Sunday, October 21, 2007

It's Sooner Than You Think

Just got back from our 25th High School Reunion – The Class of 1982 from Park View High School (PVHS). The reunion was put together fast and spearheaded by Lisa Loyd – we owe her a great deal of thanks. She missed the 20th but was right on track with this one. In many regards her efforts to pull this one together was probably a direct result of her missing the 20th and wanting to make up for lost time with our classmates. I think she delivered. Planning for our 20th took a committee of 8 and planning that required well over a year of effort. Lisa put the entire reunion together in less than two months. It was a big success. But these off year reunions are not the biggies. Our 30th will be a big one, as will our 40th, and God willing 25 years from today many of us will get together to celebrate our 50th – I will be a young 67 at the time, hopefully retired and hopefully still playing soccer. One of the players on my current team turned 70 last week. He only plays a few minutes each game – but what a spirit and he always brings the beer. There might even be of few of us out there that can make it to a 75th reunion - don’t know if it’s in any of our genes to make it to that age but wouldn’t it be a special occasion for a few, even just two or three lucky ones, to come together at a 75th reunion and to look into each other’s old and wise eyes to remember the rest of us. But that’s half a century from now and by then the world will be a different place. Florida might even be underwater by then. Wouldn’t that be an inconvenient truth! Let’s hope not but I still drive an SUV and so technically am not helping. I still have not watched Al Gore’s movie. I should, and I know I should buy a Hybrid—maybe before our 30th reunion.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves—it’s only 2007. George W. is still President and we are still in Iraq. Today we forgot about the world’s problems celebrated 25 years since our graduation and everybody had fun. How can you not be having fun if you stay up until 6 in the morning? I put my tired body to bed early. I had no idea the party was far from over. Perhaps it’s better that way because as you can see I like to write things down, and something’s shouldn’t be put into writing. I’m glad most of you still dragged your tired butts to the picnic and brought your kids along to meet my daughter. My nine-year-old really didn’t know why she was there – other then to play in the sand, hunt crayfish, and try to keep from falling in the pond. She knows about family reunions, but it was hard for her to get a grip on my high school reunion. She had trouble relating because she couldn’t recognize anyone – which from her perspective seems appropriate. At family reunions she will see her cousins or at least family members she will have met once or twice before. She has a pretty good reason for not recognizing anyone. I, on the other hand, have no excuse. The first unfortunate thing I noticed was that the name tags were small, very small. I could barely read my own name let alone scope some familiar face from across the room. That was unfair – for the next reunion we will need to produce geriatric size name tags with big yearbook pictures on them. The good news though is that everyone is having the same problem and everyone is humble with regard to their own failed memory and gracious in the acceptance of everyone else’s. Here’s and example. I talked to Mike Del Principe all night, insisting that it was in fact him. I never understood that it was Paul Del Giudice to whom I was actually talking and once I had figured that out, I still insisted that I understood why I thought he was in fact Paul Del Giudice, the friend who I had run into in Rosslyn many years ago. So I apologized to him, Mike Del Principe, for making this grievous mistake. Only to have him point out to me that he was in fact Paul Del Giudice. Did everyone follow that? Well the good news is that Paul has invited everyone down to his house in Richmond at anytime. The basketball star, Mark Siford is up for the journey and will probably be planning the road trip soon. Mark apparently is a tremendous athlete in his forties despite his aversion to sports back in the day. Mark, of course, wins the award for the longest to shortest hair, by choice. You might think to include Chuck Green and Scott Flint in the short hair by choice category, but they seem to have had the advantage of nature.

What a treat to have Donny Alt’s band playing. Terrific extended long set, after extended long set. And to pull out Led Zepplin’s, “Moby Dick” as well as the Rolling Stone’s “Paint it Black”, is to rewrite a page straight out of a Doris Callahan party – with her parents out of town. The only thing missing was the quarter toss and puking kids in the bathroom, which since I didn’t attend the all-nighter at Lori and Wayne’s, I can only imagine what I missed. My loss. Nevertheless, the Happy Hour was an overwhelming success mixing the current bar flies with the PVHS Class of 1982. And we took over the bar, monopolizing the front door, the back room, most of the bar, the upper terrace and of course the dance floor. Some of the Holiday Inn regulars were even putting on our name tags to join the party. And if you bounced from group to group, and listened closely, a theme was emerging – not as strong a theme as had been present in ’92 –“Getting Started” or in ’02 “Working Hard and Living Life”, but a new and subtler theme that grew louder as the evening worn on and throughout the next day. A theme that was echoed not only by the list of missing classmates sitting by the front door but in almost every conversation I overheard. And a theme punctuated by Todd Markulic using his cell phone to call wayward classmates from the bar. The subtle theme was screaming by the end of the picnic on Saturday, “Where Are You Class of 82?” At this reunion no one seemed to care too much about careers, we’ve all had one or two. Families are important, but most of us have had a few of those as well and now we are either comfortable or tired – and while it once was easy to keep track of a first wife or first child’s name, it’s not as important to remember all the current details of a third child or a second husband. This was our class reunion, what is important is the Class of 1982. In many regards I see this reunion as the kick-off for preparations for our 30th. It’s closer then you think. And no one was thinking about a vote as to whether or not we will have one, that’s a given. But a reunion doesn’t just happen it takes work.

Some of that work I failed to do and I feel a guilty that we missed a good portion of our class. We should make it a goal to contact at least 90% of our lost and missing, why? Because we want to know and we care where they are. Not because we want to show off – that was our 10th & even 20th reunion, but because we want to know where you are and we want you here. It was 300 of us during those four years at Park View. We wouldn’t be the Class of 1982 with out every single one of you. We fatally lost only a few classmates in these first 25 years – we will begin to loose even more over the next 25. There is sprint and camaraderie that transcends the burden of our real world lives and the superficiality of our social status. We showed up to be a part of the reunion and we simply missed those who were not with us. Where are you Class of ’82? Our union is simply weaker without you here. Our union is stronger if we try to remember and reach out to as many classmates as possible. I failed to contact my friends living on the west coast – what a mistake for not giving them the chance to make the decision on their own and to be there. Here are some of the missing, Marc Domer and Dennis Pratt – my best friends who I didn’t call because Marc lives in southern California and Dennis lives in Oregon. Marc, by the way, was running around in his new Dodge Viper on Saturday so I don't feel too bad that he wasn't there – he sends his best to everyone. Also, we run the risk of further alienating those who for some reason or another, simple didn’t like high school and would rather forget. I didn’t like high school but after 25 years, I have forgiven, or more like forgotten, the bad things. I don’t want the PVHS Class of 1982 to only be made up of those whose email addresses we happen to have and the few of us who have made the 10th, the 20th, and the 25th. The class just doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to everyone who attended PVHS with us from 1978 and 1982.

