Love the Greatest Adventure: An Inquiry into Romeo and Juliet, Like Crazy and Brokeback Mountain

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Love is the greatest adventure.



Especially if we want to live our lives to the fullest.

 

It is the moment where true beauty overcomes our reason and will, our plans are torn to bits and choices get made and voilà, life happens. Though, it is possible that we can be seduced by what appears to be beauty, beauty is itself inseparable from the great leap.

 

Everyone knows the story: Romeo and Juliet, coming from opposing feudal families, should not have fallen in love, but they did! God bless em, it was a hard road.

 

I saw a movie once called Like Crazy that captured with accuracy the modern lover. Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, they fall in love. Their lives, however, are complicated, separated by boundaries, borders, and red tape. Anna is an English exchange student studying in America where she meets Jacob, a local resident. In the initial stages of their love they make the leap, and the process of creative destruction takes place. When Anna overstays her student visa and is subsequently barred from entering the United States, their relationship becomes all the the more difficult.

 

The barriers of their long distance relationship dismantles what appeared to be mutual self-gift.

 

Love without sacrifice, is not love.

 

Anna and Jacob had sparks, they seemed to be perfect for one another. But something was missing… no one dies at the end. Even when they are back together, they fail to see past the immediate problems, the obstacles. They both fail to make the leap that love is, the final leap, the leap that tears open to human heart so that it may become an abode in which the beloved may find a home.

 

You see, when children play at romance it is like a game of house. One puts the “wife” hat on, and then takes it off. The other puts the “husband” hat on, and then takes it off.

 

When adults live romance, people lose everything and gain everything in the same breath. People die and people make mistakes, but at least it is real.



True love is complete gift.

 

Look at the tragedy of Brokeback Mountain.

 

These men, so called lovers, would not give all of themselves to anyone, neither to their respective wives, nor to each other. It is not primarily a sad story because of the persecution; it is a sad story because love failed to give. Ennis would not die for Jack, and vice versa. No matter how good the sex was, without love, the story is heartbreaking; neither had the courage to give everything.

 

Do we?

 

Doubtless someone will say, “But if there wasn’t any persecution, they could have loved each other!”

 

Whoever thinks that the point of Romeo and Juliet was a denunciation of social boundaries misses the story completely.

 

True love crosses any threshold, any boundary, even at the risk of death.

 

If it will not risk death, it is not love.

 

Love, however, can also mean saying no.

 

Take Anna and Jacob who flitter between commitment and noncommitment. If circumstance or lack of capacity prevented them from the ultimate gift that their relationship seemed to be leading to, prevented them from making the great and final “I do,” then breaking it off would have been the most loving action possible.

 

To hold the beloved in the land of “maybe” is torture and selfish.

 

We cannot say no to commitment, total self gift, and yes to the beloved at the same time.

 

It is a contradiction which would inevitably destroy the beloved.

 

We see this very destruction in Brokeback Mountain. Families crumble, children are left without a stable environment in which to thrive, to grow up as beloved. It is heart wrenching and brutal, and the longer the “maybe” exists, the more intense the destruction becomes.

 

I am not, of course, speaking against a normal period of courtship in which two souls discern together whether or not they’ve found the one. For that discerning is two people journeying together towards a goal, and knowing that the wild and ultimate freedom of the other is operative. It is a productive time of “maybe” that finishes at the appropriate time with a “Yes” or a “No”, and no nonsense.

 

Just as with any great challenge that is worth doing, “half-hearted” just does not cut it. Why should love be any different?

Perennial Philosophy: Are All Religions Guiding us to the Same Destination?

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Some ideas sound great but don’t work in reality.
 

Wouldn’t it be great if all religions pointed towards the same truth?
 

Is it possible, taking all religions in existence today as they are now, that this statement could be taken as true?
 

I find the idea hard to reconcile, if not impossible.
 

One man likened all the different religions in the world to a group of blind men all feeling a different part of the same elephant and describing these parts accurately, therefore far differently, despite the fact that they all had the same underlying source.
 

It sounds a bit like the great unifying theory which Einstein sought after: to put these seemingly incongruous parts into a neat and unified whole.
 

The fundamental flaw of the elephant argument is this: the existence of an elephant ear does not negate the existence of the tail.
 

