Refusal to give up reveals beauty of nature and life

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 22, 2007

This image of gold-edged clouds emerging through a blanket of smoke over Cochrane last week symbolizes the happiness of those who refuse to surrender to negativity. Photo by Warren Harbeck

Last Friday around 9 a.m. smoke from forest fires in the American northwest blanketed Cochrane so thickly that the sun was reduced to a dim orangish hint of its usual self, and only the faintest outline of a few clouds could be seen. First impressions were that it would be a rather blah morning.

Nevertheless, there was something intriguing about the sky’s appearance, so I grabbed my pocket digital camera, pointed it in old Sol’s direction and clicked, not at all certain what the camera would capture, if anything.

I downloaded the image onto my computer. Sure enough, all I saw at first was a nondescript warm grayish background with a bright glow in the middle. I considered discarding it, but first I wanted to work with it for a few minutes on Photoshop, a software program for bringing out the best in images.

Without manipulating colour or content, I simply increased the contrast of the photograph, allowing the slightly darker warm gray areas to go almost black, and allowing the slightly lighter areas to go very light.

The virtually invisible became breathtakingly vivid. A distinct halo appeared around the sun, and the lining of the clouds glowed in gold, their shadows radiating outward through the smoky haze. What at first didn’t even seem worth keeping now became a window on one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever encountered.

To see what was hidden there, veiled in haze but now revealed by a choice to look deeper, evoked powerful memories of a line from one of my favourite psalms: “The heavens are telling the glory of God.”

This whole experience brought me back to thoughts about happiness and change, the topic of our past few columns. Several of our coffee companions have shared with me their own journey through change to the joy of a deeper, more glowing experience of life.

Take Leo Peters, for instance. The curly white-haired chap with a very full white beard is a frequent sipper in Cochrane coffee houses. He points to positive changes in his life that resulted from his choices amidst the smoke and haze of serious illness.

“Change comes about when we are ready to try new approaches to the challenges we face,” he wrote. “Change comes when we have a wake-up call, like an illness or accident or close call, or the loss of the love of another.

“For me it came when my prostate cancer came back in 2001 and I thought I had six months to live. I decided it was going to be the best six months of my life. Then I decided, what if my treatment works, why not live the rest of my life to the fullest. I chose to live, love, laugh, sing and be happy every day of my life. I cherished every sunrise. I uplifted the spirit of all I met. I took a comedy course and started doing stand-up comedy. I joined a choir, and performed in song and dance musicals. I started going out to karaoke two to three nights a week. I started writing songs again and learning the craft of songwriting. (I have since written over 300 songs, mostly love songs.) I became a full-time Santa and get really busy November 15th till Christmas.

“My whole life changed because of my choices.”

Leo’s experience of a more fulfilling life, just like my experience with the photograph, is the direct result of not giving in to the temptation to give up. If the smoky heavens could tell the glory of God, then so can a struggling, determined human being who has become fully alive through a choice not to give up, but to go deeper.

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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