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You tell me to walk away
From all the hurt inside
To wash away its memory
In the name of comfort and healing
You say I live in the past
But in my eyes everything is connected
A seamless thread binding everything that is
To everything that can be
I look backwards and reflect
On memories of old friends and old loves
Of lost innocence and forgotten dreams
Of youthful fires and restless spirits
And I look forwards and ponder
Directions, paths and possibilities
Of places I'll go and people I'll meet
And a world that still holds promise
I believe that in every tomorrow
There's a litle piece of yesterday
So you'll have to forgive me
If I'm still holding on
She stared at the blackboard, half-distracted and fidgeting, sometimes balancing her head on her fists. She had a irrepressible smile, and wore circular-framed glasses with a diameter so wide the lenses seemed to cover half her face. I was fourteen and up until that time, it was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen.
Her glasses obscured none of her charms, but for some inexplicable reason I never saw her wear them again. Weeks, months, years would pass - and many other things would change before our paths finally diverged.
Not so long ago the two of us met again. We talked like old friends, sharing memories. In that last moment, I looked into her eyes and saw everything that could have been. She was smiling when she walked away, and I have not seen her since. Today, if you ask me what I miss most about her - it was that pair of glasses.
once i heard a voice calling out to me
and ran as fast and as far as i could
following the path wherever it led me
because the voice was true
after many days i became tired and hungry
felt i could go no more
and collapsed by the roadside
i looked at the miles behind me
and the miles ahead of me
wondering if the road would ever end
or whether the voice was just an echo
even though i picked myself up
and continued along the journey
i knew inside just how far i traveled
We seem to have less time for quiet reflection - be it art or music or a good book. Our homes, once places of sanctuary, are increasingly intruded by responsibilities that should have been left at the office. For our down time, we have a monotonous array of entertainment choices, as if the sheer weight of it would numb us into submission, and make us forget.
Yet we don't have to accept this. In our work lives, we can remind ourselves that life is more than how well we perform, or much wealth we can create for ourselves or others. We can restore a sense of intimacy in our lives by interacting with others in unselfish ways.
And we can use new technological tools in positive ways. Remember that a friend or loved one is often only a phone call, letter or an e-mail address away. So, every now and then, come up for air, take a deep breath - and if only just for a moment, reach out to somebody.
The previous summer, her parents took her on a vacation to some island in the Carribean. One day while there, her dad was driving through the city with the family, and they passed by an ice cream stand. She got very excited and begged her her dad to stop off and buy her an ice cream cone. So he parked the car and they approached the vendor.
As they waited in line, there was this little boy not much younger than she was, with a pair of hungry eyes. At that moment, ice cream was the one thing he wanted in the world, if only he could pay for it. As an act of kindness, her father bought him a cone as well.
They returned to the car and circled around the block to get back to wherever they were headed. And as they were driving away, she looked out the window and saw the same boy by the road side. He was sobbing, and in front of him was melted ice cream.
One of the things I learned from my youth is that people become very frustrated when they sense that you are less than truthful. For me, the biggest difficulty was that sometimes I did not fully possess a sense of "what is true", and when required to give an anwer, responded by seeking refuge in the language of ambiguity. There are the answers to the questions at hand, and there are answers to the larger questions - accuracy serves the former, ambiguity the latter.
Someone might argue: "Here is a person who has been convicted of a crime. He's a bad person." I would respond - "You can't say he's bad. Even if he did wrong, you can't judge his motives." To take that to the extreme, I would include everyone from petty thieves to mass murderers and war criminals. Our actions do not define us, they are only outward resolutions of our inner struggles. Bad actions do not emanate from bad people - only from a disordered or incomplete judgment. A general principle is that a human being is more than the sum total of his actions, and has the capacity for both good and evil.
A legal judgment suggests a search for the truth, on the basis of the facts that are known. A less than adequate prosecution or defence, and false or not fully revealed evidence, and the bias of the participants - all point to a very human and fallible system. At the end of a trial we still ask the question - do we know the truth? Is what we know enough basis for a judgment?