So I missed my good friends Mark and Dennis, but I also missed Mike Wilton and Mark Craig. I did get to talk to Bill Smyada who still lives in Houston and works for the FAA, his wife is still a t-sip and I’m so glad he came to town. But I missed Mark Von Gersdorff and Kevin Dorward. Joe Shray who missed our 20th but flew in from England to be with us, he works for Raytheon and hopes to come back to the States soon, I’m glad he came. But I missed Scott Thurston and Chris Bennett. Pat Tewell, the banker, brought his beautiful wife who really had no idea Pat was a motor head in school. To bad that didn’t help him with his two flat tires. Sorry Pat, but glad you came. I missed Lia Silva and Karl Scofield. Raj, Jimmy, Kevin, and Al came – still funny and full of spirit and energy – and you know how I can tell Raj is gay? Because he grabbed my butt ever-so gingerly. I’m glad you all came. But I missed Robert Rudzinski and Mike Chapman. Liz and Monica were there, each with many kids on their minds. The two of them were still glued at the hip throughout the evening just like in school. Although they don’t talk too much between reunions you would have thought differently. I’m glad you both came. But I missed Paul McLaughlin and Justine Menapace. And hey John Dawson did you get to talk to Chuck Green? You both work for the same organization. I’m glad you came, but next time twist Sherry and Susan Mann’s arms a little harder -since they missed our 20th as well. And Diana, Teresa, and Susan who I didn’t get to talk too much—it wouldn’t be a reunion with out any of you. I’m glad you came. But where was Becky Latta and Dan Lasic. And of course Darlene was there, but she wore sunglasses so I didn’t recognize her, I’m glad you found Kent and brought him. But where was Dennis Darnes, Don Bostic, and Rich Dodrill. Oh wait, Rich was there, still believing GM makes the faster cars. MOPAR rules! And Lori and Wayne who brought their 21-year-old beauty queen to the picnic. She’s 21 now so I can say that without getting into trouble. I’m glad you came and I look forward to some all night parties down in Melbourne next year. And Donna Sours, my sister showed up late to the picnic, sorry you missed her she wanted to chat. Ellen Luster was the girl who hung out with you two. I’m glad you came. But I missed Debbie Hill, Richard Dwyer, and David Earl. And Lisa Zuraw, who popped in at the last second, and mentioned Coach Jim Hartung. She still works with him of all people. It was great to see you, I’m glad you came.

I really want to thank everyone else who showed up to make our reunion a reunion – if I didn’t mention you I will probably remember tomorrow and feel like a jerk. I’m glad each and every one of you came. And to Vicki and Beth a special note to please be a part of planning our 30th – Lisa has given us a great start. There were many missing but we are on their trail. So that’s it. Five years later. A lot has changed but very little has changed. We are still very much the PVHS Class of 1982. I want to see you all of you and everyone else we can find in 2012. It’s sooner than you think.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Shame on You Greg Ryan

I’ve been reading the banter in the news regarding the Women’s World Cup controversy surrounding the head coach, Greg Ryan’s decision to replace his starting Goal Keeper, Hope Solo, with the more experienced Brianna Scurry of previous World Cup fame. The discussion is all over the map. It ranges from “You must never question the coach”, to “Fire the coach”, to “Shame on you Hope Solo”, for making negative comments after the game. This controversy is destined to become the legacy of Greg Ryan’s coaching career. While I can appreciate the perspective of many of the comments I have read I can’t keep from feeling there is a universal missing of the point. As trite as this may sound World Cup Soccer is the high temple of the beautiful game. There is no higher calling; there is no higher venue in this sport. Not the Olympics, not the multitude of world wide professional league cups, and not the super league tournaments. I will not argue this point further—If you doubt what I am saying you have no business commenting on this controversy.

To play in the World Cup is to play to win. Making it to the championship matches after two years of qualifying does not result in a strategy to hang in for 2nd or 3rd place. World Cup dreams are about going all the way. When the US was eliminated by Brazil after their semi-final match, the dream was over. Preparing the team for a third place consolation round against Norway is just that, a consolation round. The World Cup dreams were over and the team failed. Today we can rally around the team and say collectively it was not their fault, the better Brazilian side out played them. Not to take credit from Brazil but when a goal differential is so lopsided as 4 –0 something must have changed or gone terribly wrong on the field. Yes there was an own goal, and yes there was a dismal decision to send off Shannon Box, but there was also a major change in the defense. This is not to blame Brianna Scurry – she is a world-class keeper – the question is was she ready on every level to lead the team in the net during a semi-final match during a tournament in which she had yet to appear. Clearly the answer is no. One person has to live with the decision—Greg Ryan. And he has been quoted in the press as saying, “I can live with that decision”. What an arrogant ass. In the process of living with his decision he has shattered the nation’s World Cup dreams, the dreams of every player on the team potentially destroyed his own career, Hope Solo’s career, and indelibly marred the brilliant career of Brianna Scully. He can live with that? And to gain him more points as a world-class horses-ass he is now attempting to redirect blame onto Hope Solo for making negative comments after the game, seemingly because her negative comments have distracted the team as they prepare for their third place consolation match. In fact Hope was asked not to the train with the team or come to the game. Talk about lack of leadership, lack of professional integrity, immaturity, and either the arrogance, incompetence, or uncertainty in his coaching decisions – my views are now known. Greg Ryan has to go.

But there is more to this story because we have to understand Hope Solo – and save her reputation from the shadow of a miserable coach. First, she won the starting position during qualifying, practice, and the run-up to the World Cup. She took the position from the best keeper US women have ever had. No small feat – and to Greg Ryan’s credit he made this decision. Second, she was benched the night before the semi-final match. While we don’t know everything that Ryan told her that evening, he no doubt told her the kind’s of things that she commented on to the press. Things that would make her say, “living in the past”, etc. Third, Hope Solo, unlike Ryan feels responsible for the loss against Brazil. Her comments are not selfish in nature and do not stem from some anti-team sentiment. She feels totally responsible for not being on the field to help her team. That is completely a team attitude. To feel responsible when you are on the bench is how every player should feel. On the contrary – Ryan has not taken any responsibly for his decision nor did he display any leadership on the field. He could have curtailed Solo’s comments after the game by a simple expression of responsibility. Instead of hiding from his decision he should have gone to Solo after the game, put his arms around her and said, “I’m sorry I benched you Solo. This was my fault and my fault alone, I have to live with the decision”. By taking responsibility in this way, Solo would probably not have had the same run in with the press. And when the run-in with the press occurred, remember for Solo the World Cup is winning. And they just lost. All the preparation, all the sacrifice, the World Cup was over. Had she made her comments and showed dissent before the game that would have been problematic -- but she did not. She was a professional and waited. In the absence of truth coming from the right source, she spoke the truth. And as previously mentioned, Ryan then used her comments to deflect attention away from him and to further bury his mistake. What a coward. Shame on you Greg Ryan.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Racing -- The Tour de France

In the past 104 years of true sporting legend I am but a toddler, a very young, perhaps 4 or 5-year-old fan of the Tour de France. As with all young children I jumped in the Tour de France or TdF as true fans refer to it in writing, with both feet. I reluctantly admit that I became a fan during the waning days of the Armstrong dynasty, as many did. I am reluctant to admit this fact because I consider myself an independent thinker, not one to follow the masses. Yet still, cycle racing remains a low priority for most American’s even in the wake of Armstrong, so I don’t feel too bad about my “independent” decision.

