Friday, September 20, 2013

The Mystery of Love

     In a previous entry, I concluded that the foundation of heroism is love. But what is love, exactly? I've held several different views on love, ranging from one side of the argument to the other. In exploring those arguments, I stumbled upon a conclusion that comes closer to the truth than any of the other beliefs that I've encountered. I don't think I've figured love out completely, but I do think I found a missing piece of the puzzle.

     Most people will tell you that love is an emotion, like anger or happiness. It's a fickle, capricious thing that flits from one person to another. It may burn strongly for one person for a long time, but after a while the "magic" departs and settles on someone or something else. But that's not the whole story, because there are hundreds of examples of what everyone would agree is love in which there is not that caprice, that changeable unpredictability. Do parents ever stop loving their children? Do dedicated husbands ever stop loving their wives? What about good friends who stay by your side over hill and through valley? Their love doesn't just float away after it has remained planted for years. There's another element to love.

     There's another side of this coin. One side says love is an emotion, the other that it's a choice. An intellectual choice, a decision. Love is deciding to give altruistically for another's good. You could feel nothing toward the person you're giving to, but as long as you remain dedicated to that person's good, you're loving him. Until very recently I thought that way was correct. There is an element of choice in love, but that's not all there is to it. Even if you choose to dedicate yourself to the good of others, you could still not love, or even hate them.

     This, then, is the idea that I stumbled across. Love is the estimation, the evaluation, of the worth of a person or thing. The more worthy the person is, the more you love that person. This conviction is reached through choice or through emotion, or both. Devoted parents feel emotionally the worth of their children, and therefore they choose to love them, protect them, and nourish them. A man could be at war with a bitter enemy, but if at some point he decides that his enemy does have worth, some value, then if he truly believes it, he will begin to love his enemy, both by choice and emotion. This belief leads ultimately to the conviction that the person loved deserves something from the person loving. It results in the self-sacrificing care that everyone longs for.

     Love is a mysterious thing, one that can't be figured out completely. But it is a good mystery. We see the fruits of it in daily nobility, in humility and self-sacrifice, in the grand heroism of our dreams. Love is a dark well from which countless good things spring.

     And by the way, if you, readers, happen to have any good insights into the roots and nature of love, I would be glad to hear them. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Foundation of Heroes

     What makes a good hero? I’ve pondered the question for a long time. What characteristic, what attribute gives a character the quality we think of as heroism? What causes heroes to endure in people’s hearts and minds long after the hero or the author of the hero has left the world? What causes them to be admired and adored? In essence, what makes a hero a hero? And how do we become heroes in a world that seems to think there are no more heroes?

     I struggled over this question for a long time, theorizing about the effects of greatness and the hero's use of greatness. That theory didn't go far. The answer finally hit me yesterday as I was gathering motivation to write. It’s love.

     Love is the pillar upon which all heroism rests. Perseus didn’t snatch Andromeda from the teeth of a sea monster because her sacrifice was a senseless waste of life. Superman does not save the world because of the intellectual logic of the needs of the many. Frodo Baggins did not climb up Mount Doom because he was the only one fit to do it. No! Perseus loved Andromeda the moment he set eyes on her, and risked his safety to rescue her. Superman does everything out of a selfless love for the good people of the world, his family, friends, and Lois Lane to be specific. Frodo stood up and said, “I will take the Ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way,” because of his deep love for the Shire, his people, and his friends. Love is the hero’s motivation, strength, and success.
     Ronald Reagan said that those who say there are no more heroes don’t know where to look. Perhaps I could offer a way to see the heroes in everyday life.
     Look at a man and ask “why?” Why does he do what he does? What are his pursuits, and why does he pursue them? When he meets adversity, what keeps him going? If the answer to these is love, if the man acts for someone else and not himself, he is a hero. They’re all around us, if you look in the right places. You’ll see that heroic love in a man who endures hardships and trials at work so he can provide for his family’s needs. You’ll see it in firemen who risk their lives in the blaze, rescuing children from burning buildings. You’ll see it in teachers who strive to ensure that each of their students succeeds in the pursuit of knowledge. Oh, I hope you’ll see it in a writer with lofty ideals of touching others with his writings, but whose stinking selfishness hinders him at every turn of the page. Nowhere will you see it more clearly than when a man selflessly lays down his life for the sake of his friends’ salvation.
     Heroes have not left the world. Perhaps the world has left heroes. They’re still here, living in shadows, working diligently at their labor of love. Not all are the same. Some have a heroism that requires only the sacrifice of eight hours a day. Some have a heroism that calls them to lay down their lives. But all heroes are founded on this one unshakable principle, upon this single holy idea: The greatest of these is love.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Escape from Mindset Traps

     Chances are, if you live in the present culture, you have fallen into one of two insidious traps in what you believe about yourself. Two prevalent mindsets that are cultivated among people these days are either 1) that you in particular are in some way inferior or inadequate compared to others; or 2) that you are superior to other people, perfect just the way you are. You're either better than others, or worse.