I read somewhere that when you tell the truth, tell the hardest truth first. If that truth hurts really badly, is that a sign of bad character when it is told? Or is a testament to someone's courage? Should a hard truth be diplomatically stated to soften the impact? Or shouted from the rooftops at the top of one's lungs? Or, alternatively, should it be kept hidden in the service of some greater truth (even if that is not yet known?)
What is the worse error - to tell factual truths, but with less than truthful intent, or to be true in spirit, but inaccurate in the details?
Can a story - false or fictional - tap into something so deep that something false on one level could be considered sublimely true on another? And when a loved one tells a lie, are we obligated to believe it, simply because it was told so convincingly? Do we have a duty to discern the truth at the heart of that lie?
Is there truth in love, hope or happiness? In pain and sadness and grief? Is there truth in beauty?
I think that we have always needed epic stories. These are the legends passed from one generation to another, and gathered into scrolls or books. Poets would spin tales of historical figures, making embellishments here and there. Sometimes the form would change - the names, the details - but the stories endure. It is a testament to the transformative power of myth in people's lives.
Hollywood Movies continue the traditions of old, with images such as the chariot race in Ben Hur, Luke Skywalker dueling his dark father on a clouded city in the sky, or Mel Gibson's William Wallace leading his countrymen into battle. And now we have Ridley Scott's new visual masterpiece, "Gladiator", set in 180AD in Rome.
No, there wasn't a General Maximus. But there was a Roman Empire, which spread civilization and the rule of law over the known world. There was a Marcus Aurelius and a few mad emporers, and there were gladiatorial games in which people died. And in Rome, as in every era of history, there was both corruption and high ideals.
In Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" all of these elements are brought to the fore. Russell Crowe's Maximus is a larger-than-life hero in every sense of the word. Loyal soldier and dutiful father and husband - he was stripped of everything he had, after the mentor that he loved (Marcus Aurelius) was assassinated by his power-hungry son (Joaquin Phoenix). Sold into slavery and forced to fight in the gladiatorial games, Maximus was torn between exacting vengeance on those who murdered his family, and fulfilling the wishes of a dying man. All this took place before the mob of Rome in the heart of the Collosseum.
This is powerful stuff, spread across 2 1/2 hours. It was so compelling I had to watch it a second time.
Strength and honor.
But it's the fourth school, the Stoics, that interests me the most. These were men who practiced virtue for virtue's sake, and held a realistic view of the world. They mistrusted love as an emotion, while at the same time embraced the principle of universal love. One of the proponents was Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who expounded (after Plato's "Republic") the four cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, fortitude, moderation. He wrote - "Since it is possible that you may depart from life at this very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly." This reminds me of a Muslim proverb that we should live each day as if it were our last.
Bertrand Russell, in his sweeping "History of Western Philosophy", relates how one of his most seductive temptations was the desire to retire to a quiet country life. I am reminded of a scene in the motion picture "Gladiator" - a ficitonalized account of his era - where Russell Crowe's character, General Maximus, tells the dying Caesar of his wish to retire from the military, become a farmer, and raise his family. But out of a sense of duty, he is persuaded instead to accept the position of Protector of Rome, to guard against its coruptions, and prevent his evil son Commidus from taking power.
In its heroic larger than life canvas, "Gladiator" exemplifies some of these virtues. Maximus possesses a filial piety to his family and his country. He led in battle, not for personal glory or bloodlust, but in the service of Rome and its ideals. Unlike Marcus Aurelius, his character did not have doubts in the afterlife - it was the memory of his family (and hope of seeing them again) that motivated him in his darkest hours.
One of the most attractive features of stoic sentiment is that - like existentialism - it is built more on endurance than hope. That though we may ultimately fail, we must do so with nobility and patience. Like Sisyphus and his rock, we must keep trying and not give up.
Regret is the feeling we have when we look back at a particular juncture where, had we said or done something differently, our life may have may have gone in a different (and perhaps) better direction. This theme has been explored in literature and popular culture - including motion pictures such as "Sliding Doors".