Prior to becoming a rabid fan of the TdF I typically would spend long summer months wishing for the chance to watch the FIFA World Cup on ESPN. Every year, during the month of June, I count the seasons until the next World Cup. The chance comes only once every four years and I therefore I must wait patiently. Then I found the TdF on the Outdoor Living Network (OLN), just one click down on my cable line-up. Suddenly life during the summer had meaning – at least until the end of July. I was not brand new to cycling – I still have a nice bike I purchased with paper route money in 1978 – it still has the old style toe clips and only 12 speeds but it was state of the art 30 years ago. And I am familiar with the names of Greg LeMond, Miguel Indurain, and even Eddy Merckx. But when I was a kid in the 80’s I was not passionate either about the TdF or cycling in general. Every kid in the United States has a bicycle after all but the ubiquitous passion is lacking. For the last 4 years however, the TdF has lifted my spirits – both anticipating its start, early in the summer, and thinking about it’s conclusion, as the summer passed into the fall.

And now, just as quickly as I became a fan, the TdF has lost luster and is on the verge of becoming a hollow event. Something has occurred that disrupts my security and has sent me away scratching my head. The TdF has been violated. I feel like a victim – there clearly are many victims though as the TdF concludes in Paris on this very day. The TdF spin-doctors would have you believe the fans have their sport back and all is right with the world. But there are victims and there will be more -- the sponsors, the so called clean riders, the cities and towns along the route, and of course the riders who have been found cheating. Anyone can claim to be a victim – so I will also put in my claim to be a victim. I don’t put money into this sport. My impact on this sport is so small, so inconsequential; I stand nothing to gain from it. I have no favorites. I have no investment – but I feel like I am losing all the value that once appeared before me. The sport, the event, the contest, is being destroyed before my eyes and it is painful to watch. Only those of us who are clean – and I don’t mean in the doping sense – those who in this sport stand to profit nothing are the ones I am describing as clean. But does that make us victims or just innocent of any crime? Everyone else who has an agenda must be the real perpetrators. Whether they have a favorite team or favorite rider, whether they are in it for the money or the prestige, I question who in this sport has not stood by for decades knowing that there was cheating going on? If the event started 104 years ago, the cheating started 103 years ago. If doping is a problem then I blame the guilty - but that doesn't necessarily mean they are the criminals. I’ve only been a fan for a few years but I know many riders are cheating – the most grueling sport on the planet waged over 20+ straight days. At the expense of insulting more than a few riders, yeah right. And even if direct cheating isn't going on, who hasn’t been under suspicion or at a minimum been accused of some violation if they performed well? And furthermore, who hasn't at a minimum suspected someone else of competitive malfeasance.

Every champion for decades has been accused. But it’s not just cycling, right? It’s every professional sport. So do we just cancel professional sports out right? Or do we wake up to the reality that sports are much more a spectacle of entertainment and far less one of human achievement. A race is about the race. It is the excitement of charging full speed for some line in the sand, to get there first. It is, or has to be, the very oldest of human competitions. It requires nothing more that the very primordial desire to get some place first – probably, and most likely, to be first to the dinner table. We all race, it’s in our blood. The question is at what level do be begin to cheat? Because after that very first primordial race, after there was declared a victorious winner and a sorry loser, there was a second race. Two things happened. First the loser started looking for a way to gain an advantage. Second the winner started looking for a way to keep the advantage. If the race is close, it’s exciting. If it’s a rout it’s not a race. A race must be close and someone must be able to gain the advantage in order to win or it wouldn’t be exciting. Is that wrong? Or is that just racing?Let’s stop kidding ourselves and this is important. Everyone is dirty because everyone is always looking for an advantage. The question is where is the line between what is an accepted advantage, money to purchase a lighter bike for instance, and what is not an accepted advantage, such as taking a banned substance? Drafting, the technique of placing yourself in the slip stream of the rider in front of you, is, at its very basic nature, cheating. But what would racing be without the technique of drafting? Again, if the race is close, the race is exciting. I’ve been an amateur motorcycle racer – I could not afford an expensive machine. My bike was 10 years old. I could have taken all the EPO in the world but I was never going to win on my old machine. But performance-enhancing drugs don’t help too much in a motor sport – at least they don’t at my level. No it would be easier for me to modify my machine with some banned apparatus to get more horsepower. But my bike is required to go through a technical inspection. I could never win based on my talents alone – what was required was that I purchase a new motorcycle – that would give me an advantage over many riders and that would be acceptable. Didn't I just buy myself to the front of the race? And those who stand to profit most from my purchase just happen to be in the business of making racing motorcycles and putting on motorcycle races.

The problem is that there should be rules of fair play in athletic competitions – there should be in sports – gracious humble winners and good losers. We need more of folks with that attitude. Now take pro wrestling as another example. Hell, we know that Pro wrestling is rigged and it’s still exciting. But a rigged race wouldn’t be exciting at all. So in the same vane, does having the money to buy better equipment constitute cheating as well, just because it’s allowed by the rules? I happen to think it does. And this is why -- it’s all about the money, it’s not about the race. The sport of cycle racing is comprised of those who have money and those who want more of it – it’s a business. This sport, all sports, any sport where there is money involved, expect it to be dirty.

So should we police the sport – should we strive to keep it clean? The answer no – because it is dirty by its very nature. Gaining the advantage is by it’s very nature the art of racing. Ask NASCAR. But trying to gain the advantage is present in any professional sport, although it’s the very essence of racing. Yes we should have some rules – to keep sports from descending into anarchy and of course to generally protect the safety of the participants. But with racing, it is the excitement of using your advantage to overcome the adversity just in the final closing yards.Unfortunately it is not the drive to gain the advantage that is destroying the TdF and other sports; it’s the hypocritical cheaters that are destroying the TdF as well as other events. It is these self-righteous cheaters who are destroying every good venue by going on witch hunts. These witch hunters are hypocrites because they are trying to gain their own advantage. They are trying to over turn their perception of an unfair advantage with their own style of advantage – that of accusing the winners of cheating. They are trying to take the advantage off the track to establish the winners and the losers of the race on the track. If your team loses don’t accept the loss. Accuse the winners of cheating. This is the very pinnacle of being a sore loser. But it’s not necessarily the athletes who are the sore losers, it’s the teams and sponsors and organizers the countryman and the media whose money, pride, or lack of a good story that is in jeopardy. This is the height of irony. It’s so pervasive that in some countries they reward the treacherous for being sly enough to gain a tactical advantage, either on or off the battleground. Competition, and perhaps the more serious revelation that the primordial rush to the dinner table meant the difference between life and death, at it’s root, is life or death, means that treachery means survival. And if you remember the Great Coach of the Liverpool Football Club, Bill Shankly once said, 'Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I'm very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.' It is the primordial rush to the dinner table that constitutes a race and that is what makes it exciting to witness, over and over again, in every athletic competition, save the Olympics which does reserve a special place for human achievement. But rarely, if ever, are professional sports about anything but who gets to eat. Your job is to put food on the table, a lot of food. When you put food on the table, you are eliminating food from the other guy’s table. Professional wrestling learned that if they control the entertainment medium and make the entire event a shame they could make even more money.

