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Sweetie and I watched the movie “Into the Wild” a little bit ago.  It got me thinking about a lot of things.  Then, someone commented on an old blog of mine, and it stirred up the thoughts even more.  I wrote this observation:

“I think some people want to be understood. In that case, they may need a good, non-judgmental ear. I have found, in my life, once I stopped focusing so hard on myself and feeling so isolated and incomprehensible, it was ok to let people understand who I really am.”

I felt I wanted to follow up my own thoughts on the movie and expound on these thoughts.  I’m trying to write without rambling for 26 pages.  Let’s see if I can do it.

Spoiler Alert:

If you want to see the movie and want no spoilers whatsoever, you should stop reading.  I don’t think I can write what I want to write without talking about important parts of the movie.  Consider this your spoiler alert.

Basically, this kid leaves home to wander the country for a couple of years with little to no money.  He lives off of odd jobs, the kindness of strangers, and (in the wilds of Alaska) off his own hunting and gathering skills.  This is what the IMDB summary says:

Based on a true story. After graduating from Emory University in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters who shape his life.

That sounded intriguing to me.  Of course, that is not the full story.  What you learn while watching the movie is – –  he was estranged from his family and never told them where he was during his travels. He lied to the people he met about his identity and his background.  And ultimately (end-of-movie spoiler here), he dies in the wilderness in Alaska.  Unknown and disputed is how exactly he died – did he eat a poisonous plant or just starve to death?  Also unknown were his motivations at the end – did he go to Alaska to die purposefully, or was he really ready to go back home/into civilization?  How bad was his upbringing?  Don’t know.

This is not a commentary on this kid’s life.  There has been a lot of comments made about his own motivations and behavior.  Was he selfish? Was he arrogant?  I don’t know.  I just watched a movie.  I didn’t know the kid.  What I am commenting on are very universal human behaviors that this movie made me think about. 

I started thinking about things like emotional pain, self-absorption, truth, alienation, and communication.  And I thought of a couple of universal behaviors:

People don’t see what they don’t want to see. 

And. 

Too often, people tragically become what they dislike.

This kid said he was looking for truth.  Truth was the highest ideal, the most important thing to him.  His parents had lied to him and that was bad.   But, apparently, truth is all relative.  He wanted truth because his father lied to him.  But what does he do?  He lies.  He lies about his name.  About his family.  About why he ran away from home.  He met people along the way who cared about him and felt somewhat responsible for him (by helping him out).  And he lied to them.  But he never seemed to realize that one particular truth about himself. Or maybe, he saw things in such degrees of gray that his lies were ok. 

His parents inflicted emotional harm on him.  The film never shows him being physically beaten, so let’s just stick with emotional harm.  Which, as most of us know can be as, or more damaging, than physical.  I had a friend who was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder as an adult due to the abuse she suffered from her mother as a child, and it wasn’t physical abuse.  The wounds of the psyche take a long time to heal.  You would think that the children of abusers would be the last people on earth who would abuse another.  But, sadly, human experience shows this is not true.  Some learn to equate abuse with love and, in some warped sense of logic, abuse their own children.  This kid inflicted all sorts of emotional pain on the people around him in the name of “truth.”  Was he being true to himself?  Yes.  But, did he even take the time to acknowledge other people’s pain?  No.  And that is what bugged me.  He didn’t have to stay in Slab City with Jan and Rainey.  He didn’t have to agree to be adopted by Franz  (especially since his parents were still quite alive).  But he didn’t even look hard enough to recognize the pain that his actions caused on these people.  To say “I’m sorry I have to do this for myself, but I do care for you.”  Maybe he did in real life.  But again, I think this behavior is universal.  I was thinking, after I watched, this is universal in young people who are so tuned into their own selves.