For a few moments, I thought really hard at the question. In my life, there have been specific instances of incredibly bad judgement. Or words rashly spoken that should have been left unsaid. Or where important personal decisions were made after much forethought, and followed through, only to watch things fall apart in the worst possible way.
My answer was firm - I would not change a thing. Nearly two years after that conversation, I still feel the same way. Let me explain.
Firstly, it is my belief that nothing would fundamentally change if one event or another went another way. Even though circumstances may have been different, our overall outlook - that is, our patterns of thinking and doing things - would likely have led our lives down similar paths (and many of the same mistakes). This is no different than a painter who duplicates one of his own works, changing details here and there - such as the color or position of a particular object - only to find that the second painting - albeit with a few less perfections - is not all that different from the first. Some of the details may be different, but the soul of the work is the same.
Secondly, even if life could change in a fundamental way, I would argue that this should still not be done. Everyone has in their lifetime made mistakes, or has pondered the way things could or should have been turned out. These are the moments that haunt us, our demons, but they are also part of who we are. Therefore, the desire to exorcise them is an act of self-hate. In this sense, regret becomes a self-destructive act.
Thirdly, we already have it in our power to rewrite history. There is nothing preventing us from looking at older events in entirely new ways, using age, experience and what little wisdom we have learned as a guide. Because ultimately, regret isn't about the problems of the past, but of the present. In this re-interpretive process, it is the future that is being rewritten. The figures and images from the past are merely a guide.
By making peace with our imperfections - the sources of regret can have a positive transforming effect on our lives.
My mother did not discover who despoiled the nest, only that one of the eggs was broken. She asked what could have happened, and I feigned innocence. She then told me that when something of this nature occurs, the mother bird always abandons the nest, and the remainder of her young. I felt terrible. Because of the dropping of one egg, I had in effect condemned her entire family to death.
I think we gave the empty nest to a cousin, which she then used for a school science project.
Thinking about this story still makes me feel ill.
He is a bit thin-skinned, but he really cares about his work. You may remember the actor as "Johnnycab" from Paul Verhoeven's Arnie sci-fi carnage "Total Recall". I laughed when he chose the name of "Schweizter" in the Beowolf saga on the holodeck.
One of my favorite episodes ("Latent Image" from 1999) is where he breaks down because he made a decision that one crew member would have to live and the other would die after surgery (there was no way both would live). And he chose that his friend would live. This was a decision that he was forced to make, and he agognized over whether it was the right one, long after he made it. He felt guilty over the fact that he chose his friend, but I think he would have have suffered the same way if he had chosen the other way.
Self-doubt took over - he no longer had any confidence in his abilities as a physician. The crew forced him forget the experience as he could continue to function. But the Doctor knew there was a hole in his memory, and was obsessed with finding out. Eventually his memory was restored, and he was forced to come to terms that as hard as it was, he would have to learn live with it.
I related strongly to the Doctor's sense of self-doubt, and post-facto soul-searching. It seems to me that if you place an incredible amount of mental resources to come up with an important decision, and you reach some kind of impasse or failure resulting from that decision, there is sometimes an impulse to go over the entire process over again, step by step - to find out what went wrong.
The debate between Janeway and Seven over whether the Doctor is just a machine was just a distraction to the main point of the episode, which was about dealing with indecision, self-doubt, and trauma.
This episode hit home for me. Janeway quoted the first lines of Dante's La Vita Nuova, which evoked something as well.
Moore is a big fan of James Hillman, neo-Jungian scholar, and collected his works into a book called "Blue Fire". Hillman says that we have to learn to recognize (without judgment) our own archetypes and speak to them and hear what they have to say to us. Fascinating stuff.
Another thought: Be wary that we not get addicted to suffering. In a way it is a form of attachment, no different then being addicted to pleasure. Yes, we can learn from suffering, but we should not stick proverbial (and sometimes real) pins and needles in our bodies, just to see if we still have "sense" and "feeling". You can't go running around like the self-pitying characters from Wuthering Heights, incapable of seeing beyond their own pain, or loving themselves.
