This post is dedicated to my beloved father Leonard Ross
July 16, 1934-February 5, 2017
When my Dad passed away a few weeks ago I was grateful: He lived long enough to see the dawn of a New Year. He was able to have his Thanksgiving Dinner, his Christmas dinner, his New Year’s fireworks and even his beloved Superbowl. He said his hellos and goodbyes. He lived purposefully and died peacefully. It has been a privilege to love him and to know him.
The Opening Door
When one door closes, another opens they say. I hope so. This has been a surreal time in my life. I’m trying to find my moorings in shifting sands. And I’m not used to feeling this level of insecurity. It is palpable.
My father, an inventor among other things, used to say he got every morning and challenged himself with what he wanted to accomplish that day. This ritual sustained him through a lifetime of successful and not-so-successful missions and adventures. And in my mind that is the backbone of any fact-finding endeavor, any justice-seeking vocation. You don’t have to be a big splashy player to be heard…sometimes you just have to set an intention to be heard and let others find you. It is now that I listen to the lessons of my parent who looked toward each day as an opportunity to bring more love, more discovery, more understanding into his day-to-day living. Now, as I look in the mirror, my daily question becomes, “How can I make a difference?”
Looking Forward to the Past
One thing that grounds me in times like these is to review moments in history. Over the last several years, I’ve become a big documentary fan, gravitating toward stories of people whose singular lives have impacted the lives of others.
Recently, I had the opportunity to screen I Am Not Your Negro and The Lost City of the Monkey God. Two more different films you will never find. One is the biography of the brilliant, once famed but now fading in history story, of James Baldwin told in his own voice. The second is a post-production wildlife documentary film based on a best-selling true story about a group of adventurers led by Steve Elkins, a cinematographer and explorer, and Doug Preston, author and writer for The New Yorker. Together they assembled a quasi-professional team of rogue cinematographers, researchers and archaeologists and spent a couple of decades trying to penetrate seemingly impenetrable jungles in Honduras and Nicaragua. Complete with a mysterious malediction, the story follows them through to a discovery filled with artifacts from a long-lost indigenous civilization…and then a quasi-personal tragedy as they experience first-hand the real-life, deadly “curse”that wiped out an entire population.
In my mind, it’s not such a stretch to draw comparisons between the subjects of these films. Both are personal stories. Both illustrate the struggle of people trying to enact change in circumstances where the odds were against them. The through-thread for me is the passion and persistence in Baldwin’s voice as he writes to find the truth while Elkins and Preston used technology and the media to uncover not only intellectual truths but also definitive, concrete results.
Facing the Fire of the Future
When confronted with the unknown, we always have a choice: To move forward toward what is possibly fearful and uncertain or to hide, run and duck for cover. There’s no judgement on which road to take; one only hopes there is an awareness of the consequences. Where we feel compelled to take action, we face the fire of life, the heat of the battle, because we feel we have no other choice, regardless if there is actually another option.
In I Ain’t Your Negro James Baldwin embodies the idea that he had to be heard. He was a son of a minister, black, poor, gay, emasculated. He demanded to be treated as a man despite what society was telling him about himself. He confronted what he felt was a vast, white, anonymous audience, eventually leaving the country for his own safety and well-being. Still, he shared his story with the world. And in doing so, his books gave all nationalities, all colors of people, the inside of him, the truth of what it is is like to be in his shoes. And so we who read his works became witnesses and collaborators in his cause.
By contrast, in The Lost City of the Monkey God Steve Elkins and Doug Preston’s journey is one of desire. Yes, they had a story but it wasn’t necessarily theirs to tell. And in fact, mainstream researchers and historians tried very hard to stop them, saying they weren’t legitimate archaeologists and so had no business digging up the history of indigenous people for material gain. And yet that didn’t stop them from believing and striving toward finding a way to educate and enlighten the world, releasing a burden that had overshadowed a tribe of people for hundreds of years.
Karmic Victory in Action
For every action, there’s a reaction. This is Universal Law. Even in victory, the war can continue on. James Baldwin is having a rebirth because someone saw his influence during the Civil Rights movement waning and decided that the truth of today’s world is worryingly beginning to backslide into the America of Baldwin’s time. After uncovering The Lost City, its team of adventurers continue to struggle to help the country maintain and protect the integrity of the archeological findings.
There is no recipe for making a mark in this lifetime. You can strive and strive and still not see an immediate result. But as my father, James Baldwin and The Lost City crew found out, you can get up every day and try to make sense of what’s in front of you and what’s inside of you. You can throw a pebble in a pond and know the water will ripple. You can add your voice to the choir and know the volume and tones will swell. You can join hands with others and feel the collective rise up and connect. You can also get up in the morning, make your coffee and complain about having to work that day. Or you can get up, wake up and ask yourself how to make a difference in the day and see how the Universe rewards your actions.
A subtle shift in perspective perhaps. But I would deem it a worthy one.