Likewise the existence of the tail does not negate the existence of the trunk, and so on. Each blind man could describe his part of the elephant without denying the existence of the others.
 

Religions claims are not like this.
 

Their ideologies are, in the fullest sense of the word, contradictory.
 

One claims there is only one God and that no others exist, while some religions claim the existence of multiple gods.
 

Many religions claim that to follow anything different is to cause one’s damnation, and others state that we need not worry about death for every time we will come back for a second, third, and fourth chance, ad infinitum.
 

The bottom line is: these ideas of truth cannot co-exist, they cannot all be right.
 

Now I can say with certainty that there is a common human hunger that fuels the vast majority of all religious searching. This hunger, I believe, is the underlying truly universal principle in this equation. I must recognize that all religions are invariably products of the same source, though their contents are not equal.
 

If we acknowledge that all religions are pointing to the same truth, even though they contradict one another, then we must assume that some contain errors. If we acknowledge the existence of errors then we must also acknowledge the existence of the truth they contradict.
 

So the greatest question of all is not how can we reconcile our differences and accept every religion equally, rather how can we discern which religion contains the truth?
 

Only by answering this question will true fruit be drawn from such a perplexing tree.
 

Can the answer be known with certainty?
 

Yes.
 

How do I know when someone loves me?
 

It is the moment when I realise that they know me almost as well as I know myself.
 

Perhaps they indicate this with the perfect gift, or with a healing gesture that gives aid where I didn’t realise I needed it. Somehow, somewhere they communicate their love.
 

It is by this qualification (in combination with others) that I assert that God is not only knowable, but we can discern even His personality. One quality of which is His love.
 

I will go even a step further and state that the Catholic Church, the body of Christ, contains the Truth which our hearts hunger for and that this spiritual body is the fullest expression of God’s life within us.
 

Truth is a Person who awakens, enlivens, and beautifies every mind and heart that will accept Him.
 

My only supporting argument for my claim is the fire which burns in my heart, the vibrant life which pours out from my adherence to the Church’s principles, sacraments, and community.
 

All Christians come to the realisation sooner or later that their word is not good enough. I will take it as no surprise if any of my readers refuse to take my claims to heart based upon my words alone.
 

However, compelling me from within is the obligation of Truth.
 

Each human being is individually responsible to hunt out honestly what is, and what is not.
 

Even this pursuit, as with every worthwhile adventure, requires a leap of faith.
 

Someone reading this article who did not believe me but wanted to know more would have to trust me on at least one point: there is something in the universe worth knowing that they do not yet know.
 

I could repeat a thousand times that to be in communion with Jesus Christ is more valuable, more satisfying, more joyful than every pleasurable experience I have had combined.
 

However, my claim is easy to dismiss.
 

I would ask any doubtful person just this one question: If you had found something that truly achieved everything I have just claimed, wouldn’t you too be eager to share the news of this beautiful gift?
 

Wouldn’t it be supremely selfish to keep this knowledge hidden?
 

To conclude, I must reassert that all religions are not just different hands pointing to the same door. They are not different paths leading up the same mountain.
 

They are a multifaceted intersection departing and heading in different directions. Some lead to ruin, and others to life.
 

Truth can be known and there is no greater joy to not only know Truth, but to live it out as well.

Suffering (Part 1 of 3): The Man on the Bench

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Our response to suffering speaks volumes about our interior state.
 

It reveals how we see others, ourselves; the needs of others, compared to our own desires.
 

Here I wish to reference a difficult experience I had after a shift at work which lasted into the night.
 

Tired, I walked over to a bus shelter and noticed a man sitting in an awkward position on a bench across the street. After watching for a little while it was easy to see that he was unconscious.
 

What happened next shook me deeply: it both showed how callous we can be towards our brothers and sisters, but also revealed my own coldness towards their suffering.
 

First, I noticed how a group of people standing nearby totally ignored his presence.
 

Second, a couple walked up and sat beside him; the woman proceeded to rifle through his pockets and remove their contents.
 

Afterward, they left.
 

Third. When I asked if the group nearby knew him, two women came over. One said, “Hey that looks like Rick, is that Rick?” By this point the man had fallen from the bench onto the ground. She kicked him over so his face was upwards; it wasn’t Rick.
 

They left laughing.
 