But to control a racing event, where no one has the advantage, would be like riding go-carts at the beach. It simply wouldn’t be a race if no one could find an advantage – because no one would win. It’s like bob sled racing – where the winner and the loser is separated by 100th of a second. That’s a ridiculous race – you might as well drop two marbles to the floor and time their arrival and declare a winner or a loser. There really are no winners or losers in this type of event; although we have to name one. So back to the TdF, who are the victims? Yes there should be rules. Establish the rules and stick to the rules. But don’t make the rules so restrictive that the race is won off the track – or rules that give those other than the athlete’s control of the outcome of the race. Yes there will be cheating and those caught breaking the rules can sit out the next race. The very essence of racing is gaining the advantage – the only difference is where the creativity to win comes from that can move the sport forward. If we ban everyone trying to find an advantage, trying to race, there will be no one left on the road. Further, if we don’t let the winners win and the losers lose on the track then we will let the hypocrites settle the race off the track. Those are the true bad guys and the reason you see push back from many racing teams on the issue of doping. The teams are trying to race, trying to win. But the team itself doesn't stand as much to lose as the rider. It is the rider's blood and sweat that gets left on the roads through France. It is the rider who is pushed to the brink both physically and mentally day in and day out. It is the rider who is under so much pressure to find an advantage who rolls the dice and pushes hard against the rules. And when they have ridden hard through hell, experienced pain for hours on end, reached to top of an arduous climb, and finally crossed through the finish line throwing their hands skyward, we relish their victory. Then the cowardly hypocrites emerge looking to strip them of their victory on the road. Sometimes they succeed. If they win the punishment for trying to gain the advantage becomes absolute. A rider's career is over. After dedicating most of their life with countless hours in the saddle training for such a small moment in time as a stage victory in the Tour de France. Those who have not won, have not yet found the advantages that will take them over the top first -- and there are many advantages necessary. I therefore give you the true victim's of what we have been witnessing in France this month. Those who are pushed to the brink and look just a bit too far for the winning advantage. Does their punishment fit the crime? Are the real criminals prosecuted? The answer to both questions has to be no.

So where do we go from here? A tradition that spans 104 years cannot be given up lightly, nor should it be. Something will change. It has too. The TdF will lose fans, coverage, and sponsorship. Those who love the sport will keep it alive no matter how low it sinks on the horizon. Riders will keep coming - thriving on the ultimate race and test off their skills - and fortunately, they will continue to look for an advantage be it tactical, physical, or mechanical. And I'm glad they will because that's what racing is all about. So let's not give up on the TdF, yes let’s keep it safe. But let’s also keep the essence of racing alive for those of us who simply enjoy a great race.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Beautiful Game

It is only with great arrogance that one argues the virtues of one poor analogy over an equally shortsighted example. It is with this same arrogance that I speak up in defense of my chosen sport – futball to the rest of the world – soccer here in the United States. I play soccer to gain both physical and mental fitness. Playing soccer correctly requires agility, stamina, and creativity. The Brazilians call it the beautiful game because when it is played with finesse and timing it can mesmerize the viewer, not unlike a well-choreographed ballet. Yet it is not the only sport that can captivate an audience. All sports can have beauty when the human body exhibits fluid motion – gymnastics, tennis, and figure skating fall into this category. Played as a team – ice hockey, basketball, and soccer are played fluidly and produce a range of human motion. Even American football, although played in a series of short intervals, contains human motion that can be defined as beautiful. Only team sports, as opposed to individual competitions, possess the necessary element of combat to warrant an analogy with warfare and how it is waged. It is here that my contribution to this discussion begins.

I grew up playing America football. My earliest memories playing football include wearing the Cleveland Browns uniform my parents purchased out of the Sears Christmas Catalog – not because I liked Cleveland, but rather because I liked the orange helmet. All of the NFL uniforms were available and they were neatly laid out in neatly in the pages of the catalog. I remember scanning those pages for hours before finally making my choice. Strangely my best friend also received a Cleveland Browns uniform for Christmas and coincidently our two friends up the street both got Los Angeles Rams uniforms. With my friend’s older brother – who played for the local high school team – acting as a quarterback for both sides, we played well through summer. We huddled, we planned, we ran, we blocked, we faked, we moved slowly up the field. We scored. I also remember attending the high school games – always with my eyes locked on the wide receiver – our special backyard quarterback.

Next up in my memory bank comes the punt, pass, and kick competition. I didn’t fare too well in these events. My friend has a shelf full of trophies. I wanted to win a trophy one day. When it became time to join a league team I had already moved away and was introduced to soccer – perhaps there was another way to win a trophy. I continued to play sand lot football with my new friends on my new street, but when it was time to play a team sport, soccer was already stealing my heart. Although everything still revolved around football, nobody seemed to notice I was playing soccer and nobody seemed to care – it wasn’t until I started receiving Sports Illustrated magazine that I noticed somebody did care. I’m quite certain that between 1970 and 1980 SI didn’t even know that soccer was a sport. Our culture revolved around football, and despite what Chevrolet may contend football had usurped the more prominent American pastime of baseball.

Holidays, of course, were not complete without football on TV. The entire family stuffed with turkey in the family room watching the games. Who didn’t participate in this cultural conditioner? Up until this point this conditioning was all subconscious – it happened without much choice. Consciously, I took an active interest in football as a spectator when I arrived in high school. Everything centered on the football team. The weight room, the private locker room, the best uniforms, the marching band, and, of course, the cheerleaders all seemed to exist for the support of the football team. I still didn’t much about money or consider the financial side of things. All I knew about money was that the football team didn’t have fundraisers. The track team went door-to-door collecting newspapers to recycle. The band just went door-to-door begging. But every Friday night you were expected to be at the football game. That’s where your friends were. That’s where the girls were – and if you were lucky – that’s where your first kiss occurred. The pep rallies, the bonfires, the homecoming (I still don’t understand homecoming) – but I do know selecting the homecoming queen is a popularity contest. Cliques were formed – the popular guys dated the popular girls. The geeks hung out with the band. The druggies smoked cigarettes under the bleachers. Everybody was present and accounted for at those Friday night games. The cultural brain washing was nearly complete by the time we graduated from high school. Those who chose to go to college would leave their high school teams behind in favor of the great college squads. Those who did not go to college began following their father’s favorite pro team or shifted to stockcar racing.

I went to college and again received a healthy dose of football Americana. I stood through every college game I attended. I spend the week before the game finding a date to bring. I went to the pep rallies and the bon fires. I lived for the weekends – and, as a bonus, we could now drink beer at the stadium. We drank before the games and after the games as well. We drank either to celebrate a victory or to drown out a defeat, it didn’t matter – although you might celebrate with a more expensive import choosing to drown your sorrows with a cheaper domestic. If you were really lucking you would have sex with your date back in the dorm. If you were really really lucking you would have sex with your date at midnight on the fifty-yard line. If you were not so lucking you would spend the night throwing up in the toilet. What’s not to love about football?

