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Hypothetical Hostages April 24, 2014

It was intended to be a game. Each of us had been handed a paper outlining a hypothetical hostage scenario. Terrorists had taken control of a plane and were offering to release four of the hostages under the condition that they were allowed to refuel the aircraft at a nearby airbase. We were to presume that the captors would keep their word. We were then given brief biographies of each of the passengers and instructed to determine who should go free.

When we’d finished, our professor divided us into groups and, laying down a few ground rules, instructed us to come to a consensus regarding the order of release. It was not as easy as it sounds. Did we let the guy with the hero complex go in the hope that the hostages who remained on the plane wouldn’t suffer the consequences of his ill-considered antagonism? What about the mothers? Were they of more value than the fathers? Was the ex-con who was getting his life together less likely to contribute to the good of society than the priest who was ministering to thousands of vagrants? Was the congresswoman less worthy of life than the pregnant actress? Was it even possible that some of the hostages deserved to die?

Each member of the group had a different perspective and it wasn’t long before many in the room were arguing with such passion that one would have thought our hypothetical hostages were, in fact, quite real. Tempers flared. Voices were raised. The activity was becoming deeply personal… and deeply revealing.

“The problem,” I observed, “is that we don’t know what the future holds for any of these people. Perhaps the congresswoman who is inspiring so many young girls will turn out to be involved in drug-trafficking. Maybe the son of the convict will watch his dad get his life back in order and be inspired to do something truly noble with his life. Who is to say whether the actress’s unborn child would grow up to cure cancer or oppress the needy?” Looking at paragraph long bios wasn’t enough to tell us the true worth of any of the individuals on the plane. Then again, perhaps that was the point.

When we gathered together at the end of class to discuss our conclusions, it was evident that everyone had weighed different factors in determining who would be set free. All four groups agreed to release the humanitarian with the weak heart and, for some reason that none of us could clearly explain, the young mother who had three children by three different fathers and was trying to get her life back on track. Only two groups decided to allow the bigot with the loud mouth go free. The congresswoman got a vote, as did the actress.

Everyone in the class had seen the problem through different eyes. Our own beliefs and experiences had formed a filter through which we viewed others. And it was clear that the life of each of the hypothetical hostages was valuable in the mind of at least one member of the class. Sitting among us, there were those who could see through each of the passengers’ eyes, empathize with them in their sorrows or triumphs, and believe in their potential. Perhaps the lesson wasn’t about hypothetical hostages after all.


Arts vs. Crafts April 17, 2014

Filed under: Art,Pressed Flowers — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , , ,

I confess that, at my core, I’m a bit of a snob. I like sushi, opera, and the ballet. My sister and her tastes are not far removed from mine and, when allowed to socialize, the two of us can bear an uncanny resemblance to Frasier and Niles Crane from the 90’s sitcom “Frasier”. (I’m Frasier, she’s Niles.) We pass our time drinking coffee while dialoguing about current events, politics, fashion, and (on occasion) art.

On this particular afternoon, we’d been wandering through our downtown farmer’s market. A local gathering of would-be-professional farmers who simply lack the land, time, and technique to produce on a large scale, it has an atmosphere reminiscent of the State Fair. Live music echoes from the stage while vendors selling aromatic temptations block the pathway. Strange blowup toys dot various stalls along with hand thrown pottery and an assortment of African-made baskets and hand-dyed wool.

What we didn’t realize on this overcast day was that a market had been set up adjacent to this one. We soon found ourselves strolling through stalls of a very different variety. The pottery here looked different. It possessed a shape and form that indicated an artist’s attention. These were not simply nice looking dinnerware, but lovingly crafted centerpieces, unique creations.

We gazed in amazement at beautifully shaped hairpieces, the work of jewelers, not hobbyists. There were paintings reflecting hours of detailed attention (and likely, decades of learning). And then, there was the flower lady.

I admit that “Pressed Flowers by Michelle” doesn’t sound like much, but the art which lined her stall definitely was. These were not simple arrangements of dried vegetation, organized to look in death as they had in life, but actual expressions of the heart of the artist. Lovingly crafted vignettes displayed birds in all four seasons and fish swimming in coral reefs. There were houses covered in snow and paddocks filled with horses. The work wasn’t simply eye-catching, it invited you in and asked you to stay.

My sister and I explored the stall thoroughly as I silently ran my budget in my head. These were not mass produce craft items, but works of art and were clearly priced as such. Despite the temptation, I knew that I would have to depart.

It was at that point that my sister picked up one of the pieces I had been looking at. Water lily roots formed a coral reef while violets rearranged to look like tropical fish dashed in and out between the “seaweed”. “I’m buying this for you for Christmas,” she explained, then quickly added. “You have to promise that you’ll forget all about it.”