Another related thought: the final scene with the priest in Angela's Ashes, where he comforts and forgives the young Frank McCourt - who spilled his life story to him, all his guilt, all his experiences. Of his poverty and his mother and father. Of the woman he made loved to and who died. Of the money he took from the local moneylender after her death. So much pain. The priest told him that before he can love others, he must first learn to love himself. Love yourself, even if you are not perfect.
Those who cannot choose, become counsellors. One of those counsellors wound up talking to somebody who was his wife's husband whom she married after her first love [the counsellor] died in the War. As he spent time talking to her husband, he discovered the common link in both of their lives. It's kind of hard to explain, but by the end of the movie, the counsellor made his choice (after the old man had chosen, and he found out what the wife had chosen). All three of them - that is to say he, his wife, his wife's second husband - all chose the same memory.
The wife: Sitting on the bench with her first love [counsellor], early in life.
The husband: Sitting on the bench with his wife - same park as before - just the two of them, both late in life.
The counsellor: Sitting on the bench alone - the place of his revelation - alone.
This was really introspective stuff, and as I watched the movie, it asked me which images, experiences had the deepest impact on me.
Of course, a familiar charge is that the worst monsters of history were idealists. It is true that many who wanted to make the world a better place have the most blood on their hands. One book that affected me when I was younger was Albert Camus' "The Rebel", which is littered with historical examples from the French and Russian revolutions.
Stalin's response to Donne - rather coldly - runs somewhat to this effect. One man's death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.
There are several aspects of the Gulf War - that grotesque made-for-TV special-effects war - that brought out many aspects of war, murder, killing, and the effectuve use of the media as state-propaganda tool.
1) Suspension of Belief - There was a young woman, purportedly a Kuwaiti refugee - who in 1990 told Congress of how baby-incubator's were taken from Kuwaiti hospitals, and how the the children attached to them died and were placed in a mass grave. Fabricated war atrocities are as old as war itself, a convenient weapon to make a man willing to fight and kill his fellow man, and this was just as true here. As it turns out, the story was not only false, the witness - the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador - had been coached by the PR firm "Hill & Knowlton" (defenders of Big Tobacco) to knowingly lie and deceive the Congress (and the US public), in order to build up more popular support for the (as yet forthcoming) war. I'm sure there were many reasons to support an armed solution to the conflict, but why build it upon a foundation of lies? Is it because in order for us to become angels, we have to first demonize the enemy?
2) Smartbombs - With the advent of modern technology, we no longer have to kill a man face to face to make him die. I read a story about a general and some people who watched on a monitor, as a man was ripped in half by a long-distance weapon. Night after night we saw computerized pictures of targets on monitors. From below, lights streaking the sky. On the home front - paraphanelia in the form of T-shirts, collector's trading cards, magazines, and hats hit the market to boost morale on the home front. All of these images obscured the one hard fact of war: in war people die. It fills me with awe that many of our greatest modern inventions were byproducts of war and the drive to kill people with the more effective use of technology. It started first with a single bullet.
3) Retreat from Kuwait City - It was Death highway, the dying hours of Desert Storm. Iraqi soldiers fleeing Kuwait city back into Iraqi territory. Apparently they didn't flee in time - the Iraqi government had been instructed to leave Kuwait by a certain date and hour or else death would ensue. The soldiers had packed into civilian cars into a column, when they were met by death from above. Every one of them died. I remember seeing pictures of burnt out shells of automobiles. Some of them had children's toys which the soldiers had packed into the cars to bring back to their families in Iraq.
I think one of the recent movies which demonstrated the "savior instinct" gone amok is Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out The Dead". The main character - an ambulance attendant (Nic Cage) spends the entire movie becoming unglued, haunted by the face of a girl he could not save, and involved with the daughter of a near-death patient he brought to the hospital. She became his vehicle for redemption.