But what does any of this have to do with warfare and the way the United States military conducts operations? If you haven’t been paying attention it is the arrogance of a winner that has drawn the ire of our adversaries. It is precisely our belief in the complete and total dominance of our adversary that makes us a winner – but we can only win doing what we know we can do best – we are the best at playing football. And, in case you haven’t noticed, it is football that has emerged as the champion of our capitalist society. Football wins the race for the money with advertising space during the Superbowl still the most valuable airtime in the history of television.

It is precisely this strategy of total dominance that leads to the criticism of football’s focus on centralized command and centralized control as the wrong way to do business during a conflict. But as we know, total domination, is the only way to do business when American lives are at stake. You go tell the mom or dad that their son or daughter died in combat because it was necessary to go easy on the enemy – they were getting their feelings hurt so we backed off a little. We didn’t want to run up the score, it might upset them and make the rivalry game next year just that much more difficult. It would be poor form like to run up the score. That’s a load of crap! Of course we run up the score in combat. We hit them with everything we’ve got, and then some. The point is that we’ve got more than football in our bag of tricks – we’ve got soccer too, as well as hockey, and basketball – we just haven’t learned about flexibility, about other ways to do things, that sometimes you can get more done with a carrot than a hammer. That’s the entire first article by Li and was attempting to point out. Not to attack the sacrosanct sport of our culture. American men have not learned the lesson. American women – perhaps filling the void caused by not being allowed to play football – have learned the lesson. Have you ever heard of Mia Hamm or Christine Lilly. This year, Pele (Does he need an introduction?) recently named the greatest 100 soccer players of all time. His list included 98 men from all over the world; none are from the United States. The list also includes 2 women – you guessed it – Mia Hamm and Christine Lilly who were both born and bred in the USA.

The men’s World Cup was held in Korea and Japan in 2002. The US men’s team produced their best showing ever. It was a competition to behold – with one of the greatest finals of all time pitting the mighty game played by the German’s against the beautiful game play by Brazil. An estimated 1 billion soccer fans worldwide witnessed this spectacle. Never was a venue more ripe for the political picking – soccer was absent from the US political agenda. No picking occurred. Although our political machine did not show up for the photo op, American corporations did show up to display their wares on this global billboard.

The Women’s World Cup was held last summer in the United States. It was supposed to be held in China – but with the outbreak SARS – world travel plans were changed. I still wonder if anyone in our government knows or cares that during the competition the North Korean’s were playing for honor and glory in our heartland – Columbus, Ohio to be exact. China also brought their team. Another great venue ripe for the political picking was ignored. Not stupidity – mostly out of ignorance with a smattering of arrogance.

So there is much more this Country and our military can learn from the sport of soccer. I will not belabor the commentaries that have come before this – except to say soccer is closer aligned with a revolution in military affairs in that the transformational war fighting construct that it and other sports of a continuous and free flowing nature (basketball, hockey, etc.) demonstrate is one of shared awareness and the ability to self synchronize. On the gridiron, awareness is far from shared. Viewing each facemask can assess the necessary level of awareness for each player. The more bars on the cage the less awareness necessary. And on each set play, everyone has very specific instructions. Contrast that with the requirement for everyone on the field, court, or ice to know the position of the ball or puck and the relative position and capability of player engaged in the battle. No additional coordination is necessary. If an attacker is moving down the wing his job is to cross the ball into the penalty box. It is the requirement for the striker to be aware that the run is taking place and to synchronize their own run to have their head or stick on the end of the ball or puck when the cross comes.
It is of course sheer folly to make these black and white comparisons. War is the most complex of all human endeavors. What we do know for certain about the nature of warfare is that it is an uncertain business. The fog of war permeates everything. Preparing for all strategic contingencies is resource prohibitive. Preparing for the Superbowl is a noble calling if the game is actually played. Having the flexibility to adapt to a different strategy is more important if the competition fails to enter the stadium on Superbowl Sunday – or moves the ball off the soccer field as been suggested. When that day comes let’s not get caught in the stadium alone or stacked at the line of scrimmage. A pick-up game of soccer in the parking lot may be all that we have left or a lone goalkeeper standing in the net when the ball comes back on the field. Let’s make sure we have some good all-purpose athletic shoes in the trunk of the car and the knowledge of many games – we might even have to play basketball.

Snake Ethics (a work of fiction)

Today I walked into the backyard and found our dog Molly lying still on the ground. She was barely breathing. As I drove her to the vet her heart stopped. She died before we arrived. After the vet examined her he asked if we owned a poisonous snake. He said he believed a snake bit Molly. Where did the snake come from?

This afternoon a friend pointed out that one of our neighbors has been raising snakes as a hobby for several years. I was shocked and furious. We pulled apart my back yard and found no trace of a poisonous snake so I went to see this snake-raising neighbor. The inside of his home felt more like being inside a reptile house at the zoo. He was clearly a snake fanatic. However, he was very understanding. He informed me that all his snakes were accounted for and that, as a responsible snake owner, he would never allow one of his snakes to get loose. He added that the vet was probably wrong since a snake of this type could not survive in our local climate. He didn’t know if anyone else in the neighborhood was raising snakes. He pointed out that there were indeed snake-owners who gave his good hobby a bad name. I couldn’t help but feel the hypocrisy of many a zealot echoing in his hollow words. I felt like he was lying to me.

For the past few months the relationship between the snake lover and my family has been tough. On the one hand I believe he has every right to a hobby that brings him happiness. On the other hand, he has an inherent right to the community to do so responsibly. Unfortunately, I cannot prove that one of his snakes escaped and therefore I cannot prove that he was raising snakes irresponsibly.

Last week I started talking with neighbors about my perception of what was going on in the community. Perhaps I should have thought through all of my actions but I can’t impede what has been set in motion. I was emphatic in my description of the crazy neighbor who has taken away our family dog. My crusade has been met with a variety of reactions. “I didn’t know that lunatic was raising snakes”, “This is a free country, if he wants to raise hyena’s who am I to judge or get in his way”, and “I don’t know if he is crazy, I’ve never met the man.” This issue might have dropped completely if today I had not also discovered another neighbor who’s family pet was the victim of a poisonous snake several years ago. To my shock they found the offending snake, and since it was not a species indigenous to this region, let alone the continent, there was only one place from which the snake could have originated. Unfortunately there was no proof and the snake lover had denied any responsibility or wrongdoing in that case as well.

For the past few weeks I have renewed my crusade against my neighbor. I checked city ordinances. I spoke at city council meetings. I am writing letters. I had citizens sign a petition. I am campaigning against this snake lover with zeal reserved only for the opposing factions of a holy war. Fight fanaticism with fanaticism. I am waging a global war on snake lovers. Communication between our families has come to an end. Lawsuits are threatened. Ugly glances and heated words are exchanged. I bought another dog, a large German shepherd, for my family to feel safe in our own back yard.

