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Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Face of Heroism

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Alas, the greatest accomplishments in life are not necessarily discoveries, inventions, corporate success, political achievements, or conquests of war, but rather often simply offering nurturing or personal attention to one's own children, family members, and others in need. Pasteur and Salk made their significant far-reaching contributions, MacArthur and Churchill helped save us from a worse fate, Hughes and Gates reached great heights and influence with their empires, but all of their efforts were no greater than the contributions and sacrifices that a mother or father make to their family. The greatest accomplishments go relatively unnoticed by everyone except those who they impact most. Keep the Nobel Prizes — there are more important things at stake, which curiously have no public awards.

If one were to generate an arbitrary list of the supposed one thousand greatest people in history, there wouldn't be much acclaim for women, since the female sector historically hasn’t been in the limelight, but I'd dare say that moms deserve to take up well over half that list. Parents should be heroes. If they apply themselves, they are. Do you make a difference in someone’s life? If so, then you’re a hero.

Enter mass media to warp our view. It has turned celebrities, rock stars, professional athletes and the like into pseudo-heroes. We typically idolize these people because they are universally known — they’re everybody’s friend. You can go to Wichita, Kansas and they’re known there. You can go to Duluth, Minnesota and they’re known there. They’re a seeming reference point for us all. You can say their name and everyone knows who you’re talking about. They bring a sense of objectivity to our lives. If we can rub shoulders or get a glimpse of them for just a small moment — get their autograph or have our picture taken with them — it elevates our sense of identity, and we feel like we've had a brush with eternity. We want to be somebody, and we have the misconception that celebrities are somebody, since they constantly get that validation from people all over the world. They assume the part of everyfriend.

We’ve seen the celebrities play out dramas that we’ve identified with and lived with them. We’ve seen their many faces in their various roles. In that way, they’ve transcended normal life. They’ve become otherworldly to us in many respects — they can romance us off our feet, and then another time they can make us laugh till things come out our noses, and then another time they can intrigue us beyond compare, all the while defying tremendous odds against them in their antiseptic script and overcoming their neat little pseudo-world. Indeed, a litany of screenplays allows these portrayers on film to be so multi-faceted. And to top it all off, we don’t even have to smell them. Talk about the best of both worlds…

Likewise, we’re convinced that celebrities are transhuman enough to be immune to the difficulties of life that the rest of us face. And if there were any doubt, they have their millions to spend on mansions, they don’t have to go to work in general, they travel all over the world, and they have to turn people away who want to be their soulmates. Those portray the pinnacle, don’t they?

The news media raves when there’s a person of fame who’s kind and caring, as if those were some extra-terrestrial traits. But if there are 27 people reading this, I’ll bet half of you are just as kind and caring. (the rest of you we’ll need to work on, wink-wink…) We seem to be programmed to admire someone who has become famous and yet has still retained the decency of a genuine human being — regarding it as some remarkable achievement. But what about those who aren’t in the public eye and who have just been doing it in quiet obscurity sans all the accolades? Is their decency any less notable because they haven’t also taken on the burden of fame and wealth? You know, if I were Tiger Woods or Tom Hanks or Bruce Springsteen, I believe I could still find time to be nice too. They all seem good people, but are they a level above us, as they are depicted? Why should they automatically be so on the mere fact that they have certain high profile talents? The renown paints for us a dastardly illusion that what we admire is found less around us but rather more in the publicity engine where character is marketed to us.

Here’s to the real heroes in people’s lives, those who might have a cheering section of only a few, but whose quality more than compensates for the lack of quantity. In a just world, you’d be on the cover of magazines for the type of person you are. You’d get interviewed on the talk show circuit. Charlie Rose would ask you intently for the details of your life. Anderson Cooper would get your opinion on world matters. You’d be Oprah’s friend for life. In short, you’d be validated — at least publicly. Which then begs: does public have anything over private? Not in my estimation.

Fanfare, a delightful energy in its own right, still isn’t much of a yardstick for internal efficacy. Promotion is just part of the larger machine, representing the subjective ability to advance a persona. This is not to say that a lot of well-known people haven’t necessarily attained a level from having leadership-type qualities which may be honorable. While their dedication to their craft can often be exemplary and they may possess specific qualities which could have propelled them to rising in their field, we still need to remember that famous character is not superior to unheralded character. It’s just that fame in the entertainment business or other areas of promotion can and do operate effectively many times while having more form than substance. The prevalence or absence of paparazzi around a person defines nothing. In other words, you can’t judge a book by how much it’s covered.