Fourth. A woman stopped by when she saw me stooped by his side and asked, “Is he ok?” I replied I didn’t know, I didn’t think so.” So she said, “I think he’s just resting!” with a hint of positivity. I just shook my head, disgruntled, “I think it’s worse than that.”
 

Fifth. A man with a bicycle stopped now and asked if he could help. He proceeded to hit the man with his bike tire repeatedly in attempts to awake him. He then force fed him some liquids and placed the limp man in a terrible position on the bench. When he heard police sirens nearby, he suddenly fled.
 

Sixth, seemingly the only beautiful witness was a teenager who stopped by and asked with a look of concern if everything was Ok. When I told him I’d already called an ambulance he smiled apologetically and left.
 

Seventh. The woman who robbed the unconscious man returned. She sat around asking me for a smoke, or if I had a light while I was trying to talk with the paramedics on the phone.
 

The ambulance arrived in good time and they told my help was no longer needed, so I left.
 

Upon reflecting on this incident later I realised that each person who stopped by represented a different internal state, most of which I have held myself at one time or another in my life.
 

The first people who just ignored him represented those with hearts which have never been lit aflame with sacrificial love. They saw no personal gain, and only annoyance in going to help the man. He was simply not worth their time.
 

Admittedly, this was my first reaction.
 

Love which cannot sacrifice, is not love at all.
 

The woman who robbed him represents all the times that we take advantage of those we love when they are vulnerable.
 

Whether we use subtle social pressure to get our own way, or by taking from the other intimacy that was never given. We have all, at one time or another, used the predicament of another person for our own selfish gain.
 

The fourth woman who stopped to offer the suggestion that, “Maybe he’s just sleeping!” represents our tendency to gloss over real suffering with happy-go-lucky slogans and meaningless cheer.
 

Every time we shrug off the very real suffering of another with pseudo-positivity, we offer them a cold shoulder as relief from their pain.
 

Pop psychologists love this kind of advice. They tell us that to improve our lives and eradicate our struggles we need only think happy thoughts or eat more green things!
 

The kind of love that lifts the burden of the other involves lifting a heavy, cumbersome, and precious cross.
 

It involves most importantly, entering into the pain of the other.
 

The man on the bicycle represents a curious middle ground. He was totally willing to help, but having no expertise about how exactly to help, did what was eventually totally unhelpful. His intention was there, but his lack of expertise and knowledge only served to worsen the situation. It is safe to say that spending time discerning whether our interventions are really helping a given situation would be fruitful time to spend indeed!
 

Knowing when we have the capacity to make a difference, and when our inexperience will lead the situation into an even greater problem than the first, is true wisdom.
 

I left that night on my bus, significantly later and more tired then I had expected, and thought about what had just happened. I was one step away from simply ignoring the situation and leaving without a second thought. When I witnessed my own reluctance to help the helpless, it shocked me most of all.
 

It motivated a serious reflection:
 

Where is my compassion?: I who claim to be a Catholic, devoted to Love itself.
Why was I so eager to leave this man to his lot in life? To be the unconcerned passerby in the story of the Good Samaritan?
 

As a Catholic I also identify with the fact that the risen Christ is present in every human being: to abandon any man or woman is to abandon Christ himself.
 

If I claim to care about humanity, while ignoring the very real suffering of those I know, see, and encounter, I am a liar, a hypocrite.
 

There should be no suffering in this world so foreign to me that I will be unwilling to at least acknowledge the struggle and the pain, to offer my presence and self-less gift.
 

May God kindle and fan the flames within our hearts to burn with compassion for all our brothers and sisters.

Individualism: The End of Meaningful Spirituality

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I would like to take some time to explore the idea of a “personal spirituality.”
 

In order to achieve this end I feel it necessary to first cover the principals of the spiritual world at large. I believe this discussion is worthwhile because I believe it impossible for someone with a “personal” spirituality to have a meaningful spirituality.
 

The nature of the spiritual world can be mysterious.
 

We often forget, however, that many of the properties of the physical world still apply to the spiritual. As science is keen to inform us, just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean that it is not constant! Oxygen and the other gaseous particles that make up our atmosphere are the invisible, but testable materials that sustain every moment of our living.
 