The situation continues to get worse. It seems we live a very stressful life side by side in this small city. Yesterday some kids from down the street took it upon themselves to throw eggs at my lunatic neighbor’s house. They don’t seem to like him – I’m not sure if they really know why. We all seem to be prisoners in our own homes. I do not condone the actions of these kids, but I couldn’t help feeling a little bit good about the egg throwing.

Despite continuous objections from civil libertarians, the City Council passed an ordinance requiring the licensing of all snake breeders within the city. Things are looking up and it seems our crusade is finally making progress. The snake lovers are being pushed out. I feel good.

Last evening a snake bit my daughter in our backyard. Today my daughter is in a coma at the city hospital. The police wasted no time obtaining a search warrant to enter my neighbor’s house. The trouble is, all his snakes are gone. Vanished. No hint that he ever raised snakes in the past, and he is denying everything but a passing fancy he had with snakes several years previous. Where did they go? Does he still have them? Did he move them? Is another neighbor now playing with snakes? These questions and my need to have them answered are stalled by my anguish and unrelenting fear that my daughter is very very sick.

I feel like ripping my neighbor’s house apart searching for clues. If he gets in the way I will hurt him. If I find a snake I will kill it. But the police have been there – I now have a faceless enemy and I do not know where he lives or where the snakes could be. I also believe my neighbor is still lying. But how do I get the truth out of him?

There is outrage on my street. How could this happen in our happy and quiet bedroom community? Support for my family has come from the entire city. We have been on the local news. Where are the snakes? The investigation is just starting to get underway. The police have little to go on. It’s almost as if the snake just materialized in the backyard. It will not last the winter most experts agree. Yet my little girl still lays in a coma.

I feel like I am at war. A war I did not start and a war I do not want to fight. How do I fight this war against the unknown? I don’t know whom to hit. I don’t know if I should hit. I just feel like staying inside to cry. My mind races through the events of the past year. Did I push too hard? Did I inadvertently make life for snake lovers in this community oppressive? Maybe these snake people are just like you and me? No way, anyone who has anything to do with raising snakes must be evil. But is my family the victim of evil or just some random event? Once we find the snake we will know.

We found the snake. It was dead. It was found beneath one of the loose bricks near another neighbor’s basement. The snake comes from Africa – it’s an Egyptian Cobra, an asp, of Cleopatra fame. No doubt this snake escaped from a breeder or was placed in our neighborhood. Placed in our neighborhood? Now we clearly have evil at work. Only the insane would release such a dangerous snake into a peaceful innocent neighborhood. Who would do such a dastardly thing? As my daughter lays in a coma I have no answers – only a swelling of anger and the support of the entire neighborhood to find those responsible. Even my more liberal neighbor seems upset based on his statement to me last evening, “I’m really sorry about your little girl. My children are terrified to go into our backyard. The freedoms that we took for granted and thought we were defending have been horribly altered and I am coming to understand that I should have backed you on this snake thing from the beginning. I know it’s late in coming but if there is anything I can do now, I most certainly will. We cannot have snakes running loose in our city – or crazy people who release them into our neighborhoods.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have campaigned against my neighbor so hard. I am so very afraid that I backed him into a corner that I have been blaming myself. But whoever did this is not a responsible snake breeder. My neighbor might have been responsible but whoever let that snake loose is a certifiable lunatic. Our neighborhood is gripped in terror. Men walk the streets and yards of our street looking for more snakes. The neighborhood vows to rebuild our status in the city. There is talk of scandal and property value. There is sadness. But nothing outweighs the burden on my daughter as she lies in some dream state deciding if she should awaken or leave us forever.

My daughter has decided to leave us. She passed away this morning. Unbelievable pain. More than I can stand. I can’t live – I don’t know what there is to live for – I am without direction. I will kill my neighbor. I will kill anyone who gets in my way.

Why didn’t I break into his house and kill his snakes last year? Why didn’t I know more about what was going on with the snake breeders? Good people don’t do bad things is the way I want to live. But now a very bad thing has been done to me and I want remuneration, I want retribution, I want revenge. I wanted to do things right. I wanted the legal system to handle the problem. It didn’t work. And now my family is suffering. Should I take the law into my own hands? Should I continue to seek resolution through our legal system? I can’t even prove that it was my neighbor’s snake. But now we have harm, wrongful death, homicide – the rules have changed. It is not just the snake that I loathe – it is those who harbor them. For who better to understand the danger’s of a venomous snake than the snake’s owner. For that reason alone, due to their gross negligence, they are guilty murderers, the instrument of my family’s pain. I will bring down the wrath of hell upon this neighbor and his kind before anything like this can ever happen again. I did nothing.

I heard my neighbor smiled when he was told my daughter had been bitten – I heard he turned pale when he found out she died. He hasn’t talked to me – there is nothing for him to say. There was a moving van at his house today. My friends tell me he moved out and left no forwarding address. Still we grieve. Nothing can fill the emptiness in our lives. We move about the day. We go to work. Nothing seems real. We are numb. I want release from this pain. If I die he will win. Maybe he should win. Maybe he was the better man. Maybe I should have minded my own business. I bought a handgun.

The police called today. They arrested a man in town for selling dangerous reptiles without a license. They say they intend to prosecute. I don’t care. How can I care? Slowly we are rebuilding our life – the pain is great. The reminders are all too frequent. I found out where my neighbor is now living.

The police called today. They said the man they arrested has evidence in our case. The man they arrested will testify that he sold my neighbor an Egyptian Cobra. He will also testify that my neighbor told him he intended to release it through his fence to take care of my dog. It was never intended to hurt my little girl. He intended to kill the dog. They will arrest him and charge him with capital murder in the death of my precious baby. A surge of energy enveloped me. Can this be true? Did my neighbor intentionally release that snake to harm my family? My anger returned – my questions were answered. Yes I should have broken into his house. Yes I should have killed his snakes. Yes I should have run this deranged and evil man from our town. Would the law have been on my side? Unfortunately it is difficult to look into the heart of a mad man. Did I drive him to it? Perhaps – but there can never be room in a civilized society for such a course of action. He had options open to him. He has a job. He has money. He could have moved away. He could have punched me in the nose. To strike at the innocent in a cowardly fashion is unforgivable.

My neighbor was sentenced to 30 years in prison for negligent homicide. The judge said his stupidity ranks right up there with drunken drivers who kill people. His punishment should be no less severe. Our pain will be no less severe. That night my murdering neighbor took an overdose of sleeping pills and died in his cell. Although I still feel the pain and heartbreak a threat and a menace to society has been removed. We must not act out of anger or revenge. But we must act. We must act with much thought and cannot expect to be held blameless. Those who cannot live in society and play by its rules must be removed. Removal from society must come about as a function of the whole society - not strictly by those seeking revenge or being owed retribution. This is the cost of our freedom. If we don’t pay these costs we will never truly be free.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

High School Reunion

What should I wear to my reunion? Should I look successful? Should I look casual as if the event were a low-key social occasion that should nothing more pressing arise I would attend? Who will I see? Who do I want to see? Will I remember their names, faces, classes we had together? Should I review the yearbook ahead of time? Should I play golf on Friday? The price for this whole affair is rather steep – I must be at the low end of those who made it in the class – or perhaps my priorities are misplaced. Some of my classmates traveled from California and Texas to be here – It’s our 20-year reunion, spare no cost. What is a reunion anyway? Were we ever a union? Was the PVHS Senior Class of 1982 ever a union?