Meanwhile, there are people in your very own home and elsewhere who may look to you as a celebrity in their corner of the world. The nice part is that when someone knows you up close and personal, that celebrity status is not such a bad thing, because there tends to be a genuine depth to that admiration. It’s conversely when we overly project celebrity on nondescript caricatures like showbiz icons where it can tend to become misplaced.

Bringing this full circle, it’s both exhilarating and humbling to contemplate that you could truly be someone’s idol, who they look to in reverence and awe. Who they think of for inspiration. Who they gauge their life by. Who they thank their lucky stars for. Who they draw upon for strength. Who they see God’s light through. Who they reach toward to make themselves better. Who they invest many of their emotions in and receive dividends. Who gives them a mirror to see themselves in. Whose shoulder they may borrow during storms. Who heaven seemingly uniquely blessed them with. And who filled a particular niche the way no one else could have.

Isn’t it clear why this is so much more important than the historical benchmarks we so often read of? Of course those things are important in their own way too, but without the backdrop of the personal touches, those notable events and figures of the human timeline would carry precious little meaning. Albert Einstein’s contributions mattered because there was already a life going on worth living, with people worth living it with. Without the bit players doing their parts, there would be nothing for the stars to build on.

We’ve all had unusually qualified individuals like this in our lives, to some extent or another and at various times, who we’ve highly regarded. The law of supply and demand would also dictate that if we’re actively in the food chain of offering life all around us, a number of people may have regarded you in somewhat of a similar fashion. As such, you’re a hero. You. The one with the finger pointing on your sternum right now. Nice job, by the way… and keep up what you’re doing, because people are watching. People who are young and impressionable. People who are old and discriminating. People who are in between and just soaking life in. All who are desperately in need of heroes, because that’s just the way life is. And that hero is unfailingly you. Yes… you.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Interesting and Unusual

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A collection of random things from my life. Some of these will need to go in my life story. If you’re writing your life story someday, hopefully these can spur some ideas for you…

• One night when I was young, it was getting late so my parents said it was time for bed and that I needed to turn off the TV. I protested and grabbed the closest object, which was a small comb. I flung it across the room, and as fate would have it, the comb struck the TV on/off button (they were knoblike in those days), and it turned off the TV. My mom and dad saw the irony in this situation and got quite a kick out of it. I was thwarted by my own designs! And who would have thought something like that could happen? I could have tried to hit the on/off button from across the room at least a thousand times without succeeding — but I had done it without even aiming for it.

• About ten years ago while living in Albany, I inadvertently drove away from the gas pump while it was still pumping gas. When the attendant had handed me my card back, I wasn’t thinking straight, and I thought we were done. I heard someone yell to me, and I looked in my rearview mirror and could see gas gushing out of the hose. The attendant was nice to me afterward, and he said he’d need my card again to pump the rest.

• I’m a late bloomer of sorts. I didn’t own my first car until I was 33. I got married at 28, and my wife had a car for awhile, and we borrowed cars, and even went one year without a car when our oldest was first born.

• One morning in Utah after a heavy blanket of snow the night before, I went out to warm up the car to go to work, and the car was completely covered in a few inches of snow. I started it up, and then went back into our apartment while the car was getting warm. Then a few minutes later I came out to scrape the snow off the windows. I cleared off all the windows, and then I tried to open the door to the car, and it wouldn’t open. It was locked. But there was a good reason for that — it wasn’t our car. Our car was in front of that one, still warming up. It’s funny what things you don’t notice when you’re making assumptions.

• There is a period during the year when all eight of our children are odd-numbered ages at the same time (and then even-numbered the next year, of course). We covered all the approximate two-year periods from 1992 through 2008, except for 1998. Must’ve been something in the water then.

• Our oldest son is 846 days older than our second son, and our third son is 846 days older than our fourth son. It wasn’t really planned that way.

• We didn’t plan this either, but in our oldest child Amanda’s name, the last three letters contain the first three letters of our second oldest, Daniel’s name. But that’s only the start. If you take the last two letters of Amanda, Daniel, and Kelvin (our third oldest), they also contain all the letters of Daniel’s name.

• My youngest brother, Roy, who lives in southern California and is ten years younger than I am, was called to be an LDS bishop at age 29.

• We had two babies over 11 pounds, and two others over 10 pounds. I guess I can’t take a whole lot of credit for those. Including the rest of our kids, none of the births were Caesarian.