The spiritual is neither irrelevant nor of secondary importance as it might seem. It is true that I cannot be hit by a spiritual bus or clobbered by a spiritual gang, and so the immediacy of the spiritual can be lost, but none the less it is very real, and very important.
 

Some theologians and philosophers have discussed in great detail the idea that the spiritual gives rise to all matter: in effect, everything contained in the universe. They explain that the spiritual gives birth, it is procreative, and not the other way around. In this sense, air is only responsible for sustaining the life we have, but without the spiritual we would not even exist!
 

The debate over proving the spiritual life with science is a foolish errand because it will never bear fruit. It can only be said that those who believe in the spiritual often have an incredible amount of certainty, despite having little to no shareable evidence outside of personal stories and experiences.
 

Where could such overwhelming certainty come from if not from personal experience?
 

If we are to come to terms with the existence of the spiritual then we must consider the nature of it, as a scientist considers the nature of the universe.
 

One of man’s most visceral connections with the spiritual is his morality, or sense of right and wrong.
 

I have chosen this point specifically because even the person who rejects both God and the spiritual world knows the longing of the conscience for justice, for example.
 

Because of the spiritual, we have supernatural good and evil: the cosmic struggle between these two forces is a stark reality.
 

The second very important aspect of morality is that it refers to our relationships: between ourselves, and most importantly with God.
 

Here in lies the efficacy and beauty of spirituality: it always involves sharing, community, and connectedness. Never is spirituality simply a personal experience (in the finite sense), but always one of mutual experience, a deepening of relationship.
 

We must choose the side to which we belong: good or evil. To ignore the clash altogether is, arguably, to choose the side of evil. With that said, I believe it is safe to say that the majority of people defend goodness whether consciously or not.
 

It is now that we enter the realm of Spiritual Warfare.
 

These are the raging battles of the soul, the perilous journey of a person’s will, their ability to choose.
 

There is a burgeoning spiritual movement of people who say things like, “I don’t follow any religion or teaching, I just have a personal spirituality.” In essence, this is the equivalent of a single person going out as a “personal army” against the entire military strength of Russia in the height of the cold war. Any given soldier is a sitting duck without the structure and discipline of an army. As individuals we are useless against an organized enemy.
 

Wise military leaders sow seeds of disunity amongst their opponents army; they attempt to set them against one another. An army that is divided is an ineffective army. In exactly the same way, a hundred thousand Spiritual Individualists will do less good in the world than a hundred united souls.
 

There simply is no such thing as a meaningful “personal spirituality” precisely because it is just one person on their own. They remove the most essential element of spirituality: relationship.
 

If we seek to create spirituality in our own image we will inevitably discover a distorted image of ourselves through this search. It is to go in a giant and endless loop always leaving and ending at the same place.
 

To find the spirituality which brings peace, beauty, joy, we must work together. We must discuss, talk, argue, embrace, and love.
 
Religious dogma is not oppressive so long as it is founded in truth. In fact, it is the exact opposite. In the same way that a manual for a band-saw both protects the user and ensures the best possible result from the work, so religious doctrine seeks to ensure the safety of the believer as well as guide them into the highest possible union, the highest possible joy.
 

People today want to simply choose the parts of the manual that seem the best to follow, and to omit the parts that are uncomfortable or unworthy in their eyes. They say, to heck with safety goggles, those are uncomfortable and sweaty. Not realising that having a wood splinter in your eye is far worse than any discomfort caused by the safety gear.
 

And so it is with our individualist spiritualists.
 

They pick and choose what sounds good, or feels comfortable, instead of seeking the truth of why these rules or doctrines exist. In the end, they undermine themselves, and the community as a whole.
 

Now, it can be argued, quite rightly, that in the realm of the spiritual there are several manuals for the same machine and that these manuals are conflicting.
 

All the more reason to read them and to discern what they say!
 

This discernment must never come from a place of taste or preference though, but from an in depth search into whether or not they contain truth.
 

We do have an ace up our sleeves, however.
 

God is here to help, to listen, and to answer.
 

Don’t believe?
 

In that case, what harm could it possibly do to speak internally to no one?
 

If there is anything I can say with certainty, it is that if you ask, and you listen to the response, He will answer.
 

Often times His answer comes in an unexpected way, but it always comes.