I have seen unions, or heard of them – bands of brothers bound invisibly by their proximity to death, unearthly stress, or tragic circumstance. Nine miners in Pennsylvania will no doubt reunite from time to time. That will be a reunion.

What of this high school reunion? Is this reunion more important than the ones my preschooler has with her pre-school friends once a week over the summer. I’m not sure my 4-year-old cares – other than it’s definitely fun to get together and play. She doesn’t have the option to stay home. Her mom has made that decision for her – as she will also make the decision on what to wear. Perhaps I should let my wife choose my tie - should I wear a tie? But I have the option not to go. Most will not go.

Does 300 kids struggling to be men and women constitute a union? Is there a compelling reason for this union to draw large numbers of our friends back together? Was there a common theme in high school to unite us the rest of our lives? Four years spent in high school represented 25% of our lives up to that point. The number is closer to 35% if you discount time before age 4 - which few of us can remember. Life moved slowly. Summers stretched endlessly. We yearned to understand our bodies, our relationships, and our insecurities. Some things don’t change. Life moves faster these days, summers end before they begin, and the reunion – a full six hours of fun – was over in the blink of an eye. With four full hours remaining Vicki remarked that the reunion was going by too fast – I sensed she wanted to stop the clock and freeze the memories in time as they have been frozen forever in our yearbooks, team photos, and class memorabilia.

The time we spent at PVHS represents closer to 10% of our current lives. Until we left home we had been with our parents our entire lives. As we approach 40 we seem to have lived less than half our lives with our parents. When we die, if we are lucky, less than a fifth of our lives will have been spent with our parents. This is why our departed friends and their early deaths were so tragic. Their short lives never expanded to the point where time begins to collapse events back into more manageable segments. Segments we would like to forget (divorce, illness, death), segments we would like to remember (college, military service, a good job). Those who married right out of high school have now lived more time with their own families then they did, or can remember they did, with their parents. And now that my daughter is four I have spent more time with her than with any of you. Yet leaving her with a sitter to be with my high school class seems very appropriate, although telling everyone about her, and hearing about classmate’s families seems even more appropriate.

I was not popular in high school. I was not athletic, I was not well known, I was not good looking, I didn’t know how to kiss well, I didn’t walk with a bounce, and I didn’t drink beer (at least my parents didn’t think so). I was jealous of the popular and more outgoing in our class, those who tended to carry the spirit and hold things together. I hung out with those who might turn to drugs or in today’s society might turn to something infinitely more tragic to get attention. I certainly wasn’t picked on, but I certainly did find weapons attractive and we certainly did try to blow things up with fireworks after school before our parents came home. I can’t believe this is any different from any high school anywhere in the United States - Pleasant Valley, Pine View, Pedro Vista, or Palos Verde High Schools all celebrating PVHS Class of 1982 reunions this summer.

As PVHS students we lived in our cliques. 300 different minds and bodies. Some, perhaps, in search of individualism but most of us not knowing what that meant. Organized by acceptance, physical appearance, or athletic prowess we intersected awkwardly and bumped forward with one another toward graduation. In a place none of us choose. A place our parents happened to set down their lives, many of them no older then we are now. A place the local government said we would attend while the friends we never knew from Sugar-land Run and Forest Ridge would attend our rival school. A place where we suffered broken homes, disappointment, and life in general. Now after 20 years, as a class, we have had our share of this same life our parents and teachers endeavored to make better for us, as we attempt to make life better for our children. In a world that since September 11th has changed overnight. The same world that changed overnight on Dec 7th 1941 and throughout conflicts since. And in a world that will change again.

Yet we are still faced with a reunion. What has really changed? This reunion was not at the Holiday Inn. Doesn’t tradition mean anything? The Holiday Inn means so much to me – I worked there, I partied with classmates in rooms there, I discovered beer there, my neighbor cheated on her husband there, and as I remember, our former principle spent a lot of time drinking there. Perhaps it’s better to have the reunion at the Hyatt. Wouldn’t want to have to explain the Holiday Inn to my daughter.

But what else has changed? Our families are ten years older since the last reunion. More children have been born, marriages have come and gone, jobs have come and gone, some have made fortunes, some have found fortunes in the Lord, our waistlines have increased more, our hairlines have receded more, some of us have started our own companies, and some have won beauty pageants. Getting started could be the theme of the first ten years – college, jobs, and the start of families. Living life and working hard might be the theme of the last ten. And from what I can see – everyone is living life, experiencing life, believing in life, and working hard – except Barry. No one at our reunion was interested in himself or herself – they were interested in us, we, our class. How are we doing – PVHS Class of 1982? Just kidding about Barry.

Perhaps I didn’t feel the spirit at pep rallies, perhaps I didn’t feel the spirit at the five or ten-year reunion, perhaps I didn’t feel the spirit when I quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald for our alumni yearbook,

“So we beat on, boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly into the past…”

but friends I felt the spirit at our 20th reunion. I’ve graduated from three colleges, I’ve been in the military and have been regularly reunited with my buddies, and my parents come from big families, which require regular family reunions. High school was never high on my list of most favorite times in life, and that is unfortunate for me. But seeing everyone there, those I recognized, those I did not. It didn’t matter – for me each of you represents a life worth living and a life worth knowing. We cannot know everyone in the world – but it is nice to know that those we spent endless summers with, coming of age in a chance location are in fact joined – a union. We did not choose to be together – we were together by an act of grace larger than us all. The reunion committee, 100% women, perhaps mature to these simple facts much earlier than men. They have produced and incredible memory and should be profoundly thanked. This memory is one that I will not only cherish but one that compels me to cherish the memories of our days in high school even more. So, yes, the six hours flew by and I gained much but missed even more.

I never had the opportunity to tell Don I drove a Mustang GT in the early nineties or to courage to tell Scott T. I drove a Mustang GT in the early nineties. I missed the chance to tell Scott B. I was breaking ground on the foundation of a new room for my home and needed some expert advice. I smiled at the girls I liked – more than I did in high school – perhaps still intimidated by puppy love or perhaps just intimidated by my wife, I’m still not naming names. I missed talking soccer with Teresa, but talked to Christine about firing people. I missed figuring out how I was mistaken for Mark C. in the lobby, but talked to Shawn about the I-66/I-395 integration. I missed figuring out how Kent caught Darlene, but did talk to Darlene about their busted vacation in Aspen. I didn’t discuss the finer points of a 454 with Rich, but did talk motorcycles with Liz, Sandy, and Dana. I failed to introduce my wife to all the gymnasts I admired but since I ended up marrying a Virginia state gymnastics champion, I get a life time pass on that conversation. I did not get the chance to tell Lori we SCUBA dive, but I did tell Todd my parents still live on Lincoln - his parents still live on Beech. I talked to Jimmy but not enough to steal some of his amazing sprint. I missed talking to Joe about running a marathon – never done it but started to train and quit – three times, but I did tell Bill he married a T-Sip. I didn’t ask Mary about David but did let Don know how I felt about commercial lenders. Lend to small companies Don, we all need a chance. I felt Colin’s pain but pray I can find the same spirit and the strength he derives from his children.