Halfway through the movie, he described the process of how good it made him feel to be engaged in the act of saving somebody's life. There was an air of despair and helplessless throughout the movie. The poignant moment when he gave a speech to a failed-suicide attempt about all the other people in the city who were coping with terrible things, and here was someone who tried to end his life and couldn't do it. And the long scream as he relived the drug-induced horror that weighed at his conscience.
I really felt for his character. A broken healer who himself needed healing.
I think that this type of "relationship" can tend towards forms of dependency. It can also accentuate one's sense of self-doubt (a by-product of setting one's standards of self-perfection too high).
For all of his quiet and obsessive ways - Gene Hackman's character- a surveillance expert - was a very caring guy.
He was hired to record a conversation with two people. It was very difficult to set up - he had audio equipment scattered in three areas - recording people in a public place. He thought it was a just another job - but it turned out to be something more. The woman spoke in a very fearful manner with her boyfriend - from the snippets of the conversation she heard. She was very afraid - worried that her life was at risk.
Hackman's character was quite introverted. I remember quite well the scene where he is dancing with the girlfirend in his apartment - they are with some of his friends. You could smell the tension. She wanted to play some of the equipment (inadvertently the voice of scared woman is heard). Gene was very protective and shut it off. I got the sense that Hackman was hiding his feelings - and that they would boil over if he did not hold back.
Hackman spent hours trying to reconstruct the conversation from the three tapes. It was no longer a job. He was on a mission to save someone's life. He wanted to know the whole story - cleaning up the sound sources, splicing them together. And he wanted to get involved (because he now believed that the people who hired him were up to no good). But once that happened - things only got worse.
There's a twist ending in that the people the audience thought were the victims were in fact the perpetrators - and vice versa.
One of my other favorite Hackman roles was a romantic one. He plays a novelist and former lover of Gena Rowland's main character in Woody Allen's 'The Other Woman'.
Tasmin Archer's Sleeping Satellite (1993) - "I blame you for the moonlit sky. For the dream that died with the eagle's flight". A critique of the space race, if you can believe it.
Boy George's The Crying Game (1993). An interesting comeback from an 80s artist.
Belinda Carlisle's Do You Feel Like I Feel (1991) - One of my favorite dance numbers of the decade.
Toni Braxton's Unbreak My Heart (1996).
Too many Celine Dion titles to count, but My Heart will Go On from the Titanic soundtrack (1998) stands out.
Edwyn Collin's A Girl Like You (1995). Very catchy tune.
Duran Duran's Come Undone (1993) - an atmospheric song from 80s icons.
Gloria Estefan's Turn The Beat Around (1994) - a magnificent cover of the 1976 hit from the late Vickie Sue Robinson.
Melissa Etheridge's Like the way I Do (recorded in 1998, charted 1995) - One of my Melissa favorites.
Genesis' Hold On My Heart (1992)
Amy Grant's I Will Remember You (1992)
Guns 'n' Roses November Rain (1992)
Natalia Imbruglia's Torn (1998) - a one-hit wonder from one of Australia's biggest pop stars.
Chris Isaak's Wicked Game (1991) - featured in David Lynch's Wild at Heart, and also one steamy video as well.
Jewel's Foolish Games (1997).
Billy Joel's All About Soul (1993).
Blessed from Elton John (1995), and also the Last Song (1992).
Chantal Krevaziuk's Surrounded (1999) - an incredible song about the suicide of a friend
Amanda Marshall's Beautiful Goodbye (1996).
Richard Marx's Hazard (1992).
Sarah McLachlan's had many fine singles, but by far my favorite is the Lillith Fair "live" version of Possession
Meat Loaf's I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) (1993)
Jon Secada's Just Another Day (1992)
Michelle Wright with Jim Brickman's Your Love (1998) - Brickman has done a number of duets but this is my favorite. Good Canadian radio play.
Van Halen's Right Now (1992)
Vanessa Williams and Brian McKnight's Love Is (1993)