To love is to recognize yourself in another
“If you want to help anyone else, the best way to do that is to make sure you’re sorting yourself out first. Then you’re giving out the right frequency and you’re attracting the things you want, you know?”
~Dhani Harrison, son of Beatle George Harrison
Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I was thinking about finishing ‘My Life Story’. I had just finished Part 4 a few days before and Part 5, I thought would be about the Hospice and AIDS work that I did. But I’ve already written about this so many times [ad nauseum John Bradshaw would say] and I don’t want to write anymore. If you’re interested, you can read about it here and on my gofundme page— people I worked with over the years wrote letters and stories so my gofundme page is sort of a record of some of the work I did, seen through the eyes of other people.
I never intended to write ‘My Life Story’. It just happened but I think it was meant to be because it has brought me a lot of unexpected insights and I believe now that writing one’s life story can be helpful for anyone. It helps put things in perspective.
Last night I thought back about the work I did for so many years. I worked very, very hard and when I look back, I can see that I accomplished an enormous amount. At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing–helping people who could not help themselves but I did this at my own expense-mentally, emotionally, physically and financially. I think now that I did at least some of this work because unconsciously I wanted credit for ‘being a good person’. And I got a lot of credit, compliments and appreciation but last night I realized that none of this really matters..not really.
I often hear people say “If I had it to all over, I would do it again.”
I would not do it again.
So I thought then what does matter?, what was the point of all the work?, was there some purpose? And what did I learn? I think I learned how to communicate with all kinds of people, hopefully how to be a better listener and I feel like I’m more compassionate but mainly I learned this – put into words by the Native American People ‘MITAKUYE OYASIN’ We Are All Related.
Because I worked with so many people from different races, cultures and walks of life, I know this is true..absolutely true. The world governments and religions preach separation, superiority and even hate because this takes people’s power away, weakens them, makes them into better, sheep like followers, takes away their connection with LIFE and with SPIRIT.
And then I thought about some of experiences and people that actually did make all the work meaningful, the experiences that taught me the most and I came up with the following…so maybe there are SOME things I would do again.
Dr. James Pittman
LIVING LIFE TO THE FULLEST AT 95
DR JAMES PITTMAN
“The most I ever charged when I was in private practice was five hundred dollars. Five hundred dollars and that’s a fact. You can’t even get in the hospital now for that. And that would be the care before, during and after surgery, see.”
Dr. Pittman lived on a ranch not far from where I lived in the Texas Hill country but I first met him and his daughter at a talk that I went to in San Antonio. At the time, I was working on a photo/oral history exhibit called The Gathering of the Wisdom People and I wanted to include Dr. Pittman….. so I made arrangements to go out to the ranch, do an interview and take some photos.
In the meantime however, Dr. Pittman’s daughter called me early one morning and asked if I would pick Dr. Pittman up at his ranch and drive him to the horse races in San Antonio. She would meet us there. I didn’t want to do it, mainly because he was so old-I thought he was too frail and I couldn’t imagine him riding in my tiny Suzuki Sidekick for an hour. What if he would get sick and die on the way?
And besides that, what in the world would we talk about? I knew that he had been Chief of Staff and Head of the Department of Surgery at one of the biggest hospitals in Houston so I was also slightly intimidated.
But his daughter had a very forceful personality and I felt no choice but to say yes. So I ventured out to his ranch and found him ready and waiting, perfectly dressed in a nice suit, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat.
He got into the Suzuki, I put the top down and we headed out for San Antonio… and we talked and laughed the whole time. Somewhere along the way we stopped at a convenience store because he wanted to buy us both Dr. Peppers. It was as if there was no difference in our ages when actually there was about 45 years difference. And I was reminded of something my stepmother often said when she was in her 80s. She would say to me “I know I don’t look like it but I feel just the same as I did when I was 35.” [I understand this even better now that I’m older]
Dr. Pittman and I became close friends after that and I often visited him at his ranch where we would sit on his big Texas style front porch, drinking ice tea and talking. Sometimes I watched him fix fences
and drive his tractor.