     Lies, I say! All vicious, horrible, evil lies! One is self-deprecation, the other is arrogance.

     Both these beliefs function on the denial of a basic truth, one of the most basic truths that there is. All men are created equal. The mindsets above deny this. They say either that some people are worse than others (and I'm one of them), or that some people are better than others (and I'm one of them). How do people fall into these mindset traps? It's all because of  a misunderstanding regarding equality.

     People have come to assume that "equal" is synonymous with "the same." So people are not equal if they are not the same as everyone else. The effect this has on our beliefs about ourselves is that we tend to look at our weaknesses or flaws, and say that if we don't have the same ability as another, we're inferior. Or if we see that we have a strength that another doesn't have we say we're superior. In the school system, if you're great in English, but poor at science, the usual assumption is that you're not as good as the person who does well in both, and the person who does well in both is better than others who don't.

     I've got news for you: that ain't right. The only place "equal" also means "the same as" is in mathematics.

     All people are not the same. Anyone who says different needs their eyes checked. No two human beings are the same. But all human beings are equal. My point is this: You are no better or worse than anyone because you have any advantages or disadvantages that others do or don't. So you were born into a good family. That is an immense blessing, but it doesn't make you any better than the person who was born into a family torn apart by poverty and violence. So you have trouble speaking in public. So do most other people in the world. You're still no worse than the couple of folks who face their fears long enough to deliver a speech. We're all different people on even ground.

     Allow me to propose a new belief to adopt. It's my way to escape these mindset traps.

     You are a human being. That means that you have been born both with advantages and disadvantages. You are no better and no worse than anyone else because of that fact. Rather, you are unique, in a class all your own. You are equal with everyone else out there, but you are not the same as everyone else out there. You are an individual.

     From this line of thinking, there come certain responsibilities, if you truly believe this. First, you will humbly accept the duty that comes with being you. You will be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, realizing that they don't make you better or worse than anyone else. You will work to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, to be the best that you can be. And you'll rest assured in the fact that you don't have to be like everyone else because you are you.

     This entry in my log is as much directed to myself as to you, my readers. I'm trying to answer my own challenge and work to become the best, the strongest person I can be. I hope you will join me.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Every One, A World (A Writer's Quest, Chapter 2)

     "Here we are." The storyteller brought me to a hill a couple miles from the settlement where I first met him. It was mid afternoon and I felt tired and sleepy from walking and the heat of the sun. I watched, yawning, as he set down his bag of books and papers and withdrew one volume from it.

     "Read that," he said, handing the dusty book to me.

     I looked from him to the book in my hand, and back. "But--"


     "When are we going to travel to the worlds in the sky?"

     "You'll learn everything soon enough," he said. He was surprisingly brusque. I wondered if he was getting tired of my company and trying to occupy me with something else. "In the meantime," he was saying, "read."

     I sat down against the tree, grumbling in discontent. I opened up the book. The look and feel of its dry, yellowed pages added to my tiredness. I began haltingly to read the first sentence. "Dyra had lost..." I started back awake after drifting off briefly. I read the next words. "Dyra had lost everything, and..." It was too much. I yawned and closed my eyes.

     I opened them to see the storyteller standing over me, his arms crossed and his lips downturned.

     "So how was the book?" he asked.

     I was silent, judging that it would be best if I didn't say anything.

     He sighed, and muttered something under his breath. To me he said, "Alright, I understand. You want excitement, adventure and wonder, right? Get up. There's something I need to show you. Close your eyes."

     I did as I was told, and felt him grasp my shoulder. I waited. Nothing happened. I continued to wait. Still nothing. I was getting impatient, but worried about the consequences of opening my eyes before he told me to. I kept them shut and waited.

     After what seemed like several hours, I heard him say, "Now you can open your eyes."

     I did. The world had suddenly changed. Rather than the sunny sky which hung over us earlier, the sky was now dark, and filled with hundreds of the stars. What was more odd was that it seemed to be wrapped around us, as though we were standing in a round room and the sky formed the walls. I looked down and saw that we stood on some rocky formation that didn't have any visible foundation.

     "Where is this place?" I asked, in quiet amazement. My breath formed vapor in the air as I spoke.

     "The Library. It houses every story, every book, every world that exists. Look," he took a few steps farther out. He stretched his hand out and took hold of a piece of the sky and brought it back. Upon looking closer, I realized that it was a book with night blue covers and a bright star on the spine.

     "You've heard me say that every star is also a world," he said. "Well, every star is also a book."

     "Every book is a world?" I reasoned.