He didn’t listen well enough to recognize the pain that Jan was sharing with him about her own son.  I don’t think she was trying to use Chris as a surrogate for her own son.  But, as a young kid who was doing the same thing, would it have killed him to say one encouraging thing to her?  And would it have destroyed him if he had shared his own tale of pain and abuse with others?  Did he just like giving the impression that he was a Zen-like, totally together, relaxed dude to other people? I don’t think so.  I think he honestly felt like his pain was too great and too embarrassing to share.  Though I don’t understand how, in the year 1992, being an illegitimate offspring can be that devastating.  Hello?  Was it 1882?  No.  It was 1992.  Not a nice thing to find out, but not something that would destroy your future in this country.

And that leads to the other universal behavior this kid displayed:

Self-absorption is a black hole

Ultimately, self-absorption can lead to your own destruction, and that is one of the most selfish things a person can do (which is what self-absorption is all about…….I know…..duh).  Does every human have that right to destroy him/herself?  Notwithstanding the will of God, yes (But there is a reason that suicide is classified as a mortal sin. And if you think that isn’t a grave matter for Christians, consider the fact that I may not have survived my teenage years if the idea of that mortal sin didn’t scare the beejeebies out of me.  Which, yes,  goes a long way towards proving Umberto Eco’s point of the church exerting control over its parishioners, but that is a long discussion for another day).

I’m not saying people are not entitled to some self-pitying moments.  Of course that will happen.  I’m not even saying that most people don’t recognize this behavior in themselves.  Including me.  We see it.  We know it.  We are not stupid. 

So, what are some solutions to these problems??  I came up with four ideas (Just ideas.  As the saying goes in Dogma: “It’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier”): 

Experience.  Brain chemistry.  Discipline.  Communication. 

How am I qualified to share this with you? I’m not.  Too bad.  I’m writing anyway.  That’s what we writers do. 

#1. Experience:  I think, the more you experience life and learn about other people’s experiences, the more you can put your own troubles in perspective.  Unfortunately, the only way that can happen is if you live long enough to learn about other people, other places, other experiences.  Whether by choice or not, Chris didn’t have enough time to learn perspective.  And he wasn’t listening enough to the people around him who were trying to offer him some.  But I think most of us, if we look, will find there are people in our lives who can offer perspective.  My father was vital at this for me after I went away to college and learned to appreciate his long, often rambling lectures.

Because, #2.  I think brain chemistry plays a huge part.  Perhaps the biggest part.  My buddy years ago (oops – I moved that story to the end.  Sorry) went through a lot of shit, yes.  But it was shit that other people have been able to get through.  It was stuff he was already in counseling for and was trying to work through.  But, for all his self-discipline and attempts to help himself, I don’t think he could overcome some basic short-circuiting in his brain.  For that, he needed some medical help, and I don’t think it was a cop out for him to submit to it.  Sometimes, those misfires in our brain can overwhelm everything else.  Never underestimate that, or think that you know yourself well enough to know what all the neurons and chemicals in your body are telling each other.  I don’t see it as a weakness.  It is a simple physiological fact of life.

#s 3 and 4.  Discipline and communication. 

I think of the scene in “Moonlight and Valentino” when Sylvie yells at Rebecca”  “Your time of self-absorption is up!!”

Wow.  That was tough.  Did Rebecca have an incredibly tragic reason to be self-absorbed?  Yes.  Was Sylvie correct though?  Probably, yes.  This is not to say that people don’t have reasons to be tragic.  But what was the harsh truth that Sylvie was pointing out?

There comes a time when we need to stop being dominated by those little and big tragedies in our lives.  Not forget them all.  As I pointed out, Tears for Fears has one of the best lines ever in “I believe there are wounds time can’t heal”.  But, the way the movie showed it, this kid could not stop dwelling on the bad things in his family life.  Forget about the fact he said he loved his sister, but then left her alone with the parents he despised. 

