Monday, December 22, 2008

Nearing Year End

Christmas is this week. I'm still in shock that the year has gone by so quickly. I suppose that's what happens when you're working on a project you enjoy this much! There is so much more work to be done, and time just keeps slipping away each day.

Today I did a wee bit of Christmas shopping on my lunch break. Over at Southeastern Camera, I feel like a kid in a candy shop. There's so much to drool over in the store, and every time I go in there's the chance to catch up with my friends that work there. They are so kind and helpful. Today they gave me about half a dozen fresh Florida oranges for free! (For those of you who know me well, you know that is a bit of heaven. Oranges are one of my favorite foods, and I do love something free as well!)

While I was in the store, I ran into one of the guys I met while working on my film. His name is Alex, and he's a local photographer and friend of many of the folks I know in the Montagnard community. We shot a Montagnard-American wedding over the summer. He asked how the film was coming along and told me about some of the projects he is working on. We talked shop a little while and caught up. It was delightful to see a smiling face that I had not seen in so many months. This project has introduced me to some of the finest people, and I am so grateful for that.

As the holidays draw near, and I spend more and more time with family, I realize how much I have learned from the Montagnard culture in the past year. The cultural traditions that keep the family close together, serving and supporting one another, and holding each other accountable as a community are so valuable.

The Montagnards as a whole have faced great adversity, and have done so much to smile in the face of trouble. I reflect on a line from Louis L'Amour that has stuck with me for years, as he wrote about the cowboys he met and studied. He talked about how hard they worked, how they suffered, and coped with changing times. In the midst of it all, they shared this one common trait in his opinion: dignity. No matter what they had seen, they all shared a quiet dignity about them.

Many of the Montagnards I have met over the past year have been the leaders in their community. Many of the servicemen and experts on the Montagnard culture are leaders in their community. And each person that has sat down with me, in front of my camera, to share their story has had this same quiet dignity.

Leadership is not something you can learn by attending Harvard, Stanford or Yale. It is something that must be earned and learned. Education and experience that go hand in hand to shape a great leader. It is something that rests deep inside one and grows from that core when nurtured or forced by necessity. Leadership is an ever-changing shape that can be at one moment tougher than titanium or at another moment very calm and serene. A pent up energy that may be released when provoked. In short, the lion and the lamb all in one.

These men with whom I have spoken are fascinating to me. They are great leaders, yet humble in every way. They are strong and proud, but not loud and boastful--that difference is very important to note. They are the heroes of our time, and yet they walk among us each day.

As we near the end of a year, I hope to spend more time reflecting on 2008--the year that permitted me to finally rise out of the dreamer's resting post and run towards the dream. As we race faster towards welcoming a new day, a new January 1st, I hope to spend more time sketching out the upcoming days, months and year. One thing is for certain, it will be one wild adventure!