His daughter and granddaughters made sure to take him often, to places where he could be around people who appreciated him. I remember going to one of his birthday parties he celebrated at Planet Hollywood in San Antonio, Tx and even now, I can see him wearing a Planet Hollywood jacket and cap, talking with the many people who came to congratulate him on another birthday.
Then one year he went to a reunion at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas-it must have been his 70th. When he got back home, he told me with his ever present sense of humor “I didn’t recognize any of ’em. They were all on crutches or in wheel chairs.”
Me: What do you think about death and the life after? Do you think there is one?
Dr. Pittman: “I don’t know what that life is but the Bible tells us pretty well. And it’s not in flesh, see, so I don’t know, but I don’t have to know. I know there’s someone up there that’s lookin’ after me.”
Me: So, you don’t worry about it?
Dr. Pittman “No, I don’t worry about it, do you?”
- You can read more about Dr.Pittman and some of the other Wisdom People in Livin’ Long in the Lone Star State
Jim, Gerri & Jason Briggs
WALKING THROUGH THE STORMS/ TEACHERS OF COURAGE AND GRACE
Never lose hope in the human spirit; we all go through things in life not knowing if we are capable of getting through them. But those who choose to face their fears and walk through the storms will see the rainbows on the other side
~Gerri Briggs, mother of Jason Briggs who died of AIDS at age 2
In 1989, at the height of the AIDS epidemic in Austin, Texas, we were asked to provide care and support for an entire family with AIDS. Jim and Gerri Briggs wanted to continue working in spite of their AIDS diagnosis and they needed someone to take care of their 6 month old baby, Jason.
Because of their mounting medical bills, Jim and Gerri could not afford to pay but nevertheless, we –RITES OF PASSAGE provided care
for Jason and support for his family until Jason died at age two and a half.
During that time, Gerri’s brother died of AIDS and Jim’s sister died of stomach cancer and Gerri’s father was also diagnosed with cancer and had part of his jaw removed.
This young family-Jim and Gerri were just 24 and 22 when we first met them- faced one painful loss after another with the most amazing courage and grace. I have never seen anything like it before or since. We tried as best we could to document on film, their story so others could learn from them and from what they went through. Jason-the way we live today Angels Watch Over Me and Turning Toward the Morning
One of their unique challenges was being a heterosexual couple with AIDS. They were not IV drug users either and in the beginning, it was difficult especially for Jim to accept that his family had a disease connected almost exclusively with gay men. Many of the caregivers and healthcare professionals at that time came from the gay community but in time judgements and boundaries disappeared: MITAKUYE OYASIN’ We Are All Related
Just 2 weeks before they were all three diagnosed with AIDS, Jim and Gerri watched a TV show on AIDS. When the show ended, Gerri had turned to Jim and said “If AIDS is so bad, how come we don’t know anyone who has it?”
It’s been nearly 30 years but those us who were involved with this amazing family were forever changed and for me, whenever I’m in need of courage, I have only to remember Jim, Gerri and Jason.
One Night at the Turtle Lodge
CEREMONY AND SPIRIT/THE POWER OF THE DRUM
“It is the drum that carries the voice and the wishes of the people…..we came to the sacred site to ask the drums of the 4 directions to ensure that the spirit of these laws would be heard universally, would travel the universe, would travel around the globe…”
~Anisnhabe Elder Dave Courchene
This was an experience that I wish I could put into words but I don’t know how.
My son and I had been filming a documentary in Manitoba and we were invited to a ceremony at The Turtle Lodge.
*The Turtle Lodge Center of Excellence in Indigenous Education and Wellness is a place for reconnecting to the Earth & sharing Indigenous ancestral knowledge, founded on the 7 Sacred Laws.
