A Paradox…

We blong     Simply put, a paradox is when two truths contradict each other. The most well-known, and possibly famous paradox is “Shroedinger’s Cat Paradox” where the cat in the box is both alive and dead until the box is opened. I want to talk about a paradox that is a bit more obscure and less thought about it. It concerns the idea of “belonging”.

     Everyone wants to be a part of something. It is in our nature to desire to belong. Throughout our lives we strive to be a part of one social group, clique, organization or team. As a young boy I desperately wanted to play baseball. Like any red-blooded American boy of that age, being on a sports team was a defining moment. I finally reached the age and was able to get on a local Little League team. I finally belonged. However, this feeling would soon be short lived. I was not very coordinated nor had a natural aptitude towards the sport. My weakness and failures soon began to affect the team, and like all groups do in such situations I was teased and shunned. Right before the last game of the season, I walked away and didn’t look back; despite our winning a trophy.

     Where does the paradox lie in belonging? It can be found in the basics of the idea. The very act of aligning with a group is itself an act of separation. If you’ll bear with me for a moment, I think you’ll understand shortly. Our desire to belong, to be special, to be unique, to be part of something larger than ourselves, is an act of aggression. When someone stands up and states, “I am an American.” what they are silently stating is that they belong to this group who identify themselves as Americans and are separate from the whole of humanity. Of course there are other groups doing the same thing. People all across the Earth stand up and proudly state “I am Russian”, “I am Chinese”, or “I am Australian.”

     If you were to bake a cake. You would mix together all of the ingredients, bake it for a specificed time and at the end you would have a whole cake. When you take a slice of cake, you must separate it from the whole. The very act of cutting this slice of cake is an act of aggression. The same, figuratively, is done when we seek to belong to a group. By declaring our allegiences, siding with a particular thought, or taking a stand with a community of people, we are separating ourselves from the whole of humanity. We are slicing ourselves away from the whole cake.

     Therein lies the paradox. To belong I must separate myself from the whole. What a world it would be if we could see this act for what it is, an act of aggression, of violence and seek to undo it. Imagine, if you would, no longer needing affirmation of being special or unique, but rather understanding that we are a part of humanity, which is a part of the nature, the world and the universe; that from the moment we are concieved we are part of something grand. When I was little I used to do an experiment. I would ponder my place in the world. I would close my eyes and imagine my body. I would then expand that awareness to the room that I was in. From there I would move outward to the house, the neighborhood, the city, the county, the state, the country, the hemisphere, the Earth, the solar system and finally the Universe. Being able to see how I was connected, ultimately, to everything was another paradox. It was both frightening and reassuring all at the same time.

     The next time that you feel the need to belong to something, I’d like to invite you to try my method. Find your place in the universe and know that you are a part of something immense and beautiful. Know that you belong to everything. Yes, it may seem a little hippy and out-there, but I think if we could see how we are all connected and worry less about severing ourselves from the whole, we would discover that life is less about separating ourselves to belong to something and more about finding our place among the whole.

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How not to fail.

    Risking it all I like to take time away from the discussion of movies and literature every now and then to focus on more personal topics. Tonight is one of those. We’ve all done it. We’ve all failed. It comes with the territory of being alive, being human. As the ages old adage states “to err is human, to forgive divine.” However, what if it weren’t true? What if we lowly mortals could live our lives free of the depressing, sometimes unbearable specter of failure? What would that life be like? Tonight, I am going to open the door for you. I am going to pull back the curtain and reveal to you the millenniums old secret to never failing.

     Are you ready? Are you comfortable? Do I have your attention yet? To quote the verbose Gilderoy Lockhart written by J.K. Rowling, “Can everyone see me, can you all hear me?” Good. Put on your thinking caps, adjust those spectacles and listen up butter-cup, cause here it is. The big, juicy secret that the universe has been hiding from you. The thing that BrAngelina and Tom Cruise have known for decades, but have been unwilling to pass down to you.

Ready?

If you never want to fail… never take a risk.

     That’s all it takes my friends. Never put yourself out there, never try, never set your heart on the line. Don’t put everything on black, don’t let it ride, don’t pick the dark horse and most importantly, don’t give it everything you’ve got. If you’ll follow these simple words that have come from the cosmos through my fingers, out this keyboard and on to your screen… you’ll never fail again.  Of course you’ll never win again. You’ll never find love, you’ll never find happiness. You’ll sit in your apartment, your house. You’ll stare at the wall, maybe glance outside every once in a while, but you’ll never take a chance, narry an adventure. You’ll be dead.

