This Song from John Lennon resonates with me. But not for the reasons one may at first surmise. For me the challenge is contained in the lyrics “So what have you done?” Doing, going, is what matters.
A young woman making her way up the stairs of a very old Catholic Church in the cold of a Milwaukee Wisconsin night, tripped. It was Christmas Eve. She had been on her way to Midnight Mass, as was the tradition for many Catholics of the time.
I was born sometime around 6 am the next morning.
People always ask me if I felt gyped by being born on Christmas, referring to the present count. My answer was set in stone from an early age, based on my experiences growing up in a rather strict household. “No, not at all.”
Being good Catholics, my parents had six kids, of which I was the first born. So discipline was pretty much a matter of survival for us as a family. But we had a tradition in our Goleta household, where my parents eventually had settled to raise us all. On your Birthday, you got to choose to do whatever you wanted. Since my day fell on Christmas, and the reigns of structure were loosened, I established a tradition for myself
I would wake early, everyone would excitedly rally round the Christmas tree which somehow, my parents always managed to have lavishly decorated and loaded with gifts under it’s scented boughs. Scarcely would that be done, and I was off down the road either walking or later, riding my blue Schwinn Varsity ten speed, to any number of Winter breaks that existed within a few miles of our house in University Village.
My Christmases are full of salton memories, of a plethora of days spent alone surfing, as none of my friends had such a tradition being offered by their parents. Glassy kelp strewn lineups, with Northwest groundswell sweeping down the points of the Gaviota Coastline, offered empty beautiful solace and inspiration on the celebration of the Creator of all’s birth. That meant a LOT to me. Still does.
So it came as no real surprise, especially in hindsight, that I should turn the respect and love for the Sea and all that inner meaning, into a career in Surfing and become enmeshed in various aspects of the Surfing industry as a surfboard builder. Everything I did while under the strict thumb of my parents, scholastically and regimentally, supplied me with the tools to succeed where few managed to.
Eventually I found myself being pried by industry and life changes which seemed to be sweeping me ashore far too frequently, back out to sea, as I became a Photographer. Specifically, first and foremost, a Water Photographer.
Funny thing about my career. It is all about communicating emotion and sharing. Giving, when no one asked. In hindsight, it strikes me as a very Christian avocation that modus. It is with no small sense of irony that I realize that the gift of me being born to my parents on Christmas, in turn lead to a domino like chain of events that presents what I do to a global stage today.
It leaves me with a deep sense of gratitude and purpose which generally has resulted in my own Christmas tradition based on the gifts God gave me.
Every Christmas, camera in hand, I meditatively shoot the things which inspire gratitude in me. I hold those, meditate on them and realize that everything in life is a gift, and comes with purpose. That is what I was given and in turn what I bequeath to others. It is all that I have of any value, really.
As I sit here at my computer, early on a Christmas morning, coffee on the rough hewn sturdy wooden tableĀ growing cold, I remember the story of three kings following the light of a star to Bethlehem. They brought gifts to one who brought the greatest endowment of all, to mankind.
Just like mankind, gold, frankincence, myrrh: presents, things. But it was all that they had, a tangible representation of gratitude carried by faith and in hope, that what was to come by promise, would change the world forever. And it has.
So now the gifts we give, well they can be something greater, living.
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:27
The greatest gift of all. Jewel. Appropriate, and sent along by Eric Pederson.
The gallery below is Christmas in Ventura California, 2010. Click on any image to toggle through as a slide show.