The Turtle Lodge is situated in Sagkeeng First Nation (also known as Fort Alexander), Manitoba, Canada, on the Southern tip of Lake Winnipeg.
On the night of the ceremony
the moon was full and inside the lodge, which was filled with people…just the sound of the drums..There’s nothing that I know of on Earth like the sound and the feeling of those drums being played.
Recordings never seem to come close and no rock concert can compare.
There’s an energy, a spiritual energy that cannot be described, that has to be felt…it’s an ancient feeling..it’s the reason for the survival of the Red Man–this energy, these ceremonies, the power of the drum.
The Elder, Dave Courchene once told me that it was not just the land that the White Man wanted to take from the First Nations People but perhaps even more so, their obsession with destroying the connection these People had with Spirit, they wanted to destroy their Spirit.
But hard as they tried, they were never able to destroy that connection and now the Wisdom and the Vision of the First Nations People comes to the forefront as they are to be the Teachers for these times.
Upon suffering beyond suffering: the Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness and separations. A world longing for light again. I see a time of Seven Generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the Sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again. ~Chief Crazy Horse 1840-1877
MESSAGES FROM THE WORLD OF SPIRIT
A few minutes went by and I told her, “Jessica, wake up honey we’re almost home now.” and immediately after I got that out of my mouth …we were hit.
We were hit twice and I hope and pray that Jessica was immediately killed and did not suffer any pain. She was still asleep and I pray, I like to think that she just woke up in another life…and that’s what’s kept me going for a long time
I never knew Jessica but I met her parents, Cliff and Mary not long after she died and they shared her story with me.
Jessica was killed in a car accident only a few weeks after her 8th birthday. The accident happened when they-Cliff, Mary and Jessica- were on their way home from church-it was Palm Sunday that year and just minutes from their apartment, their car was hit by a drunk driver. Cliff and Mary had very minor injuries but Jessica died instantly.
The day after the accident Cliff and Mary went back to their apartment and found on Jessica’s bed, a drawing which they came to call ‘The Balloon Picture’. She had drawn it that morning and left it where they would immediately see it.
THE BALLOON PICTURE shows a happy little girl, floating up to the sky in the basket of a hot air balloon. There are 7 cylinders/markings on the basket and the little girl represents the number 8. Jessica had just celebrated her 8th birthday and her drawing seems to say that in her 8th year, she would make a transition. The colors: Blue represents peace, truth and tranquility. Purple: ceremony, spirituality and mystery
“I think Jessica had a premonition that her life was going to change very dramatically……that week I noticed a change in her…..maturity…”
A few weeks later, Cliff and Mary were given Jessica’s note to Dear Mr. God. She had written it the day after her birthday while staying with her great grandmother.
These drawings provided the greatest comfort to Cliff and Mary in a time of enormous grief and sorrow and they have since been shared with many hundreds of parents who have lost a child.
They told me too, of several other experiences which helped them really Know that Jessica watches over them — one of the most powerful of these can be seen in our documentary, Turning Toward the Morning.
*Dr. Larry Dossey, New York Times Best selling author, wrote this about Turning Toward the Morning:
“Turning Toward the Morning is a celebration of the human spirit. It is one of the most powerful expressions of love, compassion and transcendence I have ever seen. It is a reminder that we humans, for all our faults and failings, also contain the Divine. We are capable of great strengths, great visions, and great wisdom, which often surface in the wake of great pain. Watch this documentary with someone you love, and be prepared for magic.”
Larry Dossey, MD author of “Healing Words”, “Reinventing Medicine”
I have shown ‘Turning’ at national conferences throughout the US and Canada and Larry is right. There is real MAGIC in Turning Toward the Morning….I have seen it so many times.