     When it comes down to it, that is what life is all about. It’s about risking, trying, gambling, giving it that one last shot, the ole college try. Sure you’ll fail. You’ll hit rock bottom. You will dwell in cave so far from sunlight you might not even see it, but if you keep risking, keep trying, keep reaching for the stars… one day you’ll succeed.

     If I were you, I’d take that secret and shove it somewhere you’ll forget all about it. Screw the hurt, forget the pain, f’ the regret. You’ve got regrets? You’ve got heart ache? Good. It means you tried, you went for something you dearly wanted, something your heart desired and you missed. It says you take risks. It says you live.

     Here’s to living friends! Cheers! 

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men

This afternoon my girl and I decided to have an afternoon date. We braved the Southern California rain storm, to drive a few miles to Edward’s Cinema in Mira Mesa. After looking through the selection of movies we decided to give “The Monuments Men” a try.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good World War II movie and as we waited outside the theater for the usher to finish their duties, I noticed that there were several men over sixty waiting as well with their wives. Eventually we were allowed into the theater and, as always, I went through my routine of selecting the two seats in the center of the theater; the sweet spot. It’s a simple method. I simply count the rows up to find the center row, and then count the seats of that row to find the center seats. Best seats in the house, I believe.

Now, I don’t want to tell you what happens in this movie, because frankly, that’s not even what the story is about. I’m not going to list any spoilers, or go into any real detail about the acting abilities of George Clooney, Cate Blanchett or even Bill Murray, because those, too, do not have any bearing whatsoever on this movie and what it is truly about. I imagine, you have perhaps, seen the trailers for it and have gathered by now the story. First, I’d like to point out that it is based on the book, The Monuments Men, by Robert M. Edsel. I have not read the book, but I certainly plan to having watched the film. The story is of an army platoon commissioned by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to prevent the destruction and recover works of art from the Nazis.

What I do want to tell you about this movie, is that for the first time, in a long time, I cried. The scene that tugged at my heart strings was an almost comedic one between Richard Campbell, played by Bill Murray, and Preston Savitz, played by Bob Balaban. The two men had taken refuge in an Army camp during Christmas and had received packages from back home. They sat in their tents rifling through them with eager eyes and greedy fingers. Campbell’s box contained an LP of a recording from his family. Disheartened that he would have to hunt down a phonograph to play it on, Campbell retreated to the Officer’s showers. As he walks through the camp, you can see him looking inside tents, searching for one. As he does, the camp loudspeakers are playing Christmas music for the soldiers to enjoy. In the midst of his shower, the music cuts off to the sound of Campbell’s wife and grandchildren wishing him a Merry Christmas.  The recording finishes with his wife singing “Have  yourself a Merry little Christmas”. Interesting trivia, the song was originally sung by Judy Garland in the musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” which opened November 28th, 1944. The scene in the movie is almost a month later, meaning this would be the first time that Campbell has ever heard this song.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, yes very touching moment, would’ve brought a tear or two to my eyes as well. The thing is, it wasn’t the thought of Campbell missing his grandchildren and wife at Christmas that got to me. It was the moment when the camera switches to inside the tent and reveals Savitz holding the loudspeaker microphone close to a phonograph that is playing the record. The fact that despite all of the horror that is going on around them, this man took the time to search out the player, convince the person running the loudspeaker to let him use it and play Campbell’s LP. I’ve spent some time in the military, close to a good nineteen years. There are times when I’ve been away from home, heartbroken and lonesome, and in those times it has always been the men and women that I served with who have brought a bit of brightness to my day.

So, when I say that “The Monuments Men” isn’t about this actor or actress’ ability, or a sound plot, or even amazing camera work, maybe  you’ll understand what I think it is really about. It’s about the men and women who serve. Its about despite horrible, terrifying, hellish actions all around, that humanity wins through. The entire story is built upon the premise of saving beautiful, historical, wondrous pieces of art from destruction. About recovering those things that truly remind us of our humanity. At the very end FDR asks Frank Stokes, played by George Clooney, if he thinks saving those paintings, sculptures and art was worth losing men, because he did lose men in his endeavor. Stokes replied, after a pause, that it was. That no matter what, in the end it is what those men and women are fighting for. Not for some flag, or country, or language, it’s to stand up against oppression, violence and destruction and say we are human.

If you get a chance, and you have $9 that you want to toss at your local movie theater, go see “The Monuments Men”. When you go in and slip down into those comfortable seats, think a little bit past the plot of the movie. Think about what it was like for those men and women, who laid down their lives to save not just countries, but culture. Think about the men and women who serve today, and remember there is a massive, Grand Canyon-sized gulf between the service member and the service. Enjoy the movie, because I know I did!