     "Yes." he spoke with a kind of silent awe, the same kind that filled me as we both stood in this place. "You must understand that books are our link to these worlds. You cannot access them without first having an understanding of and respect for the written words. On the other hand, if you do have that understanding and respect--" He took the book in one hand and opened it. The book's shining golden pages held words stamped in ebony ink, which faded into illustrations painted in living, breathing color, that moved and shifted and changed. "This is what you find," the storyteller breathed.

     We stayed there, gazing fixedly into the book for a long time. But after an hour or more we had to leave. The storyteller closed the book and returned it to its invisible shelf along with the hundreds of others like it.

     We returned back to my land, though I still didn't know how. Upon arriving, the storyteller picked up the old book and addressed me. "Alright, now, boy--" He hesitated. "Say, what's your name, son?"

     Up till then I hadn't realized that we had never been formally introduced. "My name is Rakseld," I said, bowing respectfully. "Well met, sir."

     "Indeed," he replied, some of his former pleasantness returning. "You'll know me as Teacher or Sir for the time being. Now, Rakseld, I want you to read this book carefully and think about it. Pay close attention to the construction of the world in which the story takes place. Write down what you liked and what you didn't, what was good and what wasn't. Analyze the characters and the situations they encounter. Write all this down and give your report to me. And have it done--" He paused to think. "By this time in two days. Understand?"

     "Yes, sir,"

     He handed me the book and I took it. He sat down quietly with his notebook again. Before sitting, I turned to look out toward where the sky met the horizon. The night sun was beginning to rise, and stars had begun to appear in the darkening sky. I remembered the Library, the millions of stars that shone in the sky, and every one of them, a world.

     I sat down beneath the tree and began to explore.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Journey Begins (A Writer's Quest, Chapter 1)

     The storyteller stood quietly by the fire, looking into the flames and wondering what secrets they held. I watched him in anticipation, waiting for him to begin telling one of his famed tales. I imagined that he was just working on resolving a climax he'd thought of all day. Now, behind the blank, thoughtful face, the final threads were being woven into completion.

     The men sitting around the fire had similar thoughts, but they weren't willing to wait. "Let's have a tale," one of them said. "We're all in the mood for hearing a story."

     "Of course you are." The words were uttered very softly, barely distinguishable above the crackle of burning wood. The storyteller stroked his short beard in thought, never once moving his eyes from the fire. He said nothing else for a long time.

     Another man broke the silence. "Well?"

     The storyteller looked up and met his eyes sharply. "Yes?"

     "Are you going to tell us a tale?" the other man, Nob, returned.

     There was a silence, then, "Look up at the sky." He pointed upward.

     We all craned our necks and gazed into the night sky.

     "You see all those points of light? Some call them stars. Each one is a world apart from ours. I've been to many of them. They are my stories. I go to them and find the tales that you love so much. You might as well call me a traveler, rather than a storyteller."

     It was hard to believe. The heavens were covered with the bright teardrops. There was no corner of the night blue canopy that starlight didn't touch. I gazed upward in awe. What unbelievable and wonderful things could lay out there? What were the other worlds that fueled the amazing stories I loved? How could I find out?

     We remained staring up at the sky-worlds for a while, before Nob finally said, "So?"

     The storyteller--the traveler--sighed. "I have walked across universes, and what do you ask of me? Something nice and simple to tickle your ears and thrill your hearts. I imagine you don't care much for the worlds I visit, as long as they get you a good story. Go on back to your homes. You'll hear nothing more from me tonight."

     The men slowly rose and returned to their huts, their wives, and their children. Nob was the last to go, muttering moodily under his breath. I remained, having neither home nor wife nor children to return to.

     At length the traveler addressed me. "Are you still hanging around, boy?"

     I nodded. I wanted to venture a question, but didn't know how. It wasn't right to interrupt this man's thoughts.

     "What do you want?"

     I swallowed. "How do you travel to the other worlds up there?"

     He looked at me, not seeing much of anything. There was thought behind his muteness. It was almost as though I'd surprised him. "How do you imagine I do it?"

     I thought for a long time, then said, "Perhaps there's a bridge somewhere?"

     A slight, barely noticeable smile graced his features. "There is, though not as you might think of it." He bent down and withdrew a book, a blank page, and a pen from his bag. "These are the bridges between worlds. Read, and you cross them. Write, and you cross them."

     "Oh." I felt disappointed. "So you don't actually visit other worlds in person?"

     At that, a roguish smile spread over his face. "Ah, son, the things I've seen 'in person'!"

     "Then," I ventured, but stopped.


     "Could I ever travel to those worlds in person?"

     "Do you really care about the places up there?" He indicated the sky.

     "They sound incredible," I said. "I'd love to see them if I can."

     "You'll do more than see them," he said, stepping across to me and offering his hand. "Come with me, and you'll tell their stories to every corner of the globe."