• This one’s pretty neat. When I left to go on my mission to Japan as an LDS missionary in 1981, our group flew from the Missionary Training Center in Utah to Los Angeles, and after a stopover, we departed for Japan. The 747 flew up the California coast for approximately 500 miles. I started noticing towns that looked familiar, and we passed directly over my hometown of Willits, where I grew up and spent all my school years, and where my family was still living. I could even spot our street. That was interesting enough, but as soon as we got to the northern end of Willits, the plane then turned due west and headed out across the Pacific Ocean toward Japan. It just blew my mind... There were hundreds of other towns in between that it could have turned at. It was like it was letting me say goodbye to my family. And who knew all this time I had lived on the air route from California to Japan?

• In high school at an exhibition wrestling match, I had my opponent in the takedown position, resting on top of his back, and then I suddenly blacked out. My coach later told me that I must’ve been unconscious for about ten seconds. The funny thing about it is, when I woke up, I was still on top! The coach who was refereeing said he almost called a penalty for inaction.

• I actually have a cousin who is precisely 1 year, 1 month, 1 day, 1 hour and 1 minute older than I am. Since seconds weren’t recorded, we like to surmise that it was 1 second also.

• About five years ago, I drove to Phoenix for baseball spring training and our online fantasy baseball league draft. While we were there, I was driving on the freeway in Phoenix going about 70, and from out of nowhere there was a stoppage up ahead in the lane I was in, which was the center lane of three lanes. The right-hand lane was closing up ahead, and cars were merging into the center lane. As soon as I saw it, I had no time to react, and immediately slammed on the brakes. We were about 200 feet behind the next car ahead, which was stopped. But then two more cars merged into the lane and stopped, and I thought we were going to hit them. If I’d had two more seconds, I could’ve checked the left lane to see if there was room to move over, but there was no time. So after skidding about 180 feet or so, we ended up maybe one foot from the other car’s rear bumper. My brother Roy and cousin John were in the car too. I thought for sure we weren’t going to have enough room to stop, and Roy said the same thing. The margin of error there was so slim, that in an available space of about 180 feet, that would mean we skidded 179 feet. Don’t try this at home. Or even in Phoenix.

• The basketball arena at Brigham Young University, the Marriott Center, has about 22,000 seats. When I was a freshman there in 1980, their system for distributing student football season tickets was for us to get in line outside the Marriott Center the night before, then they brought us all inside the arena and gave us a preliminary ticket for placement to pick up the real tickets. Then they had everyone stay inside and sleep up in the stands overnight. They woke us up first thing in the morning, we lined up in our spots, and then we got our tickets. So, I’ve had the rare privilege of sleeping inside the Marriott Center. I also walked onto the floor of the Marriott Center one time when no one else was in there. That was unusual, in that big, open place. I took the elevator from the ticket office and wanted to see where it went, and it went down to the main floor, and when it opened up, nobody was there.

• If each letter of the alphabet has a value of its placement in the alphabet, the name ‘Rusty’ has the highest known value for English names five letters or less. (103 points)

• One time we were playing a practice softball game while I was at BYU, and I hit a line drive over my brother Roy’s head in left field. As I approached 2nd base, my steps were messed up, and I realized that if I continued, I’d be stepping on the base with my left foot, which wouldn’t allow me to cut the corner effectively. So, just instinctively, I stepped again with my right foot. I took two steps in a row with my right foot without losing stride. I’m still not sure how I did it, but it happened without even consciously thinking about it. My second step hit the inside corner of the base perfectly, and I made it around to home just in time to elude the catcher.

• This one’s kind of neat, and I wonder how rare it is. I pushed a car two feet sideways by myself, and it was in park with the parking brake on with nobody inside it. One night at a party in Utah, there was ice on the ground, and a car was blocking my car in the parking lot. I figured I’d see if I could move it, because I needed about two more feet of clearance to get by, and after all, it was an economy car. I lifted from the bumpers and pushed it sideways, and it worked! I don’t even know why I thought of trying that, but I suppose you never know what you can do until you try.

• My wife caught a foul ball line drive during batting practice at a Seattle Mariners baseball game. The ball travelled about 350 feet in the air. She was holding her jean jacket in her hand, walking up the stairs away from the field, and I was about fifty feet away from her, down closer to the field. I yelled to her, “Here comes one!” She turned around and caught it against her hip, without a mitt.

• I caught a batting practice home run barehanded at Oakland Coliseum. It was hit by Bobby Grich of the Angels. There were about ten people around me, and I had to reach over the railing a little bit. It felt like somebody had tossed it from five feet away.

