Blog Post  #4

BY Ricky Harney

To the best of my ability I will attempt to walk you through my evolution of understanding.  I included some experiences that opened my eyes to things that seemed nonsensical to me for years.  I have been in search of answers for the last six years and this is what I have come up with……….

After my dad passed 18 days before my 18th birthday, I was angry at God.  “Why did you take him from me so soon?  Who is going to teach me about life?  Who will I turn to when I need guidance?”  I lost my faith.  For years after that I thought that when our time on this earth is up, that’s it, it’s over.

This gets pretty heavy here, so hang on.

Fast forward to my friend Brian and his wife Lisa having their first child Benjamin.  Brian was so very proud.  I was so happy to see my friend glowing from being a new dad.  A few months later Lisa was concerned about Ben.  He seemed to be vacant, not responding as other kids would.  They took him to their pediatrician and found out that Ben had a rare cancer.  It all happened in what seemed like a second.  Ben had an operation to remove a tumor from his brain.  He went through a round of chemo.  He was buried. This was the hardest thing I had ever gone through.  As hard as it was for me, Brian and Lisa were devastated.

A year later Brian and Lisa decided to have another child.  Before we knew it, Sam was born.  This kid was a ham.  He would wink at grown women and point at them like the Fonz.  His personality was infectious.  I got to see him grow and saw the same glimmer back in Brian’s eye that I had seen when Ben was born.  Sam was around four years old when they discovered that he had the same rare cancer that the brother he never met had.

My friend and his family found themselves at Saint Jude Children’s Hospital.  My house was being worked on so I stayed at Brian’s house to watch their dogs.  My dog Cookie came with me.  Having Cookie in my life helped me through the passing of Ben.  He was my bud.  Cookie was a Dachshund/Black Lab mix.   He looked like a Black Lab with his legs sawed off, adorable.

Time was passing and things were going as okay as they could.  Sam’s cancer was in his spine and had an operation to remove it.  He was a trooper and was hanging in.

I may lose a few of you here.

I was watching TV in Brian’s living room.  The TV was directly in front of me.  The hall to the bedrooms and bath was just to the right.  The laundry room was the first door on the right and could be seen from where I was sitting.  So, a fabric softener box looked like it was thrown from the laundry about eye level if I was standing and hit the left wall of the hallway and fell to the floor.  I got up to investigate, thinking someone was messing with me.  I turned the corner quickly and no one was there.  There was a staircase to the basement that ran along the length of the laundry.  I called downstairs, “Okay, who is messing with me?”  No reply.  I even went downstairs, and nothing.  Now, neither the washer or dryer were running.  The TV was at low volume.  I just tried shrugged it off.  I went back to watching my show.  Not a few minutes later, the washing machine turned on.  Now, in order to turn on the washing machine you have to press three buttons.  I looked outside, searched the house twice, nothing.  I was at a loss.  What just happened?  Was it Ben saying hello?  I had no idea.

The next-door neighbors were mutual friends of ours.  Debbie and Charlie are still some of my closest friends.  Debbie is best described as a spiritual person, but she never advertised it.  I was skeptical to mention this to most people since it seemed a bit odd to say the least (look at me now), but I figured Debbie may lend some insight.  So, I laid it on her.  She just smiled.  The smile wasn’t sarcastic, it was welcoming.  “Yes, it was Ben.  He has been trying to get your attention for a while now.”  I was floored and unsure of what I just heard.  How does she know this?  What does this mean?  I decided to empty my cup so to speak and with Debbie’s guidance I began to search for answers.  I started to meditate on a regular basis.  I began to live my life without anger and worry.  I was on the path.

Shortly after that Cookie started to have problems with his back legs.  He was limping at first, then he had difficulty walking.  I took him to the vet and in short, they had to put him down.  I was crushed.  My best bud was gone from my life.  I never cried more for anything in my life.

To make matters worse, Brian, Lisa, and Sam were coming home because there wasn’t any more they could do.  Sam wasn’t going to make it.  His parents wanted to be close to their friends and family and moved shop to Sloan-Kettering on Long Island.