So where are we now? Those of you who showed up can feel good. You made my weekend, and if you made me feel good, I believe everyone felt good about the weekend. So with much thought, great thanks to the committee, and a fond farewell until next time (I voted for a 25th) live life, make it better for the next generation, and keep in touch with one another. Our union, as adolescent as our feelings might have been, was in fact, unique. There was only one place where our 300 random but individual souls united to call our experience high school. That was Park View High School and the Class of 1982. See you all in ’07.

Terabithia -- The Greatest Story Ever Told

I viewed Bridge toTerabithia with my nine-year-old daughter last weekend. This weekend I took her back with her friend, her cousin, and my mom for a second viewing. I’m considering going a third time next weekend. Need I say more? I’ve never read the book, but I now intend to get a copy. Terabithia is not a Narina rip-off as I have read, rather, it is a real life story unlike The Chronicles of Narnia – which is a work of fantasy created to preach Christianity to the uninitiated. Terabithia starts with something real, not fantasy, and generates a story worth telling. It contains the Christian message subtly woven into it's fabric. Perhaps C.S. Lewis should have spent more time with children before he spun his yarn. Terabithia is the salvation of which C.S. Lewis must have been dreaming for with Narnia. Karen Paterson got it right.

Ok, are you ready, because some of this is a little hard to take so I’ll just put it out there for you to consider. Here is why Bridge to Terabithia is magnificent and the greatest story ever told.

There is a chasm between God and us. Call the chasm what you will – this movie uses the analogy of the creek. It has always been difficult to believe in God because we do not really know that he is on the other side. To get to God we have to take a leap of faith. Letting go of our inhibitions and taking that leap of faith is always the first step. Leslie pushes Jesse to take that first step by trusting in the rope and swinging to the other side.

So begins the journey of discovery and faith for Jesse with Leslie acting as the teacher – so that puts her in a significant role – one which I’m quite sure is missed by most Christians because they never see it coming. Leslie has a few powers that seem a little more than ordinary. She is the fastest runner. She knows the true essence of scuba diving having never actually been. She can see right into Jesse’s soul when she says to him, “Take a picture, it will last longer”. She wants to befriend everyone –including the bully. She has a genuine concern for everyone. And almost everything she does takes the form of a lesson she is trying to teach – and in the end she has taught lessons to everyone –including many adults hence the scene with Monster Mouth (Their mean teacher who seems to now soften) and her dialogue with Jesse.

But we realize that her powers are a little more exceptional than making friends and teaching. When they first enter Terabithia Leslie summons the winds – Jesus, of course, calmed the winds but this is just a story and is why it is so subtle. Also, Leslie speaks of freeing the Terabithians from their captor. In this case she speaks of the old fortress that is now dilapidated. The old fortress is the Old Testament and the approaches of the Old Testament to find God is holding it’s believers in bondage. Leslie is now presenting something New. Again she is teaching and she doesn’t stop teaching. It might seem odd that the old God is represented in this context as the Dark Master -- at the end this will be revealed as well. There are many things that happen over the next several scenes – she teaches the children and leads the “Free the Pee” revolt, she places her fingers over the mouth of May Belle when she is mocking Jesse and her, and of most significance, she goes to the Bully -- Janice Avery when she is crying and makes her feel better (She heals the sick and tormented). But remember she also pushes Jesse towards a relationship with Ms Edmunds the music teacher by getting Jesse to help her with her boxes and music equipment. She knows what she is doing and she knows she will be betrayed –although this isn’t explicit –its pretty clear she is pushing Jesse in some way and for some reason.

Now remember through all of this Leslie is being tormented because she is the new kid. She continues to teach and one of the most powerful lessons of all is when Janice sprays her with Ketchup. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the ketchup looks like blood? But what does Leslie do? She washes up at Jesse’s house so that her mother doesn’t call the school and get Janice into trouble. “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”. That’s what Jesus said when he was covered in blood.

Leslie continues to teach right up until the end –she catches a sun beam in her purse and finally there is the scene in the pick-up truck where she says the part about God not damning people to hell since he is too busy taking care of this beautiful place. Her teachings are almost complete. I have counted at least two parables - but I need to see the movie again. First, remember Jesse has very little money but still chooses to buy a gift for Leslie – the dog. This is an act of faith since the dog is Jesse's message to Leslie that he believes. The dog is to become their troll hunter. Second is the parable of the women searching for the lost coin. This is envoked when Jesse begins his search for the lost keys which represent a large chunk of change, about $700 by his father's estimation. He retrieves the keys but not without another huge act of faith which takes him out on a limb. But as he falls it is another of Leslie's disciples, the transformed Janice Avery, who must save him. Leslie's powers are at an all time high.

Up until this point it would still be just a nice story with some teachings but they take it further. Jesse betrays Leslie – can there be any doubt he knows he is doing it and of course Leslie dies at the creek. But the lessons continue – Leslie’s father tells Jesse that Leslie loved him – that is not just a message of friendship.

Jesse goes back to the creek and what has occurred with no explanation? A tree has fallen over the creek. The rope swing, which required Leslie’s presence in flesh to lead Jesse across, has been transformed into a bridge. To me, there is no doubt that the fallen log represents the resurrection –this will also be missed and hotly contested by most Christians I’m sure, but the symbolism is there.

The final teaching then occurs – May Belle tries to cross and is unable because she doesn’t know the way yet. Then Jesse feels so guilty the dark master is upon him. Then we discover that the Dark Master has been Jesse’s father all along just as we have misunderstood the Old Testament "God" as our Father incorrectly, the New Testament Father is understood through Jesus. And now Jesse's father explains this through the final teachings. First he let’s Jesse know it is not his fault that Leslie has died, this act forgive Jesse and absolves him of his torment from the sin he believes he has committed. And second he tells Jesse that Leslie has given him something special that will always remain with him and that it is this gift that will always keep Leslie alive. At this point Jesse's own transformation is complete. Then Jesse launches the small raft down the river as a tribute to Leslie. Clearly this scene is not just cathartic for Jesse – it is the ascension of Christ into heaven. What’s left now is for Jesse to take up the ministry where Leslie left off and lead other’s to the Bridge and their own crossing over to God.

Jesus said, “No one gets to the father except through me”. Crossing the bridge requires a leap of faith; on the other side the transformation is complete. The bridge to Terabithia, or more specifically the Bridge, is Christ. Christ provides believers safe passage to the father, heaven, salvation, and your own Terabithia.

So you see this is not a sad story at all. It is the greatest story every told, simply retold. Christ died to save those who believe in him. Leslie’s death, therefore, had to occur in this story. It was inevitable in order for believers to know the truth. There must be a bridge. Without the death of Christ there would be no bridge, no path to the Father, no salvation, and in this case, without Leslie's death, no bridge and no crossing to Terabithia for believers. Again, Magnificent!