Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 - Its Not Just Another Day

It's Thanksgiving. This is an amazing day. Let's not take this day, or any day for granted.

The narrator is Br. David Steindl Rast, a Benedictine monk.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

On Losing, Winning, and Why This Feels So Good

This past Saturday, rain was threatening the skies over the Rose Bowl, in a land where the sun constantly shines.  This day the sky was deep grey and ominous, as if some massive dark and foreboding thing were coming.

And then, as the crowd of 90,000 stood and paused for the National Anthem - it felt as if the darkened heavens were nearly torn apart by two Navy FA 18 Super Hornets, as they streaked low overhead.  A deep roar, a rush of streaking jet engines, and a massive wave of cheers from the stands, the sound of power both machine and human.  Everyone was ready.  Bring it.

As I stood there, in the crowd, beside my bride of 24 years, I should have known this splitting of the sky was a sign.  A sign that good things do happen to undeserving souls.  A sign that the little guy does not always finish last; that those little guys in 1776 got their freedom.    And from that little band of people with principles, great and amazing things would happen.  This is America, after all.  Another college football Saturday, and a game of great rivals, unparalleled in the nation.

Two great universities, so much tradition, so much pride on the line.  Perhaps for the Bruins, more pride than arrogant expectation.  That arrogance sort of thing is typical in Troy, a place derived largely from mythology.

Sometimes, after loosing for 12 of the last 13 years, things can improve.  And maybe, just maybe, the monopoly in LA college football is over.

It was a Battle Royal.  In the end, the Guys Who Don't Usually Win .... won big time.  It was decisive.  One team left looking at the ground, having lost their alleged hero in a crushing sack, a metaphor for his teams' season.  The winners who were expected to always win, lost.  And they have been doing that a lot this year.  The other team jumped, and hooted, and hollered and celebrated like little kids let loose early from school.  This was an innocent joy, born out of 13 years of mostly loosing.  Every single player on this team had never beat SC.

We won!  We did it! 

Why do I feel so emotional about this rivalry?  It's personal.  I am a Bruin, Class of 1980.  Much of the good I have experienced in life I can trace in one way to my University years in Westwood.  In this spirit, below is my twist on a classic column by the great sportswriter Jim Murray. The article was written in 1978 when I was in school.  I clipped it out of the paper, and hung it on the door of my dorm room. For months it was there, like an identity badge.  I have updated it for the modern day:
"You all know the kind of school SC is. The girls are built like chorus girls. The boys look like Abercrombe ads. Their fathers are all rich. The all live in San Marino or Newport Beach, and Daddy is a third generation real estate developer.  Their biggest worry is the hedge fund market or where to park the Mercedes at the California Club. Their families have always run things in this town and they all belong to fraternities where you have to prove you never drove a used car and you think Hoover was our greatest President. Even though their "Old SC" now has more people of color, different income brackets, and academic scholarship than ever before, they try to ignore this is happening.  They pine for the Old Days.  They have their little Cardinal and Gold tail gates at the Coliseum with Biff (Class of 78) and Muffy (class of 80).  Muffy was a Kappa Dinga Sigma Hey, Biff a Smega Chi.  They miss John McKay."

"And they'll never have to lay pipe or pour cement or sweep floors or serve drinks or wear a hard hat and they'll go through life getting guys to open doors for them and take their hats.  It's the world of Thurston Howell III.  Although a stereotype, that's the public image of SC.  The First World. A very private university, a very private club. That's the image SC projects. Tuxedos and patrons of art, a Chagall in the guest bathroom.  And all those "new" SC people, well, they always use the guest bathroom.  Please."

"UCLA on the other hand, suggests a whole bunch of people who are going to become, not judges, or CEOs, but storefront lawyers, or child psychologists or oboists in the Philharmonic, or delegates to the Democratic convention. If they go abroad, its with the Peace Corps, not the plutocrats and its Biafra, not Biarritz.  If they ever get into the Cabinet, it would be in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Assistant Director to the Undersecretary.  When they are in school, they are working at the children's clinic or the parking garage of the California Club.  Their student loans last for decades."

These Bruins tolerate the football team because it brings in money for the Occupy Westwood rallies.  They prefer Quiditch on the Quad.  They like badminton with the folks from the ACLU, and wish cancer researchers and cardiologists got million-dollar contracts instead of guys who barely passed remedial English on their own football team."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Merriweather Lewis' Moment of Reflection

They were only thirty three souls and a dog, facing thousands of miles of unknown territory.  Their adventure captures my imagination like no other. 

Two years, four months and ten days travel from St. Louis to the Oregon Coast, and then back again to St. Louis; 3,700 miles one way and 7,000 miles round trip.  We moderns can make this trip in a period of hours.