Belief (Part 3 of 3): The Simplicity of The Ancients

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It has been said that God makes sages out of fools, that the intelligence of the intelligentsia will become their own stupidity; the simplicity of the fool will become his path to true wisdom.

 

While pondering these words I couldn’t help but compare ourselves, living in the age of over-abundant skepticism, to our more straightforward precursors.

 

Think of the times of the Romans and the barbaric clans who surrounded the refined Roman borders. Or of the ancient Jews who were a seemingly insignificant people in the ancient historical records. Or of the ancient pagan civilizations of the Middle East, Indian, Mesopotamia, Egypt etc.

 

Perhaps you have no experience of these cultures? Allow me to entertain you with a few ideas of these times.

 

The people in Old Testament biblical times were pretty straight forward about their gods. You worship the god you need to worship in order to avoid being fried from the earth. Simple. If some passer-by could introduce to you another god who visibly and tangibly displayed his power, then by all means you were forced to believe in this new god.

 

There was a certain poetic practicality to their believing: believe and worship the right god, get all the good stuff, avoid destruction.

 

Though not perfect, I can admire this mentality. Where they have one up on us, is that they actually looked for signs of the power of another god, they even had recorded competitions between their gods.

 

These people, through not experiencing the delusion that they had mastered the world via modern science, still understood their powerlessness. They still understood themselves within the most awesome perspective of mystery and wonder.

 

This reality has not died, but man in his limited scientific success has deemed himself deity of the world. It may come as a surprise that curing illness does not grant man supernatural power, like creating something from nothing.

 

Likewise, none of our technologies, bound by the laws of the universe, are capable of anything beyond the predictable reality of the universe.

 

We cannot even create one speck, one atom, one iota of the most fundamental part of every person’s, every animal’s, and ever living thing’s existence: life.

 

Admittedly we may borrow the faculties which have been given us to create life via the known methods of procreation, but even then we only take the seed and the egg which have already been given us. No man or woman has ever truly, from nothing, produced life.

 

I digress: Do you know why science is often very exhausting? Because some prune has the audacity to claim that he has mastered some field of the universe! When he truly is nothing more than a careful observer.

 

Yes, I know that many a scientist exclaim regularly about the great realities and mysteries of things like quantum physics and black holes and relativity. Yes they say these things, but something like atheism would never exist if they didn’t believe in their hearts at a deep fundamental level that everything left unknown is just more stuff to be discovered; like finding more species at the bottom of the ocean. Even when considering the awesome possibilities of worm holes or parallel universes, you can’t help but get the impression they are just describing an ultra-complicated jigsaw puzzle that has a simple, materialistic explanation after all.

 

Fairy tales are not interesting because they present impossible realities for the fancies of children. If that were true no adult would love a good sci-fi or fantasy novel. We love fairy tales because they resound with the mystery which resides daily in our hearts.

 

No scientist, philosopher, or everyday thinker should ever claim to understand the universe, or to be at the verge of understanding it, or something so inane as that science is about to break the boundaries and understand all things.

 

Nothing could be less scientific.

 

One man once said to me that ‘science was on the verge of proving that God does not exist’.

 

I could say in reply, “It is fairly definitive that your curiosity does not exist.”

 

It should be remembered that without curiosity, a hunger into knowing the unknown, a field like science would never exist.

 

In knowing our boundaries we discover mystery, and in knowing mystery we begin to open our eyes to the places and parts of the universe which cannot be found in telescopes, microscopes, or in the tired fancies of egoists.

 

Everyone who’s ever read a good fairy tale knows that the things that cannot be seen contain the greatest powers and are integral parts of every great adventure. What would happen if we all had a little more simplicity like our ancient brethren and awoke our eyes to see beyond the veil of being “masters of our universe”?

Belief (Part 1 of 3): Something More

Someone once said to me, “There has to be more out of life…”

 

What is this more?

 

I have walked to the brink of despair, and said these very words: “there has to be more out of life…”

 

Is it more video games? More ice cream? More sex? More late nights watching movies? More work? More entertainment? More time spent with friends?

 

What is this more!?

 

This question burns in the hearts of so many searching souls.

 

For some this question turns into a lifelong pursuit, for others it means only a temporary interlude until they return to the same rat race as before which lead to the despair in the first place.

