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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Two Hero stories. One fictional and the other real. Both favorites of mine.

First, fiction: I have a favorite movie... and no, it is not Sleepless in Seattle, Frozen, Mary Poppins or anything silly like that... though Mary Poppins does star Dick Van Dyke. (Thank God it's not Dick Van Patten... I hate the Van Pattens for no good reason... honest.)

I really loved Hero with Dustin Hoffman, Gena Davis and Andy Garcia. Hero is a 1992 movie that Roger Ebert (God rest his soul) thought was great EXCEPT for some superfluous dialog. Three and a half stars. C'mon Roger, you could have done better than that.

Says Ebert: Hoffman plays Bernie LaPlante, lifelong loser. He's a small-time Chicago thief whose wife has thrown him out, whose son doesn't admire him, and whose future is a prison term for receiving stolen goods. Then one night an airliner crashes right in front of him on a deserted road, and although he's no hero, Bernie is responsible for pushing the plane's emergency door open, and personally rescuing several passengers - including a TV newswoman played by Geena Davis.

If it hadn't been for this little guy, everybody might have died. But they live, while he disappears back into the rainy night.

The closing scene wraps the whole thing up in true It's a Wonderful Life style.

Now the real: Here's the point though... anyone can be a hero given the right time and place. Most heroic actions are situational and reflexive. And more amazingly, most who are dubbed "heros" by the media claim they did nothing more than anyone else would've done in similar circumstances or that they were only doing their job. But the reality is that lives are saved and/or tragedy averted.

I believe that one can be a hero and no body would be aware of it.

A week or so ago, My daughter and her husband walked onto a Florida beach with their children.
First thing they noticed as they surveyed the Atlantic was that two young boys in the water were struggling to get to shore against a rip tide. One of the youngsters was attempting to help the other  and they were both in trouble. Neither the parents down the beach nor anyone else were aware of the sudden problem.

The boys, realizing their situation, asked for help. Both daughter and husband dived into the ocean and pulled them out, as well as their young son who had just waded in. No gathering crowds, no cheering or news media coverage... life just kept going on... thank God, except that if they weren't there then, it might not have ended well. Who knows.

This hero stuff is within us all. Maybe we have already been a hero to someone we didn't even realize needed our help. A word, a deed, whatever. Be a hero to yourself... the kind of person you'd like to see looking into a mirror. 

As John Bubber (Andy Garcia) said in the movie: We're all heroes if you catch us at the right moment.

Caution alert: This movie was released in the UK and Ireland titled Accidental Hero. There is also a 2002 release of a Chinese movie Hero... same name, very different. In China, it was called Ying xiong and is the highest-grossing motion picture in Chinese film history. Here's the trailer for my Hero flick.

 PS: As I write this post, I'm listening to Bette Midler sing Wind beneath my wings. You know, the song with this verse: 

Did you ever know that you're my hero,
and everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

Coincidence or... ?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A pretty good story I wrote.

A Cross to Bear

“Hey buddy! Watch it with the sign.”
Bill shook his head in disbelief as he walked to his mid-Manhattan office. Should be a law about that. These guys just clutter up the sidewalk. Nutsos! All of ‘em.
            The guy with the sign paid no attention to Bill. He saw hundreds of people like him every day. Sure, the sign could have been smaller but when your message is big, you gotta have a big sign.
John saw his only mission in life as spreading God’s word and making sure everyone was ready when they met their maker… not that everyone paid any attention to him… or that anyone did. This is what God wanted from him… told him personally… and true to God’s Word, John was ‘on the job’ every day. He was a ‘regular,’ one of those street people that become vaguely familiar to the multitude that travel the same path most days.
You couldn’t say John’s clothes were rags, but then you wouldn’t say they weren’t. Looked like they were from Goodwill’s SALE rack… many years ago. It was his falling-apart sandals missing a strap, the untended beard that met his dirty hair half-way and the glassy-eyed look that said, ‘I do this for a living.’  Oh... and the sign, of course. But it was his rather distinctive ‘air’ that first warned the blind beggar down the block that John was on the job.
Some days, John carried an old wooden cross. Thing towered about two-feet above his head and weighed almost half as much as John himself. Those were the days he wore his dirty gray robe with the rope belt. Quite effective. Those were the days that Bill and everyone else gave John wide berth.
“Saw that crazy ‘jesus guy’ again,” Bill told his wife that evening. “He was carrying the big cross today. He smells like he doesn’t know the meaning of the word soap. Wonder what his story is.”
Two days later, Bill saw him again, just as ‘the jesus guy’ fell while crossing the street.
“Hey! You ok?”
As he put his arm under the self appointed ‘savior of the world’ to help him up, Bill shook his head. He couldn’t believe he instinctively ran to the guy’s aid. And if that wasn’t enough, he had to stop traffic to pick up the huge cross before it caused an accident.
“Thank you, my brother. Thank you. God sent you to me today and I am grateful.”
“Now wait a minute, old man…”
“Name is John.”
“Hate to tell you this, John, but you couldn’t be more wrong. There is no God. He only exists in your mind…. like Santa Claus.”
“How can you say that, man? God is the sun. The moon. The air. God is life in all its forms.” John, arms waving and sputtering as he talked, was just getting warmed up. As the crowd gathered, John knew this was the day… and the reason he was put on earth.
“Tell me, man,” he said so all could hear. Poking a finger into Bill’s chest for emphasis, he asked  “Tell me who made you? Tell me which came first, the chicken or the egg? And where did either one of them come from?”
Bill couldn’t believe it. This bum had come alive. He was no wino with a hand out but a man on a mission with eyes ablaze. Bill took two steps backward for every one of John’s giant strides into his chest.
“How can you defend Santa Claus for your kids’ faith and joy and not give God the same courtesy? How can you smile at Christmas and get angry when I talk about God?”
John, sputtering on, was red in the face with fervor.  “What are you afraid of, man? Listen to your heart as your children listened to you. Is there a Santa Claus? Damn right! Not believe in God? Damned wrong. Don’t tell yourself nothin’ you don’t, deep down, believe just because you are afraid.”
  Bill blinked and stared into John’s eyes. They weren’t crazy. They were begging for understanding…asking… pleading to be heard.
“Come on, man. I can see you get it. Admit it to yourself. Go with it. Take His hand and…and…and…”
John closed his eyes, staggered two steps backward and slumped to the ground. His work was done. The gathered audience seemed quietly stunned, unsure of what to do next.
A siren’s shrill note jarred the crowd. “BREAK IT UP! Nothing to see here,” blared the voice from the bullhorn of the officer in a black and white. And like that, the crowd backed away, watching as Bill knelt to John.
“He’s gone, officer. I can’t believe it. He’s gone.”
Bill didn’t sleep that night. He and his wife must have talked for hours before she fell asleep on the couch. Near morning, Bill stumbled into the shower, determined to see that John was taken care of…vowing to make sure he had a decent Christian burial.
“I saw that man a thousand times as a nut case…a homeless crazy,” he muttered to his wife, shaking his head as he headed out the front door.  “Then, in just five minutes, I knew a man that I should have known from the very beginning. I …. I… ,”  his voice trailed off.
“What is it Bill?” his wife hollered at his silence as she ran to the door.
Bill was staring back toward the house in disbelief.
“How…? Why…? I don’t understand.”