It was Sam’s last moments on this earth.  Brian and Lisa were at his bedside, just the two of them and Sam.  Sam was heavily sedated and would only be awake for minutes at a time.  The last time Sam sat up he looked his father in the eye and said, “Cookie died?  You never told me Cookie died.”  Sam laid back down and took his last breath. We never told Sam about Cookie.  We figured he had enough on his plate.  So, what does this mean?  Sam saw my dog as he passed to the other side.  To be a part of Sam’s last words is indescribable.  On a positive note, I know that I will have a chance to see both Sam and Cookie again.

This was a game-changer for me.  The fabric softener box event was one thing, this was over the top.   As horrible of an experience as this was, it also opened my mind to quite a few things.  I was thankfully wrong, there is life after death.  Even just the thought of that made me really start to think about what my purpose was in life.  Why am I here?  Am I doing enough with my life?  What other questions will I have?  What other answers will I find along the way?  Grasshopper, this guy’s cup was bone dry.

After visiting Yellowstone in 2010 with the Bobs, I was obsessed with learning to fly fish.  My friend Rob would spend a couple of days a week on Carmans River which was close to where we lived.  I would pick up a new skill each time and spend every other day of the week perfecting my cast.  Rob also taught me to tie flies every Sunday.  Week after week I kept at it.

One Saturday morning I headed down to the river by myself.  I had the best spot to myself, site 5.  I was catching all morning.  Every cast was perfect.  I could see the line roll out, the fly stop in mid-air, and the fly gently fall to the water’s surface.  I could see the rise and set the hook at just the right moment.  I was in the zone.  I thought I was on the water for a few hours or so.  The action slowed and I remembered Rob teaching me to look up to see if sparrows were darting around.  That meant that there was a spinner fall.  When I looked up it was dark.  I had been there for 12 hours.  I was amazed that 12 hours felt like 3.  I was supposed to be at Debbie and Charlie’s house in an hour and I was going to be late.  I called and apologized, just saying I lost track of time, nothing else.  I raced home to shower and realized I had found Zen.  When I was on the water, it was me, the fly, and the fish, nothing else.  All of my problems, even everything positive in my life didn’t exist.  I was lost in the moment.  I was so excited to share my news with my spiritual guide.  I knew that this was a big step towards where I wanted to be. When I saw her, I was going to say one thing, “I have found Zen.” I made it to their house and parked in the driveway.  Debbie was waiting on the back porch which was odd, she usually would be on the patio or inside in the living room.  As I drew in the breath to share my achievement she said, “You found Zen, didn’t you?”  I was blown away.  How did she know that?  When I asked her all she said was, “I could just tell.”  I clearly still had a lot to learn.

Which brings us to Yellowstone.  I think it safe to say I needed some time to heal.  This is by the way, how I came up with my photography name, “Healing Soul Photography”.  I turned to nature, and she hasn’t let me down yet.  Yellowstone has changed my life, to say the least.  My time alone in nature is where I have found the most answers.

I spent a lot of time on Cascade Creek when I first arrived in the park.  It was my secret little place that most people don’t know about.  A short hike from the road is a small canyon.  I never saw another human there, and I was there a lot.  I remember sitting on a rock listening to creek and it dawned on me.  I just thought I found Zen in fly fishing.  I had found it before that, but just didn’t realize it.  I found it in welding losing myself in the puddle.  I found it in kayaking when the water was flat and my technique was perfect.  Then it was fly fishing.  So, if I can find Zen in so many things, what else can I find it in?  Could I find it in everything?  The answer is yes.  In every conversation, in every drive, in every meal, in every kiss, in everything.  When you hear someone say, “You need to live in the moment.”, might sound like nonsense to some people.  The fact of the matter is that most people don’t slow themselves down enough to do so.  We are constantly thinking of the next move, the next meal, or the next meeting, instead of what is right in front of us.  Take the time to listen to someone.  Don’t wait to talk.  Take the time to enjoy what you are doing.  Most important, make time for yourself to just be still.  It is only way that you will learn to live in the moment.

