fit his ailing wife. It is apparent that A and L are full of love for one another.

It's pleasing to see that they are finding items that they need: a microwave, a coffee maker, a rice cooker/steamer, Christmas gifts for their nephew, and more. It takes quite some time, however, to sort through the plethora of donations. It becomes apparent to me that this visit is taking its toll, especially on L who is starting to feel tired and weak.

I bring both of them some cold, bottled water while they wait for one of the two giant wheelbarrows to become available so that they can take their goods to their car. When they leave, L is exhausted.

I cannot imagine what either of them is feeling. They have already suffered such loss, and it saddens me that there is more down the road.

T & M - A Mother And Daughter
T was exhausted and hungry when she crossed my path. One of the Red Cross volunteers had offered her some chips, which she had turned down. As chance would have it, I had been seeking takers for the other half of my turkey and cheese sandwich to no avail.

At first, T tried to turn my sandwich down, stating that she didn't think that she could eat. When I found out that she had hardly eaten at all since last Saturday, I was able to persuade her to sit down at a nearby picnic table where I would join her. We spoke as T munched on the sandwich.

T has been living with her mother, M, at the Oakridge Mobile Home Park since T's divorce five years ago. This is the second time that her mother's Oakridge residence has been lost to fire. The first time was in the Northridge earthquake, when gas mains erupted and caught fire.

As I listen to T, she removes her sunglasses, and it's easy to see that she has been crying; her right eye is glossed over with tears and is red on one side. But, the tears are for her mother; they are not for herself. Although T knows and admits that her mother is remarkably resilient and is actually dealing with the situation quite well, it pains T to see her mother having to start over yet again at 81 years of age.

As T continues to eat the turkey and cheese sandwich, subtle changes take place. Her face is less pale. She is able to hold her head erect. Her voice is vibrant. Her speech becomes more animated.

We sit and share until her mother approaches along with her brother, W. She introduces me to both of them. Her brother, W, is warm and friendly, but it is her mother who most impresses me. She is vivacious, and you would not guess that she is anywhere near 80. She is a charming woman who exudes positive energy.

My conversation with T has been lengthy and has covered several topics. T has allowed herself to open up, to emote, to see her situation in a different light, to understand her role, her brother's role and her mother's role during the days ahead. She has a better idea of what she can do to support her mother without creating more pain for herself.

As T says goodbye to me, we hug. She is smiling, even laughing. Her eyes are no longer glossy, but glistening instead. Some healing has taken place; it is a good start.

M - The Family Man
M has a household of seven, which includes his wife, his two teenage sons, his daughter who has two children of her own with another on the way.

M speaks calmly to me in Spanish with occasional references made in English. Everything that he shares with me comes from the heart. He is a gentleman, a man of character. He is not only thankful and gracious, he is humble. He is thankful for the assistance provided by the Red Cross and FEMA. He is gracious to all of the volunteers, to those who donated so generously and to the firefighters. He is positive and hopeful.

At times, I can sense the fear that he is repressing. I can understand the need to keep that fear in check. He has a lot on his mind, a lot of planning to do, and he needs to provide for his family at the same time.

I like speaking with him and practicing my Spanish. Our conversation is refreshing. Both of us are enjoying it. He has a need to share and to verbalize his plans. And, he is helpful when I have trouble with certain words in Spanish or with my vocabulary, and he readily corrects my errors without being condescending.

It is almost the end of the day for me as he says goodbye. He thanks me and tells me that I am an honorable person. As he leaves, I reflect on his words and on the day's events.

Hopefully, there was something that I said or something that I did, within the past two days, which made a positive difference in somebody's life. I would like to think that I did. I am certain that I made a difference in T's life, and perhaps that is enough.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

It's All Happening At The Zoo

It's been quite some time since I've shared some of my photography in one of my posts.

On Sunday, November 2nd, I had the opportunity to participate in the Los Angeles Zoo's 19th Annual Photo Day. Although I was operating a camera system, which was completely foreign to me, and dealing with a substantial learning curve, I did manage to get some relatively decent shots. What you'll see here are a few of my best shots from that day.

All of the pictures were taken with a Nikon D90 and a Nikkor 70mm-300mm zoom lens.
The gorilla picture, however, was taken with a Nikkor 500mm zoom lens at one of the telephoto stations, which was set up in advance for the photographers.

I loaned all of the camera equipment from various participating vendors, including my tripod. Being able to test drive this equipment was included in the registration fee as well as a continental breakfast, a box lunch, a nifty t-shirt (used to identify participants), and more.

This was the first photo day for me, and I was absolutely amazed at the extent of organization that was required to pull off this event.
It required the involvement of Mark Comon and his staff from Paul's Photo, the staff and docents from the Los Angeles Zoo, the vendors from companies such as Nikon, Sony and Olympus (Canon was a no show...::mutter::) and the participants themselves, not to mention others who are unbeknownst to me.

Since participants, numbering about 200, were allowed entrance to the zoo early, zookeepers actually brought out reptiles and insects for the photographers to use in close up shots: snakes, a tortoise, a blue-tongued skink, a hissing cockroach, a rather big millipede, a large walking stick and more.

Each hour was packed with options. Frequently, those options were on opposite ends of the zoo, and yours truly wanted to take it all in. Needless to say, I covered a lot of ground, hiking from one end of the zoo and uphill to the other end several times throughout the day while lugging my backpack, camera equipment and tripod.

All in all, it was a pretty remarkable day. I had no idea exactly how active I had been until the next day. I was so caught up in taking pictures that I was somewhat oblivious about the weight of carrying my daypack and transporting the tripod on my shoulders, of hiking up and down the zoo paths, of stepping up and squatting down for certain camera angles. My arms had a workout from setting up the tripod and packing up the tripod ad infinitum.

When I woke up the next morning, stiff doesn't even describe the state of various body parts. I was certain that had turned to stone or that someone had injected concrete into my neck and shoulders.

Yet, I can tell you this. I plan on doing it all over again next year.