Leaning there was a wooden cross…bigger, by far, than John’s.

Blessed Easter all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter in Seattle... and a story

Wouldn't you know, the Easter Bunny lives in Seattle. And why not? It is one of my favorite cities for lots of reasons. I especially enjoy all the public art. It is everywhere in large and small ways. In Seattle, if you incorporation art into your building, you can get a 10 percent discount on your county taxes. That's putting your money where your heART is. (I know, very clever.)

Easter, like Christmas, is one of those secular holidays that gets big retail play. Christmas is the number one retail selling event of the year for merchants with Easter and Passover adding nicely.

But, as great as the Easter Bunny is and as awesomely promising Santa and his reindeer and elves are, there is a deeper religious meaning for many that transcends the $ signs. So, on Good Friday, I've got a story for you that fits the other part of Easter just fine.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Want to make a fast $28 mil?

In 2004, a very pious lady sold this piece of toast on eBay for $28 million. (Yes, really.) And get this: It wasn't just out of the toaster toast, it was ten years cold! So what's the catch?

Now I like toast just as much as the next person, but even if my toast had a miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary burned into its surface like this miracle slice (didn't see it, heathen?), I can't imagine it would be worth those dollars to me. And I am one who has experienced breakfast at the Waldorf where a fresh piece of toast cost ten bucks (with orange juice, it comes to $19.95, not counting tip), so I should know toast.

How do we know this is THE Virgin Mary? Well, when the original owner was about to take a bite out of her sandwich, she notice "the Lady" staring back at her and hollered for her husband to "COME QUICK!" "I scared me at first," she said. Then, shortly thereafter, she won $70,000 at a nearby casino.

potato chip Jesus
If that is not proof enough, after ten years, "it doesn't fall apart or crumble or anything." Nor has it become moldy! And the best proof of all--someone paid $28 million for it. So there.

But that's not today's story. Today's story is about how things like this happen...the psychological phenomenon of seeing something significant in ambiguous stimuli. That is called pareidolia say those who study such things. (Yeah, somebody's got to study everything.)

Another interesting study might be on what causes a person to pay $28 million for a ten-year-old piece of toast.

A pizza for Christ's sake
But about the "seeing things" phenomena, scientifically conducted tests (with results written about in the Journal of Cognition and other like magazines without cartoons) seem to indicate there may be an awareness of perceptually ambiguous stimuli enhanced by the presence of moral content.

Over a series of tests too dull to describe, moral content seemed to enhance recognition of anything at a greater perception than non-moral content. That phenomenon is called the "moral pop-out effect." It is described in a general sense like grocery shopping when you are hungry versus when you are not hungry. When you are hungry, the sight and aura of food calls your name. When you are full, forget it Charlie.
Cheeto Jesus (really?)

Interestingly, test subjects recalled more of stories with morally acceptable content than those without. An example used was a fabricated newspaper clipping of a perpetrator of a vicious crime who was still on the loose. That version scored considerably less in remembered detail than the exact same fake story where the perpetrator was apprehended.

There is much more, of course, but being a non-scientist, if you get the gist, that's good enough for me.

Cubs win! Cubs win!
Oh my gosh, I just saw the Cubs winning the World Series in my breakfast pancake! Quick eBay bidder, give me $28 million. Ok, $2.8 billion. Alright, $28. Sure, but only because I like you, 28 cents. And yes, it comes with maple syrup.