I think there comes a point you have to learn how to make friends with your ghosts (I hate to point out another movie reference, but this reminds me of a powerful scene in Uncommon Valor).  It’s easier to deal with your own demons when you learn to recognize that your human existence is not unique in the world.  We have many wonderful things that make each of us special.  We don’t need our tragedies and foibles to define how others see us.  Because, as you also learn as you get older, most people have seen similar things, and it’s not really a big deal.  Not to them anyway.  Wow.  That was a tough one for me at first.  But after the shock, it was the best realization of my life.  I’ve said it before.  Initially, this is a harsh reality.  But once I finally got used to the idea, it offered a refreshing release from my own demons.  I’m not so damaged that anyone would be shocked to know about me!

Unfortunately, just like treatment for substance abuse, working to heal oneself doesn’t succeed until the person in pain recognizes the problems and……seeks help.  Vital point.  For me, it was as simple as learning some basic skills.  I was great for years at recognizing and self-analyzing my own problems.  Was I good at overcoming them?  No.  Not until I learned how to communicate with others.  Not until I learned to stop despising simple things like crying and talking honestly to other people.  Wow.  What a realization.  It was hard to come by.  It was hard to overcome them.  I had to – sometimes still have to – exert a lot of effort and discipline to overcome my old tendencies and to let myself cry (though my husband would be surprised to hear this).  To reach out to other people for help.  To offer up my own open ears and heart to other people.  You would think that would be easy.  Sometimes, it’s the hardest thing in the world.  But, if you are the kind of person who relies on others, as Rebecca relied on Sylvie’s friendship, you owe it to other people to sometimes be a giver instead of a taker. 

Using that logic (back to the movie), did Chris need to snap out of it since he made a decision for himself to be on his own and not rely on anyone else?  Of course he did.  He needed to snap out of it for the sake of his own life, which was promising and which he could have used for many things…..to promote wilderness issues, or to write a book to share the truths he worked so hard to learn.  The movie did make it seem like this is exactly what happened.  That he had an awakening moment.  He dried his tears and he set out to leave the wild.  He was stymied by a raging river and he didn’t know that he needed to walk just a little ways down the river to find a path out.  Then, it was too late. 

And maybe that is the point of the movie.  Figure it out before it is too late.  Or, figure it out in slightly less isolated surroundings. ??  With a telephone and food around.  I wish that kid had the opportunity to take what he learned in the wilderness and leave more than just a few scribblings in book margins and boards and old paper. 

Why do I get so worked up about it?  Maybe because of a bad experience I had years ago being smack dab in the middle of a good friend’s suicide attempt.  I can tell you that brought a lot of esoteric, philosophical, high-falutin’ concepts into stark harsh reality for me.  It was real.  It was scary.  It was something I was completely not qualified to deal with.  And it left me knowing that I never wanted to see someone fall that far over the edge again.  Maybe I get worked up because I have spent so much of my own time working my ass off to try and improve my own emotional outlook.  Or maybe because, cynical old cuss that I am, I just want people to be more happy.  I know I’ve probably set a record for rambling but, of course, writing things out helps me process my own thoughts.  And since I started sharing them a little, I thought I might as well finish the thought.  I can offer no other justification than that.  Thank you for indulging me.  And to paraphrase Saturn, you get a big cookie if you managed to read through this whole thing.

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I think that, sometimes, I become too attached to things. Things, such as ideas that I have. And things, such as physical objects. How do I know the second is true?

 

I have a house-full of “stuff” in Maui, half a room-full of “stuff” at my mom’s, and an entire rented storage container of “stuff” waiting for me (plus one couch that my future MIL (mom-in-law) is holding for me). Yeah….it’s hard for me to let go of stuff.

 

The Dalai Lama, on his own website, says the following about attachment:

 

According to Buddhist psychology, most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities. The pursuit of the objects of our desire and attachment involves the use of aggression and competitiveness as supposedly efficacious instruments.

 The Dalai Lama talks about attachment quite a bit. I should think about it more myself. I think too much attachment to stuff, including my own brain-full of notions, is sometimes detrimental.