• When I was 10 years old, after General Conference in Salt Lake City, I followed the general authorities under the stand in the Tabernacle, and down near the tunnel I asked the prophet, Harold B. Lee, for his autograph. He was in a hurry, and he said, “Maybe next time.” Then he got in a cart, where he was driven down the long tunnel.

• Charles Barkley (the former basketball player) was signing autographs in the hotel lobby in Salt Lake City after a game, and I gave him my four-color Bic pen to sign my brother’s cap with, but then after signing it, he forgot it was my pen, and there were people all around him clamoring, and he couldn’t hear me, so after a few seconds, I just reached up and grabbed it out of his hand. It was my pen, after all.

• I had an unusual feeling when starting a game of Super Mastermind with a friend about twenty years ago. Super Mastermind has five spaces per row and eight colors. It was the first game we had played that day. While my friend was arranging the colors (hidden from me), for some reason I got a very distinct feeling that I could visualize the colors he was picking. I thought the feeling was rather unusual, but I went with it just to see where it would take me. I didn't say anything to him about it. Without hesitation, I grabbed five pegs and placed them in their holes. Indeed, I had the five correct colors, but they were all in the wrong spots, so I received five white markers for that. I then proceeded to place the second row of pegs. I moved each of them over one space to the right, and the one on the end over to the left. All five were correctly placed! This entire sequence took as long as it takes to put the pegs down. I didn't even have to think about it. Incidentally, the odds of guessing all the right colors in Super Mastermind on the first row are roughly 1 in 200, and the odds of guessing them all in the right order on the second row from that sequence are 1 in 120. Together, they represent about 1 in 20,000 odds. If I continued my regular frequency of playing at the rate of about 300 games every 40 years, I could expect such an occurrence once every 3000 years, if I took my vitamins and lived that long. Add to that the fact that I had the distinctly strange feeling accompanying that very time, which I've never felt before or since when playing Mastermind, and that's the icing on the cake.

• Another experience was with my wife and dice about 15 years ago. I only wish we'd been in Vegas at the time (were I a gambler). I was sitting on the floor making a variation of the game Risk, and the board is there with five dice. I've been at it for about an hour, doing computations and setting up rules. She asks me how it works, and I explain some of the probabilities to her, and how it will work with five dice. I'm in the process of telling her that to roll five 6's is extremely remote — in fact I told her that it was 1 chance in 7,776 — and while I was telling her this, she picked up the five dice, shook them, and rolled five 6's on the first try... I've never been so dumbfounded mid-sentence as I was then. I just stared at her for a few seconds, and she got a big grin on her face after seeing my astonishment. I saw it with my own eyes. There was no trickery involved. The dice were just laying on the board in no particular pattern when she picked them up. My first thought was, "How did you do that?" And my second thought was, "How could you even know how you did that?" To put it in perspective, I explained to her that you could wake up every morning for 10 years and roll five dice, and chances are you would not get five 6's even once. In 21 years, odds are you'd do it just once. And the interesting part about it is she said she just "felt" it, which is why she wanted to pick up the dice and show me she could do it. We've never had such an event or attempt before or since. It was too uncanny. Those things aren't supposed to happen at will.

• In high school baseball while playing right field, I doubled a runner off first base after catching a line drive. But there were no fielders near first base, because the first basemen and pitcher had run over toward the third base line to back up a potential play, thinking the batter might get extra bases. The runner that had been on first was already over at third base, and so I knew I had a lot of time. With nobody at first base, I threw a long, soft grounder to the bag, and it got there a few seconds later, and the first baseman ran back to the bag and made it there when the ball got there. Thinking about it now, I could’ve had an unassisted double play from right field if I’d just trotted in and stepped on the base myself.

• Another time in high school baseball, I got hit by a pitch, but the umpire didn’t see me get hit. That is, until I turned and showed him the ball lodged between my arm and my rib cage. That was pretty conclusive evidence. So I’ve actually caught a pitch as a batter in a high school game.

• One day on Twitter a few months ago, totally out of the blue, I decided to do a member search, and for some reason, the name ‘Hermes’ came to me (I don’t know why). So I did a search on it and found 26 members with that in their names. Then a minute later I was over on the Everyone list to browse for other random members, and of the last 20 tweets posted on all of Twitter comprising up to a few million members, one of the people with Hermes in their name had just posted in the last few seconds. And nobody with Hermes in their name, including that person, had posted the previous five hours. Two completely independent events happening in conjunction. That is very bizarre. And it turns out it’s someone who lives within an hour of me, though I didn’t contact them.

