Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fields and Dreams

One of my most favorite movies is "A Field of Dreams".  I saw the last half of it again last week, then took Bubba out for his afternoon walk.  Our "routine" walk takes us past the community baseball field, and, it being baseball season, there was a high school game in progress.  I am fortunate to live in a town with a walking trail which connects the various recreation areas and on this particular day as we meandered past the various fields of trees, grasses, wild flowers, beside the creek which borders the trail, my mind turned to the movie. 

I imagine that most people consider Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) as the main focus of the lesson of this movie.  If you are not familiar with it, Ray plows over a portion of his corn field at the behest of a voice he hears in his head.  Of course, this places his family in financial distress as the bills aren't reduced by the lower output of his farm.  To add even more stress to Ray's decision to obey this voice, old time baseball players appear on his field, but not everyone can see them.  One person in particular who is blind to the players is his brother-in-law who, coincidentally is a partner in an investment firm which owns the note to Ray's property.  In a pivotal scene, Ray is told that he must sign over sale of the home to the investment firm or risk eviction.  When Ray asks the brother-in-law if the field will be maintained, he is reminded what the value of the land is ($2200 per acre) so obviously there can't be land that does not generate revenue.  As I continued my walk with Bubba, I felt a bit sorry for those who cannot see the value of land that provides quiet trails, fresh smells, bird sounds, and the crack of a bat followed by the cheers and groans of the people watching the game. Let's all hope that the wishes of those who only look at land as the revenue it can produce are always and as strongly countered by the wishes of those who know the incredible value of land that is left to nature.  (Paradoxically, when the brother-in-law finally see the ballplayers he repeatedly tells Ray to keep the land, but we all know that it is because he now sees revenue in the field, not the true meaning that the land is providing.  Such a sad character).

That aside, I have a different perspective of the true lesson of this movie.  I believe that the Archie "Moonlight" Graham character played by Burt Lancaster presents an even more powerful inspiration. Moonlight was a baseball player who only played in one major league game in his career, and only for one inning at that.  He eventually quit baseball, went back to school and became a doctor.  When asked by Ray if he could have one wish, the elder Graham wishes that he could have batted, even once, against a major league pitcher.  And, of course, through the magic of Hollywood, when Ray leaves Doc's small town, he encounters the younger Archie Graham hitchhiking to find a place to play baseball, takes him to his field and gives Archie the chance to play in a real game with the heroes of his time, and to bat against a major league pitcher.

It is at this time, after Moonlight has fulfilled his dream of getting to the plate, that the scene with Ray and the brother-in-law comes to its head.  And it is at this time that Ray's daughter falls from the bleachers and lays, not breathing, on the ground.  Just as Ray's wife is about the run back to the house to call for an ambulance, Archie "Moonlight" Graham crosses over the stark white chalk line along the first base line and turns once again into the elder doctor.  He claps Ray's daughter on the back freeing a piece of hot dog that had lodged in her throat, saving her life.  But he can not go back to his dream life of playing ball, he can't cross back over that first base line to his youth.  In a final tear producing scene, he says goodbye to his now fellow ballplayers, thanks Ray for the chance for some time in the sun and returns to the life that, while it  may not have fulfilled his dreams, it certainly made the lives of those in his small town much the better. 

Archie Graham could have stayed a ballplayer in his youth, perhaps one day making it to the majors.  Archie "Moonlight" Graham could have stayed a ballplayer in Ray's field and played the game for all eternity.  Yet in each case, and especially the latter, Graham chose service to others over personal gain.  While I would not say his were selfless decisions, because clearly he attained much joy and happiness as a doctor, he certainly did not ONLY think of himself.  To me, that is the lesson of the movie, and the lesson we need incorporated into our thinking, personally as well as collectively.  We need less greed, less energy expounded for personal wealth and fame, and more balance that combines personal reward with acts that improves, helps, even inspires the lives of those around us.



Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Birth Lottery Revisited

It has been about a month since my first posting discussing the second amendment.  At this point, the first post has generated over 4700 hits, the second one about 3200.  Amazingly, a significant number of those hits have been from overseas; over 3400 from Poland, 850 from China, 740 from the Ukraine, 570 from France.  I am still seeing over a hundred hits per day between those two posts, but the audience is now mostly from the US.  Strangely, the third post has garnered very little attention.  I have no explanation for the popularity of these two posts but I am grateful knowing that so many people are interested in my thoughts. 

As I have been contemplating this burst of activity, the thought of the birth lottery came to mind again.  How fortunate I am to have been born in the United States during a time when global communication could be accomplished from one's living room.  When we consider that great works of literature, ground breaking Scientific theories, advanced treatises on the law, society, love, government, etc., that were created before the internet may have taken months, even years before they reached the ears and minds of the masses, it is truly a wonder that I can post a few hundred words and within hours, days, a few weeks, thousands of people from all walks of life, cultures and countries can access my words.  And a huge responsibility.  I cannot say for sure that I am always as responsible with my thoughts as I could be, but I know there are those using this great tool of communication with complete disregard for the content and intent of their words.  As a child, someone once told me that we should only say something to another that we would say to our mother.  I recently printed out some of the stories I have written and posted on this blog, as well as some of the posts that have been the most accessed, and gave a copy to my mother.  Perhaps those who fill the internet with tirades, hate, lies, mistruths, rumors and malice might be a bit less eager if they had their mom edit their work first.

But I stray from the topic.  Or did I?

In my first birth lottery post, I discussed the simple fact that there are so many humans without the basic sanitary facilities and access to clean water that we, in America, take for granted.  Truly, compared to the hundreds of millions of people on this planet who live in complete squalor and utter poverty with little hope of improving their lives, or even their children's' lives, the poor in America are much better off.  As one of my good friends has said to me in the past, the truly poor of the world would give their right hand to live as the poor in America live.  And we should be proud that our poor are so much better off than those of so many other countries, yet this should not be used as an excuse to ignore the fact that there are still those in America who go to sleep hungry at night and do not have access to routine health care services.   Poverty is relative to one's surroundings, so while it may be true that America's poor may earn 1000 times the salary of those in Sri Lanka, it is also true that they need 1000 times the money to maintain even a basic standard of living within our borders. 

For those of you who have cable TV, you may have discovered that their is a channel called the Wealth Channel.   While I am sure that not all the shows on this channel merely depict excess wealth, there are a number that take us on tours of the homes and playgrounds of the rich.  We get to see the oh so extravagant possessions of those who won an even bigger prize from the birth lottery.  In some cases, even their pets were bigger birth lottery winners than most people! Yet, at the same time, it was recently documented that tens of millions of working Americans are paid less than $10 an hour.  Those people work a year to earn what some on the Wealth Channel might spend on pet food.  

Is it possible that some of the rich in America, having won the birth lottery by being born in a country where there is such great opportunities, are rigging the game in their favor?   When the CEO's of our largest corporations earn an average of 380 times the average worker in their company, does that not tilt the randomness of the birth lottery to favor the winners even more? 

I know, I can see some readers shaking their head and wondering why I disparage those who have earned their salaries, why I expect them to give up some of their rewards, how I imagine great people will continue to pursue greatness when they are penalized or hindered.  Frankly, I don't.  I would like them to realize how lucky they have been to have been born with such intelligence, ambition, drive, etc, and then to truly earn the title of a "great" person by working to help others as much as themselves.  Really, how great is someone who achieves wealth at the expense of their fellow humans, whether it be through slashing the salaries of their employees or merely moving jobs overseas where expectations of salary are less?  How great is a person who excels on the backs of others yet takes full credit for the success?     

The birth lottery is about more than one's nationality.  It is about more than one's innate intelligence,  more than one's physical size or features, more than one's having been birthed with two arms and two legs, or no arms and no legs.  The birth lottery is about recognizing that we have done nothing to earn where we were born, our genealogy, or even the time in history when we came into being.  It is about being thankful for our life, humble in our achievements, and generous with our rewards knowing that a truly rich life is one in which the world is left a better place for ones being (randomly) born.