I admit that forgetting wasn’t that easy. In the months that followed, I repeatedly thought back to the piece and on Christmas morning, I was delighted to open the package and begin the search for a wall upon which it could be appropriately displayed. Each time I look at it, I think of Michelle (a relatively diminutive artist) and the loving way in which she prepared and preserved the work: a fine example of the difference between crafts and a genuine work of art.


A Matter of Perspective – A Treatise on the Nature of Adventure April 10, 2014

Filed under: Philosophy,Reflections — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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As I consider my past blog posts, I’m forced to recognize that a good portion of them find their humor in my personal foibles. I highlight my failures as often (or more often) than my victories. And I share the lessons learned… not in the hope that my readers will feel pity for the sometimes humiliating or outlandish predicaments in which I find myself, but rather in the anticipation that perhaps… just perhaps… they might relate.

Why take this approach? Quite simply: because it works. Despite my lifelong dream of growing up to be a superhero, I am quite aware that deep down where it matters most, I’m just an ordinary person living what, in many cases, is really just an ordinary life.

While grand adventures do occasionally come my way, the true adventures in my world aren’t to be had in exotic places or in the presence of famous people. They are the result of experimentation and a willingness to try almost anything (with the notable exceptions of drugs and just about anything considered to be illegal) at least once. They occur when I least expect them and often arise from the most innocent of circumstances. And they lay claim to my heart not because of the innate quality of the adventures, themselves, but because of the qualities they reveal in me.

Adventure, you see, is very much a matter of perspective. It is not about a specific activity or location. It isn’t about untold bravery or life-altering acts of sacrifice. Instead, it’s about the subtle art of finding the quality of the hero both in others and ourselves. The true mark of a hero isn’t invulnerability to pain or failure, but an ability to face the things we fear with courage and integrity. It’s about making a difference in the lives of others. And about allowing them to make a difference in ours.

In reality, most of us will never change the world. Our names won’t go down in history and few may ever remember that we lived at all. But while we may not be heroes to many, each of us has the opportunity to be a hero to few. One hug, one phone call, one shoulder to cry on, one friend to laugh with, one set of ears to listen, one set of eyes to see. One life can make a difference… and often does. It is in this relationship of shared humanity that the true adventures take place: as we play the role of hero to others and allow them to be heroes to us.

So to everyone who has ever lived an ordinary life – here’s to you. Here’s to your victories and your failures, your trials, your struggles, your smiles and warm hugs. Here’s to the opportunities you’ve missed and the ones you’ll soon embrace. Here’s your ability to encourage and motivate and to your power to make a difference. Here’s to the adventure… and to the hero who lives within us all. Here’s to everyone who ever wanted to save the world. And to everyone who in the course of their small and ordinary lives actually is.


On Plot Lines, Needlework, and the Unfortunate Deterioration of Eyesight April 3, 2014

I am currently in the process of re-watching the entire “Downton Abbey” series for the fifth or sixth time. As the drama plays out, I sit silently upon the couch with a tiny needle gripped between my teeth. I gaze at the diagram, searching for the row where I last left off and consider how much easier this was before I needed bifocals. Now, the tiny thread-color symbols seem to blur into a single, indistinguishable mass vaguely recognizable as “things I’ve stitched” and “things I haven’t stitched”.

Because I am hand making a large number of my Christmas gifts this year, such trials must be gracefully borne. When I was younger, such endeavors were the result of a restricted budget. (After all, how much could a kid do with $2 a week?) While I make significantly more now, the principle remains the same. Health insurance and fuel for my truck take precedence over fancy presents – even for those whom I love most dearly. So here I am, carefully stitching the first of what promises to be at least four meaningful gifts destined for the walls of my closest friends.

Of course, unlike when I was a child, these gifts are not simply glue-gunned bits of scraps. While everyone will be receiving some form of needlework, not every item is identical. Nor is each item simply a variation upon a theme. These are not mass-produced trinkets designed to save me the bother of shopping or the investment of money which might otherwise be spent on play things. These are carefully selected items designed to convey message and meaning to those who receive them.

That the creation of such gifts takes time is evident, so I had the wisdom to begin my work in January. And, since stitching is a relaxing, but not particularly stimulating task, it was incumbent upon me to find something else to captivate my mind for the many hours of labor ahead. Movies like “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” quickly made their way onto my list as did “The Mummy” and a few “James Bond” films. I contemplated watching the entire series of “Stargate SG1” again as well as assorted seasons of “Star Trek”, “Dr. Who”, and “M*A*S*H*”.

Doubtless my TV watching hours will seem quite extravagant by the year’s end, but I anticipate that each moment will have been well-spent. I should be able to recite all of the Dowager Countesses lines for four seasons and may even be able to hum the “Imperial March” backwards. The best part, however, will not be the knowledge that I can provide hours of entertainment at any party or even that those I love will receive genuinely meaningful gifts – it will be the delight I feel when I walk into the optometrist and explain that it’s entirely my friends’ fault that I need stronger bifocals. Then again, it may be the look on my friends’ faces when they discover that they took the blame!


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