• One time as a teenager I went to get in a two-door car we had, and I didn’t notice the seat was folded forward, and as I sat down, I ended up on the floor in the back seat. You just have to laugh at yourself when that happens.

• Several years ago, the apartment building we lived in had three sets of stairs leading up to three different pairs of apartments, and then there were also the same number of first floor apartments. Our apartment was on the second floor of the last set of stairs. The complex was in walking distance of the grocery store, and one night after getting groceries, I carried them up the stairs, and when I got to the top, I had to put the two containers of milk down so that I could have a free hand to open the door. I set the two jugs of milk down in front of the door, reached up and opened the door, grabbed the two jugs of milk and placed them on the floor just inside the door, and when I looked up I saw our neighbor standing at her sink, looking back at me from about ten feet away. I stopped dead in my tracks. Our eyes met, and then she just started laughing. I mumbled something like what Lurch on the Addams Family might say, as it was obvious what I had done, and I took the milks and shut the door. I had gone up the wrong stairs without noticing it. When I opened the door and looked up at my surroundings, it gave me the strangest feeling of disorientation. It was like I’d been transformed into another dimension, and for a split second my brain couldn’t understand why my environment wasn’t meeting with expectations. The lady later told my wife that I had the most surprised look on my face. They both had another good laugh over that one. I will never live that one down.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Linear Digression

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Sometimes if you don't feel all the way connected, you can see about reaching into the past and into the future. Maybe that's where the rest of your connection resides. Maybe I'm not supposed to find it all in the present, and I'm desperately trying to make it all happen currently. That's interesting, because now seems to be all we've got. But which now? This now? (waiting a second...) Or this now? Or this other one over here? Are they distinct? Or are they intertwined? Something to consider while waiting at a bus stop and your heart ticks off several more nows.

Thinking how things tend to stay the same. The scenery changes, but those things that matter to a person don't really change. We can go through phases, and the phases don't redefine us so much as they accentuate what's been there all along. Yesterday and tomorrow, it's the same me despite being in different circumstances.

I've heard that history repeats itself, I've heard that the only constancy is change, and I've heard that the more things change the more they stay the same. I wish they'd make up their collective mind.

I guess it all depends on how you approach it, how much change you require before you want it to constitute change. It can be whatever you tell it to. I look at the passage of time, and I see continuation. I see less invention. We like to think as societies that we can create the new. But I wonder how much of it is new, and how much of it is a different take on a solitary principle. Hasn't there been a pattern of repackaging going on?

What if you could send a message to yourself in a different time? More than thinking of what I might want to say, I think of how I could get through to myself and make what I'm saying believable. Words can only take you so far, and without a proper vehicle for transfering those words, they fall on deaf ears. And I don't even know how much the words themselves would matter a whole lot. The very communication itself would carry the weight. When you look at someone transfixed, you don't see their words. You call upon another language for which we have no dictionary on hand. Our spoken verse makes attempts at grandiloquent adjectives, some more magnificent than others, some extraordinary, some stupendous. As if we know what those mean in any context other than how profoundly we feel them.

And then math tries to quantify and categorize into neat little rankings and groups so that there won't be any remnants left on the floor. Would that a world so tidy as the hypothetical could pertain to us.

I picture a distant future mostly hushed, with the breeze competing for the better part of the sound, producing a type of slow motion effect. It's where your mind might be able to do its best to reflect. That could be the vagueness we feel about things which have yet to occur.

Tapping back into reality for a moment, after cancelling a phone service which was on automatic billing, I was the recipient of a late notice for the final charges. If that isn't something upset by the continuum of time, I'm not certain what is. We have these microcosms of life all around us begging to be recognized.

Does it matter how much I owe them? I suppose it matters to them. But then why let them define what should count in the grand scheme of things? There are billions of things more important. Money's just another one of those quantifiers. They'll get paid off, yet not without a little philosophizing along the way to at least garner some lesson out of it and get my true money's worth from the experience. I think these are all clues, and clues can be learned from. Which isn't to say they have to make perfect sense.

So if I'm reaching out for some elusive realization — one that hasn't met me on the timeline yet — I can partially live it before it eventuates.

When we write anything, think about what it is we're doing. We're putting down thoughts, for what purpose? For one thing, we're calling out to someone in the future. It might be ourselves, it might be unknown people, it might be for unknown reasons. I want to talk to my other self regularly, and I miss that.

Which is to say: do we know what audience it is we're speaking to? Do we know how they might be receiving the message? I'm thinking that if we know our audience, then perhaps we are connected. Even if it is a little across time.

Dance Like Nobody's Watching

Philosophy Soccer