I found my passions in photography and writing.  If you don’t have a passion(s) in your life, you need to keep looking.  It is more than just the passion, it is what that passion can do for you.  My passion for photography allowed me to overcome some of my biggest fears.  I had an opportunity to be a photo guide in Yellowstone some years ago.  The only problem was that a guy with severe anxiety problems was going to be in a fiberglass box (snow-coach) with a bunch of strangers.  I didn’t know if I could do it or not.  Thankfully my passion was stronger than my fear.  I st-st-stuttered a little and probably looked real nervous, but I got through it.  By the time we got to Swan Lake Flat and the light turned on I had already hit my stride.  All of that worrying for nothing.  I just needed to believe in myself.  That experience along with photographing the Canyon Wranglers that I wrote about in a previous blog post here has raised me up to a place I thought was impossible to achieve.  My passion continues to grow along with my confidence.

I wanted to challenge myself along the way.  Public speaking had always been my biggest fear.  I wanted to rid myself of this fear so I did a photography presentation at all of the locations in Yellowstone for the employees.  I was real nervous the first time, a little nervous the second, and by the third I was able to speak from my heart.  I could see the audience engaged, sitting forward in their seats, waiting for my next word.  It was incredible.  I had achieved the impossible.  I am, and always will be a work in progress.  Overcoming this social fear has done wonders for me.

Why are we here?  I think we are here to experience one another.  We are here to help, support, and love one another.  We are here to make a difference in people’s lives, every day.  It doesn’t matter how big or small a difference, just make one.  From a hug, to a short conversation, to a gift to help out. Try to impact someone’s life every day.  I have found that to be internally happy, we need to look outside of ourselves.  Bringing joy to others will bring us a bigger joy than we could ever know alone.

Purpose is a big one.  For some, being a great parent is their purpose, great purpose.  For many, they may not have even given it a thought.  I am still finding out what exactly that is for me.  What I think at this point is that photography and writing aren’t my purpose.  My purpose is to help others find their way, to find whatever it is that they seek.  I attempt to do this by showing others that a broken shell of a man can find happiness in nature, that you don’t have to live the same shitty life if you don’t want to, that change is possible, that you are worth it.  I don’t know if I will succeed, but I will go to my grave knowing I did everything I could to make a difference, and that is good enough for me.

As far as spiritually goes, I have come a long way from being an atheist to where I am now.  I might not be as far along as others, but I continue to grow and understand more with each day.  Faith is a gift I am yet to receive.  I am not quite there yet.  I do believe what we do on this earth is directly related to what happens after we are gone from it.  With over 2000 gods since the dawn of man, I am unsure which way to turn.  Either one religion is right and the rest wrong, or all are kind of right, or they are all wrong.  No matter who you are you have to at least agree with that.  My guess is they are all kind of right, and we are all in this together.  It is important to have faith, but essential to have faith in yourself.  No one ever achieved greatness not thinking they were going to get there.  I respect most religions and all who are faithful to them.  I am just trying to find my own answers is all.  Truth be told, I don’t think any of us could even begin to imagine what actually lies ahead.  It may be on a level that is far beyond our comprehension as humans.  As much as I look forward to seeing my loved ones that have passed, I still have some time left to live here.  Oh yeah, what I said about being angry at God at the beginning of this piece, God didn’t take him from me.  I had nothing to do with it.  It was just his time is all.  I am thankful to have had the chance to say goodbye.  I have friends that never had the same opportunity.  One could say I am blessed to had him for as long as I did.  In those 18 years, he taught more than a lesser parent may pass along in a lifetime.

In its simplest form, treat others with the same respect that you would like to be treated.  Accept everyone for who they are.  If you disagree with others views or practices, that’s okay, just make an effort to listen and attempt to understand them.  Find your passion in life.  Face your fears head on.  Pay attention to the little things.  I am still on the path, so to speak.  I am certain I will have a better understanding of life the longer that I am here.  There’s still plenty of mistakes, people and experiences to learn from.  We are all in this together, so how about we set aside our differences and just walk one another home.

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Cheri Keys
Wonderful story. Yellowstone has true heart, not only in its natural beauty, but also in the individuals who keep it running.
I have a special place in my heart for one of them!?
Thank you.

Lyn Morton

Wonderful. It will take a lot more coffee to listen to 40 years of Jeff’s life…Or I think you just sold me a book…lol !!!!!

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