 

One thing is clear: there is a more!

 

It’s not more stuff, more notoriety, more friends, or more money. It’s not more recognition, more power, more wealth, or more sexual freedom.

 

This more is something beyond the senses, beyond the happenstance of our lives.

 

Lately there is a rising notion that the more we search for is in the literal sense of the word: extra, surplus, addition, enlarged.

 

The height of this illusion is expressed most fully by a billboard I saw advertising for a beauty clinic, “A woman should only ever be two things, who and what she wants.”

 

Unless technology has surpassed my awareness, since when did we get the ability to change who we are like a character in a video game? It is simply not possible. Further, coming from a place which alters surface appearances to make a woman more “beautiful”, that’s a desperately shallow statement. They might as well say, “Change your exterior, that’s all you really are anyways!”

 

Here is the more they are ignoring: A woman’s beauty is intrinsically tied with her actions, her thoughts, her love, her compassion, her womanhood, her motherhood, her strength, her choices, her beliefs, and her resolution. It is a shameful lie to suggest that exterior appearance changes who a woman is, or a man for that matter.

 

Yet this is the more that we are being offered everyday. “Be who you want to be!” “Choose and customize everything you like!” “Choose your expression, your identity, and your existence!”

 

Except all these customizations are just surface level clutter. Your cell phone cover does not identify you anymore than having knockoff corn flakes in your pantry does. Having a maple tree in your yard does not increase your worth as a human being anymore than having a Ferrari.

 

The more we are being offered involves zero personal change and expects everyone around us to bend to our will. “If they don’t love you at your worst, then they don’t deserve you at your best.” This is the motto of the stubborn, the loveless, the selfish.

 

There is a more but it requires change, and not superficial change. We must be honest, great good only ever comes from real change! You can’t change the cell phone covers of every rotten politician and expect the world to be a better place. Likewise, giving an extreme makeover to every hate filled extremist will do nothing for the good of human beings.

 

Minds and hearts need to be formed by something that is greater!

 

This formation takes the external appearance of conformity, which is treated like death by North Americans. Conformity happens in thousands of different ways. For example, feminists expect people to conform to the idea of equal wages for both sexes. This is a good thing, a form of conformity which is directed towards the good. Thus, not all conformity is bad.

 

Conforming because I’m too lazy or apathetic to search for answers myself is definitely a bad thing, but lets stick with the good for now.

 

The greatest possible thing that could ever happen in the universe today is that every human person should allow themselves to be formed by universal and perfect love. Goes without saying. It is easy to agree about this.

 

Problem is, this formation requires self sacrifice! This conformity requires us to acknowledge that some forms of what we call “individual freedom” are actually acts of hatred towards others, towards life itself.

 

This is a great problem indeed, because now its no longer the world of me.

 

What a blessing is the fact that the world is not centered on me, or you, or any one of us.

 

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The expression of self gift is exceptionally more satisfying than any number of hours spent playing video games. The
expression of my love is a million times more fulfilling, even if its painful, than a lifetime of relaxation and indulgence. Yet if the world is centered on me, then playing video games and relaxing is the only priority I will have.

 

It is time to start living for others.

 

There is more; there is more that we can give and receive. Until this becomes a reality the burning questions surrounding the statement “there must be more in life…” will plague us until the sun ceases to burn.

On Foreign Invaders and Golden Eras

Lest my conscience should prevent my sleep, I should be forthcoming: the idea for this article has found its root in the thoughtful consideration of history by Barack Obama in his book Dreams from My Father.

 

In searching for meaning within black history–not only in America, but in Africa as well–Obama highlights a real gem of wisdom (one of many I should point out). Within a conversation Obama relays the thoughts of Dr. Rukia Odero: Through European colonialism the true history of many African Americans has become obscured. Ideas, traditions, and beliefs became idolized wholesale as the pure times before the white man.

 

The history of black people both on the continent of Africa, and in many other countries is often a pain filled one. Like the Jews, it seems that they suffered more than their share of atrocity and maltreatment. Though the situations are regretful, it is possible to learn from them. I believe these experiences can shed light upon human nature in every culture. The African American history as discussed by Odero highlights the human tendency in times of strife to cling to the ‘good ol’ days’, whether or not they were in fact good.