 

Why do I think about this now? My nephews were playing in my mom’s house tonight before dinner and broke one of Mom’s Hummels. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but my mom is not one of those people that has dozens of Hummels lined up on every inch of flat surface in her house. She only has a small handful, and two of them were from her mother. It was one of those moments where I could see it happening across the room and knew there was no way I could leap across a table, two chairs, and a piano bench in time to stop it.

 

It was a sad thing. But you know, I think I was more upset about it than Mom was. Maybe because of her typical low-key reaction to things. Maybe because, as she said later, “There’s nothing you can do about it.” And maybe because Mom just doesn’t get as attached to “stuff” as I do.

 

My nephews were upset also. But what happened was truly an accident, and they weren’t really playing in a manner that is not allowable in the house. It was just an accident. And here’s where a good example came in. My Big Sis handled it like a pro. Which, hey, I think she is. She’s been a mom long enough to know when something bad is an accident versus when she needs to really get to the bottom of what her kids are doing. Despite having something hot on the stove, and having me sitting on the floor lamenting the headless Hummel, she handled the situation calmly and finished making dinner. She knew the boys understood something wrong had happened – there was nothing she could add to that feeling. And she knew nothing had happened out of ill intent. She didn’t lash out at the boys, or even at me for sitting on the floor like a lump. Our mom didn’t lash out at anybody or even ask who was responsible or how it happened. She just said “Well, let’s glue it back together.” And I think both moms were very Dalai-Lama-like tonight by their patience, calm, and compassion. The moment of stunned silence around the broken figurine probably gave my sister enough time to say a prayer to help her. A few extra moments gave me enough time to try and re-engage my oldest nephew who still looked crestfallen about the whole thing. I wish I had been able to gather myself as quickly as my Big Sis did (although she did scald herself cooking, so maybe she wasn’t as composed as she looked). But, I’m trying.

Tonight, Mom and I watched the news about a big fire up near Lake Tahoe. By 11:00 p.m., over 150 homes had been destroyed in this fire. I thought how much worse that would feel than just losing one family keepsake. But then I thought about how miserable I would feel if my own home were completely destroyed. While I don’t think I’d be too off the mark to be sad about something like that, I still need to learn more about letting go of some of my attachments. I won’t even get into the problems that come about because I’ve become too attached to an idea in my head. It’s generated more arguments (many with my patient Sweetie) than I can count. And it often comes down to, I need to let things go sometimes. Hopefully, with more study, lots more prayer, and more good examples in my life, I can improve on that. Maybe. Someday?

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So, this is a crazy idea that popped into my head. Bear with me here.

In their September 4, 2006 issue, Time magazine printed an article by Michael D. Lemonick about the Big Bang. (Let There be Light: 400,000 years after the Big Bang, the cosmos went black. Here’s what happened next.)

Very interesting stuff there. It talks about the period of time between 13.7 billion years ago (the Big Bang) up to the first 200 millions years. It has been labeled The Dark Ages of the universe. According to the article, the cosmos went dark half a million years after the Big Bang.

The Dark Ages of the Cosmos were also dark because those huge hydrogen-gas clouds were nearly opaque to visible light and no ordinary telescope would be able to see what happened afterward.

Then, two hundred million years later, baby galaxies began to shine. What happened in between laid the foundations for the modern universe. Somehow, during the Dark Ages the primordial hydrogen and helium produced carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements we know today. How? Who knows. One idea is that the first cluster of hydrogen clouds became too dense and ignited. The nuclear fusion reaction “spiked” the surrounding gas clouds with elements like oxygen and carbon, which had never existed before. Those first big dense hydrogen clouds were at least 25 times as big as our Sun, but also much more short-lived. They lived to be only about a million years, whereas our Sun is about 5 billion years old.

