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Passion Plays : Sky-diving. Taming roller coasters. Conducting. Nurturing bonsai. What started as hobbies now feed the soul.

August 09, 1995|DUANE NORIYUKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Passions are more than hobbies, more than something to do on a Saturday afternoon. They do not need to change the world, although sometimes they do. They need only to be a part of it, a part of us.

John Espinosa's passion for sky-diving led him to a better place, where race and wealth don't matter. He's found that all people are pretty much the same the first time they strap parachutes on their backs and contemplate the ground below.

Dr. Lisa Scheinen's work in the county morgue takes her to a side of life not many of us see, a place of violence and death. Her passion, on the other hand, takes her all over the world to more peaceful settings, where cotton candy and laughter prevail. Roller coasters clear her mind and free her spirit.

Dr. Ivan Shulman knows that a person's health is a matter of both body and soul. With surgical instruments he saves lives; with a maestro's baton, he lifts spirits.

And for Ed Partis, the vision to see beauty in all living things came through a love for bonsai. At 69, his life is full, but he wonders what will become of his beloved trees when he is gone. Our passions can also bring pain.

We do not choose our passions as much as we discover them. These four people--a truck driver, a forensic pathologist, a surgeon and a retiree--have found passions that bring balance to their lives, centers of gravity to hold them steady, wind and sail to set them free.

JOHN ESPINOSA

'It's the Closest That Man Will Ever Come to Flying'

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John Espinosa thinks about the things in life that didn't work out, about the anger he felt as a young man--so much of it that there seemed room for nothing else.

He wanted to be a boxer, a hometown champ whom people would cheer. In the gym he could lash out, he could fight back at a racist world that repeatedly threw walls in front of him.

Fighting is what he remembers most about his childhood. Not all of it was in the ring. "I used to start fights with white kids," he says. "I was getting back. I hate myself for that now that I'm older. I hate myself for that."

Espinosa, 55, quit school in the 10th grade, lying about his age (he was 16) to join the Army. It was there that he first jumped out of an airplane.

Nearly 1,100 jumps later, he still feels the thrill of the dive, moving toward the ground at 120 m.p.h. from 12,000 feet.

"It's the closest that man will ever come to flying," he says. Espinosa is a grandfather now. "It makes me feel good, like I still got a little bit in me."

As he grew older, his goals became more modest. He wanted to be an ironworker, a draftsman, a social worker, a teacher. He never wanted to be a truck driver.

When he left the military in 1957, he returned to Los Angeles and had trouble finding work. "In them days, jobs were scarce," says Espinosa, who now lives in Norwalk. "You had discrimination. . . . Jobs have a lot to do with making and breaking people. If you have no job, you have no money, nothing."

He has been driving trucks, off and on, since 1964. In 1970, he started sky-diving again, and that's when it became an important part of his life.

"To me, it's awesome. That's the only word I can come up with. Some people say it's a rush. I can't describe it as a rush. Awesome, free. You can breathe, like taking a deep breath and feeling good, like laying down on a bed of air."

In 1978, he became jump master for a group called the Aztec Flyers, and that is when his passion led to important realizations about himself and others.

He began offering instructions and overseeing students' jumps. One of the beauties he saw in the sport had nothing to do with technique but with fear.

"I met a lot of prominent people. I jump-mastered doctors, lawyers, professionals. They get scared too. They make mistakes too. You're used to seeing these people as something special, but when you see them sky-diving, they react like everybody else. Up there, everyone's equal."

LISA SCHEINEN

'It Kind of Takes Me Back to Being a Kid Again'

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In her office, Dr. Lisa Scheinen surrounds herself with reminders of the good things in life, people and places she loves, times she has learned never to take for granted.

It is one of many lessons taught to her as a forensic pathologist for the L.A. County coroner's office. By examining death, Scheinen has learned verses in life.

"Every day, you see the seamy underside of life, you see all the results of the gangbangers and also the innocent people who are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You realize it could happen to you, so you might as well enjoy what you got for as long as you can."

So she looks at the photographs a lot. There's one of her with her mother and grandmother taken the day Scheinen graduated from medical school, one of her and her husband on their wedding day eight years ago.

And there are two pictures of the Coney Island Cyclone.

For Scheinen, 41, enjoying life means packing as many roller coaster rides as a person can fit into a lifetime. It is a means of purging and renewing.

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