 

Which one of us is not prone to reminiscing about the ‘old days’?

 

I know that once I left the rich extremes of highschool, I nearly made a profession out of reminiscing. Conjuring up the memories of times spent with friends, relishing the excitement of making new friends, or trying new things.

 

Looking back to the past from the future is a dubious enterprise at the best of times. When reminiscing, we tend to only see the good things in our memories, the things we want to remember. Conspicuously left out of my own foggy highschool memories is the uncertainty I felt, the panic and nervousness of learning to be a man while not having the faintest idea of what that meant. I fail to recall the broken friendships, the pain, the misunderstandings, the anger I felt in those days, and the many mistakes I made. With that said, in relation to the challenges and suffering of the present these rose coloured dreams are often a delightful temptation.

 

If we return for a moment to my earlier example, it is easy to see why this is the case. With the forceful invasion of European culture, a war on African society was waged: real and brutal. In the face of the horror and suffering of slavery, inequality, and disdain from the white man, the blacks had little other option but to cling to what they knew. That is not a bad thing, but it can be if that which is clung to also contains error or hidden pain. Obama quotes Dr. Odero from the black perspective:

 

Without the white man, we might make better use of our history. We might look at some of our former practices and decide they are worth preserving. Others, we might grow out of. Unfortunately, the white man has made us very defensive. We end up clinging to all sorts of things that have outlived their usefulness.”

 

It is not much different for our own reminiscing.

 

Ironically, many prefer reminiscing because of the effect it has on our present emotions and feelings. The peace we perceive as existing in the past is somehow bleakly transported to the future. Other times such reminiscing motivates us to make changes to the present, like when an addict realises how his life really has crumbled around him. In yet another context we could see reminiscing as an excuse to procrastinate about fixing the present.

 

Memory in and of itself serves a vital role of educating the person, reminding us of what to avoid and what to pursue. It is useful to remember what a bully looks like or which dogs nips on the heels of passers-by. It is not useful, however, to reside completely within the otherwise non-existent past.

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In the movie Inception a incredible idea is fleshed out. Through technology the characters of the movie harness a kind of deliberate lucid dreaming. In doing so, some people become so consumed with the dream world that they prefer it over reality. Likewise, someone who spends too much time living in the past may wish to live there instead. This forgetting of the present is often born of a hatred of the circumstances we may find ourselves, whether it be abuse, hard times financially, or social tumult to name a few. The tragedy is that to prefer a faded and drifting memory over the occurring present, is the same as choosing a picture of a meal instead of eating the food. The trouble is, it is easy to write this idea in a blog, but it does not answer the problem of suffering.

 

I have trouble writing about the usefulness of being present to our lives, especially when their is pain, without delving into theology.

 

From a secularist point of view it may be argued that “what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger”. Such sentiment is rarely appetizing when you are the one suffering. Suffering is painful and ugly. Enduring suffering for the sake of another, however, can be one the most beautiful human actions, precisely because suffering is uncomfortable and detestable. If I told my wife I’d eat this next bowl of ice cream for her, she’d understandably be rather unmoved by my gift. On the other hand, what if I offered her the last seat on a rescue vessel?

 

The consequence of avoiding pain is overarching numbness. While hiding from the emotions of pain, we also turn off joy, love, and so much more. You can see it in the eyes of someone who has experienced rejection too frequently, a kind of distance, hesitancy. Conversely, the opposite extreme is to become identified by our pain, to believe that it defines us. This only leads to hatred, anger, and confusion.

 

To be aware of why we experience emotional pain, where it comes from, how our past effects it within the present, is to understand pieces of wisdom that lead to maturity. Though the past is often used as a refuge from the legitimate injustices of the present, growth cannot be found there, only stagnancy. Like a tree in perpetual shade, the leaves slowly wither and die. However, to embrace the sunlight of the present, though it may be uncomfortable or draw to light things we’d rather not see, only within these sun rays can life find strength to outstretch its limbs.

 

Why the present is powerful is both obvious and obscured. The obvious fact being that no conscious action can occur in any other time; the obscured, it is within the present that our trials and experiences are brought to fruition. It is within the present that we come to understand ourselves, to find healing for wounds previously unseen. Most importantly of all, it is only within the present that love, the true source of human life, may either be expressed or received.