Seems to me, there is a consistency there with many objects living today on Earth. Within a specific species – the bigger you are, the shorter your lifespan. Look at the average age of a St. Bernard (5 to 9) versus a Toy Poodle (15+). I won’t comment too much on humans, but there is a reason why the obesity issue is a concern for doctors.

But I digress. How did light, and the elements that provide life today, come to be in the Universe?

Some say the ultraviolet radiation from hot, newly formed stars reionized the remaining hydrogen. Some think the process may have been powered by black holes spewing out X-rays and ultraviolet light. Or it may have been a combination of hot stars and black holes (quoting from the article here).

And my random brain started to twirl.

I think about how frustrating it must be to researchers to not know about those missing years in between. And how they are searching for those answers. And I wonder how long it will take them. And if they figure it out, what would it mean for astronomy research. And then I think, how much does it matter? Even if answering the question of the Universe’s beginnings helps us to answer questions about how it will end, does that really affect whether or not I get up in the morning and feed myself, kiss my loved ones, and do my work? Science for the sake of science can be a worthwhile pursuit, but does the lack of this one answer affect how *I* interact with the universe, right here and now? Would my actions change when these questions are answered? Probably not.

So, I’m reading this article, thinking what a cool bunch of theories these are, and wondering if they will be solved conclusively in my lifetime. And I read this quote from Avi Loeb, a theoretical astrophysicist at Harvard University. He says “We have a photo album of the universe, but it”s missing pages – as though you had pictures of a child as an infant and then as a teenager with nothing in between.”

And I read that quote, and I thought……..good analogy…….but what does that remind me of??

Well, Jesus Christ, of course.

Much has been made, in books and in movies, about the “lost years” of Jesus. There are narratives about his life up to about age 12. Then, there is a leap in the narrative to about age 30. The Bible pretty much leaves out what happened in between. If you watch Dogma, read The Da Vinci Code, or any of a million other books, you’ll hear people speculate about those missing years. What happened? Where did he go? Did he go to India? Did he join the Essenes? Did that prove he was celibate and never fathered children? Or did he have children, and the missing years is a giant religious conspiracy to hide these actions from the rest of the world?

My first thoughts were this:

It sounds vaguely similar. The Dark Ages of the cosmos are the lost years where lots of things happened but no light came out. The narratives of Jesus’ life includes a blank period where, perhaps, important things happened but there is no written history (that we know of). Then I thought, is that just a coincidence? Or is there a coincidence by design? Or just a coincidence that isn’t even a coincidence because the two objects in question are so fundamentally different. Or are they?

So, I thought, wouldn’t it be bizarre if researchers unraveled the mystery of our Universe’s missing time at the same time that historians were able to piece together the missing years of Jesus’ life? What if both discoveries revealed something that fundamentally change the way we look at these events? And of course, I got around to thinking – What if we’re not really meant to know these things? What if some mysteries are destined to remain mysteries?

And in thinking about it today, I wonder: What does it really matter? Ultimately, how would the unraveling of either mystery change who or what we are today? Now don’t get me wrong, as a curious person, and as a Christian, these mysteries probably hold some important information that it would be good for me to know. But would it change the way I live my life? If I learn that the beginnings of space show that our universe will collapse in 3 billion years, instead of 8 billion years – – – will I sell everything I own and run to Rio to party all day and night? Ummm…….no.

Knowing the details of Jesus’ missing years should not change the message of his life, and death. If I learn that Jesus Christ married, fathered children, and studied Hinduism – – – will it change the fact that I believe in his teachings and feel that humankind can live better if they tried a little harder to emulate them? Ummm…..no. Would it contradict the divinity of his life? If his life on earth was one way for God to experience what it feels like to be a human, wouldn’t that experience be richer for having included a spouse and children? But if so, or if not, how does that change his teachings?


Of course, in the endless pursuit of knowledge, you can’t tell historians and scientists to stop looking merely because of any absence of practicality. They may have nothing more to gain than to claim the spot as Discoverer. But to seek answers to unanswered questions is the true mindset of a scientist, and possibly of a theologian also.