They started out going upstream in a dugout boat, endured tortuously hot days, swarms of insects beyond imagination, saw plants and animals they had never imagined, and spent the freezing winter with Indians in North Dakota.  No group has ever done anything like this before, or since.  This was the incredible moon shot of 1804; in many ways, there was more mystery, adventure and courage in this journey than in the all of the Apollo program.

One of the two leaders of this group was a 30 year old from Virginia named Meriweather Lewis. Biographers note this was a man of who was introverted, melancholic, and moody.  William Clark, Lewis' co-leader of the expedition, was in contrast extroverted, even-tempered and gregarious. The better educated and more refined Lewis, who possessed a philosophical, romantic and speculative mind, was at home with abstract ideas; Clark, of a pragmatic mold, was more of a practical man of action. Each supplied vital qualities which balanced their partnership.
About six weeks ago, on our travels home, we stopped at Fort Clatsop, near Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River.  This was the last stop of Lewis & Clark's historic adventure to the West.  We spent a soft, cool Oregon morning at the Fort, walking through the reproduction of the original encampment and learning more about this remarkable journey.

While viewing the exhibits, I happened upon a quotation from the journal of Meriweather Lewis that I had read before, but now which  somehow resonated deep within me.  More than 206 years ago, on his birthday on a rainy night in coastal Oregon, surrounded by only frontier and darkness, in a completely new land, Meriweather Lewis sat in this (at left)  darkened room, lit only by fire and candlelight, recording in his journal his reflections on becoming just 31 years old:

This day I completed my thirty first year, and conceived that I had in all human probability now existed about half the period which I am to remain in this Sublunary world. I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the hapiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, and now soarly feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me had they been judiciously expended. but since they are past and cannot be recalled, I dash from me the gloomy thought and resolved in future, to redouble my exertions and at least indeavour to promote those two primary objects of human existence, by giving them the aid of that portion of talents which nature and fortune have bestoed on me; or in future, to live for mankind, as I have heretofore lived for myself.
Lewis, Meriwether; Clark, William (2012-05-12). The Journals of Lewis and Clark, 1804-1806 (Kindle Locations 9685-9691) Kindle Edition.
The thoughts of this brave young adventurer leave me wondering about existential questions at beyond the midpoint of my own life.  I am standing, in a way, at a marker of my own; a time to reflect as a very recent empty nester, wondering what things of significance my future life will hold.    First, I wonder much these days about the worth of my own contributions to the world thus far.  What can I do that will offer a life lived for mankind, and not for myself?

Second, I wonder about the sense of distorted perspective that we might all have of our own lives.  What seemingly small things have we done that we cannot recognize as possibly of great importance?  Perhaps in the Divine economy, there is a different way of looking at what matters in life, and at the little things that can become big.

Here was a young man who had just accomplished things very few in recorded history could ever claim.  He and a small band had explored half of a continent.  And yet, as he looked back on his life, he found himself far lacking in things achieved or internal character.  Why was this, and why do I often feel very much the same way?

After the Expedition, Meriweather Lewis was appointed Governor of the Louisiana Territory.  William Clark was promoted to Brigadier General and appointed to the Superintendency of Indian Affairs. However, Lewis at age 35, died tragically on October 11, 1809, just three years after the Expedition.

His grave lies within Natchez Trace National Parkway, near Hohenwald, Tennessee. Thomas Jefferson, who held life-long affection for his protege, is credited with the Latin inscription on Lewis' tombstone: Immaturus obi: sed tu felicior annos Vive meos, Bona Republica! Viva tuos. (I died young: but thou, O Good Republic, live out my years for me with better fortune.)

For the most outstanding book on Lewis and Clark's Voyage of Discovery, see Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Paul Simon: Father & Daughter

This song just came on Pandora here at my work.  It reminded me of two lovely young ladies who I love more than I can express.  This is for you, girls.  (Check out my notes in the lyrics below)

If you leap awake in the mirror of a bad dream
And for a fraction of a second you can't remember where you are
Just open your window and follow your memory upstream
To the meadow in the mountain where we counted every falling star

I believe a light that shines on you will shine on you forever
And though I can't guarantee there's nothing scary hiding under your bed
I'm gonna stand guard like a postcard of a Golden (in our case a Chocolate) Retriever
And never leave 'til I leave you with a sweet dream in your head

I'm gonna watch you shine
Gonna watch you grow    ---- (this part is perfect for where you both are in life right now)
Gonna paint a sign
So you'll always know
As long as one and one is two
There could never be a father
Who loved his daughter more than I love you

Trust your intuition
It's just like goin' fishin'
You cast your line and hope you get a bite
But you don't need to waste your time
Worryin' about the market place
Try to help the human race
Struggling to survive its harshest night
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