Turning Toward the Morning is available here
The symbolic language again: SOMEWHERE OUT THERE was Jessica’s favorite song the year before she died
The American Indian Film Festival
The American Indian Film Festival is the world’s longest-running exposition showcasing independent films of U.S. American Indians and First Nations peoples of Canada. For the last 43years, AIFI has served and celebrated generations of Indian filmmakers, performing artists and audiences, with the best of the most current Indian Cinema while drawing into the circle of Hollywood celebrities, industry professionals, student filmmakers, seasoned festival-goers and newcomers traveling to San Francisco from near and far.
Celebrating its 43rd annual, the San Francisco based festival has become a trusted guide to contemporary American Indian life. A reliable, celebratory and empowering event, the Festival’s array of programs – films, workshops, receptions, awards show – work to replace stereotypes with authentic representations of Native traditions, history and present-day life.
My son Andy and I have made probably 20 documentary films since 1989. The first ones were on AIDS and Hospice, loss/grief, and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Then we made a couple on aging and later still, we made 3 on Native American Visions and Teachings. Most recently we started a documentary on the US Prison system.
These documentaries are a beautiful and powerful way to communicate a message but the process of actually filming and editing them is VERY difficult. I’ve often been disappointed to find that some of the people [not all] that we filmed and whose stories we told, were not really the heroes we had thought they were. Sometimes they made demands: they wanted to be paid even though we are doing them a favor by telling their story and even though WE never got paid, some wanted the title of the film changed and threatened to drop out if they didn’t get their way. Or at the last minute, they wanted a photo taken out because they decided they really didn’t like it.
And then finding the right music is a whole project in itself and finding money or trying to is nearly impossible. When we were filming hospice patients, if we had worried and waited to get enough money together, the people whose stories we were telling, would have been long since dead.
In 2004 we began work on a film which we eventually called Starblanket A Spirit Journey, the story of Chief Noel Starblanket who became the youngest chief ever of all Canadian Indians. We filmed mostly in Saskatchewan and a little in Texas and I’m not going into the details of how difficult it was to film but just to say that we had no money and not even a camera when we arrived in Saskatchewan to begin filming. We had to hope and pray that a non profit organization in Regina, SK would allow us to use a camera….and they did.
Here are some stills and photos from the film.
When we finished ‘Starblanket’, we entered it in the American Indian Film Festival, not expecting much, but as time went along, it began to seem like we might make it to the finals. At least we had made it into the ‘Official Selection’ category.
So my son, daughter-in law and I made the trip to San Francisco, thinking it would be an adventure no matter what. And what an adventure it was when after watching clips from all the nominated films roll across the big screen, we heard “For BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT, the winner is Starblanket A Spirit Journey/Cindy and Andy Pickard.”
We’ve won other awards but this was the most exciting and also a great honor, because most of the winning films are from Native American producers and directors.
THE MIRACLE/ “We just cancelled out everything the doctor said. What he said did not make it fact.”
On October 26th, 2013, during the intermission of a performance in Laredo, TX, Ricardo Anglada suffered a severe ischemic stroke that affected his cerebellum and brain stem. Doctors told him and his family that he wouldn’t be able to walk, talk, eat, and breathe on his own. They said he would never be the same…….We had faith God was going to fully restore him. We just canceled out everything the doctor said. What he said did not make it fact.”
Not too long after I moved to New Mexico [8 years ago] I got the idea that I would like to give some presentations for the Police Departments in the area.
I had shown our documentary, Turning Toward the Morning to all kinds of audiences including clients of drug and alcohol rehab centers and I thought it could also work well for the police. It deals with death… from a car accident as well as suicide, painful situations that police officers often face.
I live about 2 hours from Taos, NM and I thought that Taos would be a good place to start. Also I had a friend, Ed Cardenas who was related to the Chief of Police there so it would be easy to get an appointment.
Rick Anglada became the Chief of Police in Taos after retiring from several years with The New Mexico State Police.
