Beautiful Scenery, Devastating View: The Hero* Journeys on Midway

March 15, 2012

Yesterday’s ocean post leads uncannily into today’s, a story so compelling it is hard to choose which segment to run. Inside the three minutes of the video posted here, our lives are compared again to the forces of nature, but this time we are the wave.

Please open your senses and grab a tissue, for the vast beauty and challenge here is outer and inner, both.

Last year, I met Jan Vozenilek, Director of Photography on the Midway Journey project. In the circle of people at Gail Larsen’s Transformational Speaking workshop, Jan told us about a crazy ride in a prop-engine plane, relief and joy at landing, and then astonishing grief as he stepped over bird after dead bird on the runway.

These were the reason for his adventure. To capture on film the beauty and devastation of Midway, island home to thousands of albatrosses, 40% of whose babies die each year, unable to ingest the plastic they eat from the Pacific garbage patch.

Jan was telling us about a deeply personal experience. But when he tucked his hand into his pocket and pulled out a handful of plastic bottle caps, the room fell still. Tears. He had retrieved them himself from the belly of a dead bird, and stood there before us, returned from thousands of miles. We each knew the weight and texture of those caps from personal experience. How many had each of us sent to the sea? Unwittingly. How many plastic spoons and toothbrushes and plastic pen caps and Bic lighters? Beyond ourselves, we felt the millions of others also unwitting, at the hand of these birds’ deaths.

The story is overwhelming. The project is a team of artists applying their art, minds, and audiences to a collective wake-up of millions of individuals making simple choices every day.

*Jan left us with a last compelling complexity, imparting an invitation an island elder had shared with his team.

“Do not consider them victims. Consider them heroes.”

Hero: Someone who takes a self-sacrificing journey to bring back light to the tribe.


“The MIDWAY media project is a powerful visual journey into the heart of an astonishingly symbolic environmental tragedy. On one of the remotest islands on our planet, tens of thousands of baby albatrosses lie dead on the ground, their bodies filled with plastic from the Pacific Garbage Patch. Returning to the island over several years, our team is witnessing the cycles of life and death of these birds as a multi-layered metaphor for our times. With photographer Chris Jordan as our guide, we walk through the fire of horror and grief, facing the immensity of this tragedy—and our own complicity—head on. And in this process, we find an unexpected route to a transformational experience of beauty, acceptance, and understanding.”

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Story Charmer’s Waking Up Series is the month of March in meditation on WAKING UP. What does it mean? What growth does it spur? What wonder and challenge? GUEST POSTS and personal queries will appear here throughout the month. Read all the posts in the series here…

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Irka March 16, 2012 at 2:28 am

I love how you tell this story. Touching. Awakening happens by touching hearts. Thank you for your touching soul, your touching words, your touching connection of thoughts and feelings… this is healing for the world. Love, Irka


Pema March 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Thanks, Irka. As they said in the vid, “we don’t act until we feel something.” When we do, change begins. xo


Pearl Mattenson March 16, 2012 at 3:45 am

“we don’t act until we feel something” indeed. This is devastating. The dictionary defines devastating as “to lay waste”. It is that. Is it enough that I haven’t bought a bottle of water in years?


Alison March 16, 2012 at 6:54 am

Pema, thank you for sharing the Midway story on your website. Incredible, touching, devastating to see the result of our human consumption. I was privileged to sit with you and witness Jan’s story at Gail’s workshop. It is indeed a wake up call for us all. Blessings to you, Alison


Sam March 18, 2012 at 9:54 am

Wow. That is unbelievable. Thank you for sharing this.


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