To endlessly ask random questions with no possible good answer seems to be the mindset of me. I don’t expect an answer. I sometimes just like posing the question.

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I’m reading this week’s (December 4) issue of Time magazine, and cleaning up K Street in Washington.  There’s been a lot of talk by politicians about the need for lobbying reforms in Washington D.C.  It must be quite a conundrum for all politicians who receive hefty amounts of money donations from lobbyists and their associates.  How do you rein in potential favors-for-money transactions without jeopardizing your own future war chests?

I’ll leave it to the folks in Congress, both new and old, to see if they can really create any reform in the system.  My hope is that people understand why such reform is needed. 

We all know (right?) that while the United States of America is a democratic country, our government is not run as a pure direct democracy.  We are, instead, a constitutional republic.  National law and national policy is not decided directly by the voters, but by our representatives.  That’s the way our government works.  Ideally, voters have done their research on candidates and candidates have represented themselves honestly, and we stand in our voting booths and vote for a representative that we feel will best speak for us in Congress.  That’s what we get.  We get one vote for each person, and then we get to sit back and hope they represent us well.

What happens when a Congressperson gets one vote from me, but then also gets $10,000 from another guy?  $10,000 can pay for a lot of campaign material come the next election.  Maybe someone could win 10 votes if they had $10,000 to spend on a commercial, or colorful flyers.  And maybe, just maybe, someone could win 100 votes if they used their position in Congress to spend $100,000 in their jurisdiction in such a way that would benefit a specific group of people.  If that person who hands my Congressperson $10,000 says “Do something for me when you win, and I’ll deliver more money and maybe a good block of votes.” 

Hey then.  What happened to *my* one vote?  What happened to my opinion on issues in my congressional district?  It’s probably not as important as the interests of the lobbyist in Washington D.C. who has the direct ear of my Congressperson.  A lobbyist who, by the way, may not even *live* in my congressional district.  Suddenly, while I and my neighbors are sitting around and talking about how we would like to see money for our public schools, a decent public transportation system, and  clean water, our Congressperson is slipping high-dollar “earmarks” into the legislation they are passing in Washington.  In case you didn’t click on that link above, this is what happens with earmarks:

In the United States legislative budget process, Congess has the power to earmark (designate) funds it appropriates (revenue) to be spent on specific named projects. This differs from the normal practice where Congress grants a lump sum to an agency to allocate entirely at its discretion, according to the agency’s internal budgeting process. Earmarks tie the hands of agency bureaucrats, obliging them to spend a portion of the budget on special projects chosen by politicians.

So, my local transportation agency may have a long list of priorities to fix existing roads with big potholes and build a new light-rail system.  If they were given federal money to do their jobs, they chould choose which projects to spend the money on.  But with earmarks, our Congressperson designates very specific projects, and the federal money goes to that project. 

With a fixed federal budget, what happens to lump sum budget allocations when there are a ton of earmarks?  They go down, I think.  And if you think that earmarks aren’t taking a lot of money away from our local agencies, total earmarks in 2005 were about 47 billion dollars.   That’s 47 billion dollars that were chosen for just 15,000 earmarks.  To me, that sounds like 15,000 projects at over $3,000,000 per project.  How many things could your State Department of Education do with $3,000,000?  Or your Transporatation Department?  Who knows, because they won’t get to use money at their own discretion. 

I know, most of you folks reading my blog probably already understand this. And I hope that our Congressfolks will take the recent voter discontent as a sign that there are several things that need to change in Washington.  They are being sent to Congress to represent a whole group of voters back home, not just a few people with a lot of money. 

If they spent more time listening to their constituents and doing things we need them to do, maybe they wouldn’t need a huge war chest to buy our votes in the next election.  Maybe they could earn our votes by representing our needs and serving us honestly.  Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?

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