When Ed and I walked into Rick’s office, we found him sitting on an exercise ball behind his desk. He was friendly and welcoming and his office felt friendly too.–he had a Superman lunch box that his kids had once given him and I think there was a Superman poster too and lots of photos on the wall and and inspirational quotes taped to his desk.
He seemed interested in the presentations- He told us that there was nothing taught at The Police Academy about the emotional/psychological side of dealing with death and he thought the presentations could be helpful for his officers.
But the main thing we talked about in that visit, were his kids, in particular his son Ricardo. Ricardo, he told us, was one of the top flamenco guitarists in the United States,
He asked if he could play some of Ricardo’s music for us-he had several CDs and he told us that the music made him cry. What a most unusual Chief of Police I was thinking, really what an unusual man!
After we listened to the music, I gave Rick a copy of the DVD and told him I would check back with him… but not long after that visit, Rick Anglada resigned from the Taos Police Department and moved with his family to Albuquerque.
And then it was a long time before I heard anything about Rick. When I did, it was not about Rick but about his son, Ricardo: From a mutual friend, I heard that while performing in Laredo, Texas, Ricardo Anglada had suffered a severe stroke and the prognosis was poor. He was 29 years old.
Through friends and Facebook and some newspaper articles, I tried to keep updated on how Ricardo was doing but all I could learn was that he was recovering very slowly. He was first flown to the Stroke Unit at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque and then, after a period of rehabilitation at UNMH, his family had brought him home.
Nearly a year passed and I got few updates but in July of 2014, I emailed Rick to ask if we could dedicate our newest documentary to Ricardo. We always dedicate our films to someone and Ricardo Anglada seemed right for this particular film which is, among other things, about the music and the art of northern New Mexico, as well as living off the land.
Rick was happy about the dedication and he told me that Ricardo had been making progress though he still had a long road ahead of him. Ricardo’s family had used a combination of faith, alternative therapies-acupuncture, massage, healthy food, time spent in nature and a huge prayer chain to bring about his healing.
So my son and I started working on a dedication for Ricardo and then I got an email from Rick:
“I’m wondering if Ricardo should play a little piece of music too. To show how far he had come.”
I thought this was a great idea and told Rick so. We were planning a premiere of our film, ON THE LAND ~Together with the Earth at the Taos Center for the Arts and were expecting positive media coverage. And the Angladas had a lot of friends and family in Taos so it seemed the perfect, welcoming place for Ricardo’s first public performance since the stroke.
Rick wrote again
“Ricardo is working on a piece to play. It will be a great testament to healthy living and getting back to the basics.”
It was a magical night, that night of the premiere — the auditorium was filled with probably 250 people. There were some speakers, a very young drummer from Taos Pueblo and a band playing high energy Spanish music.
And then Rick Anglada talked about his son. He explained the cause of the stroke: Ricardo had often popped his neck because of the position he was constantly in, playing guitar and that night in Laredo, when he popped his neck he had ruptured an artery.
And he talked about the doctor who had originally treated Ricardo and how this doctor had likened his condition to an electric cord with the plug cut.
Then he introduced Ricardo.
And Ricardo, the professional flamenco guitarist, dressed all in black, came from the back of the stage and sat down and played so perfectly to an emotional audience in awe, an audience who gave him a standing ovation that went on and on and an audience who will never forget that night that they witnessed a miracle.
I haven’t kept in close touch with Rick or Ricardo since that evening but I know that Ricardo is playing regularly with his original flamenco group just as his father wrote in the dedication: “He will be back with greater fervor and deeper musicality because of what he has gone through.”
You can watch Ricardo perform in Albuquerque and Santa Fe and sometimes you can catch Rick Anglada in an episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘Better Call Saul’.
So in the words of the prophets:
In a Sacred Hoop of Life, there is no beginning and no ending.
MITAKUYE OYASIN:We Are All Related
Below is the dedication we did for Ricardo and also a version of Jessica Locke’s favorite song, ‘Somewhere Out There’ which she often sang….the year before she died…