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Posts Tagged ‘death’

After hearing of the passing of two of my teachers this week, I was again considering something I learned from the movie ‘Big Fish‘. At the end of the movie, after struggling with his relationship with his father, the son says of him:

“… a man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories.  They live on after him.  And in that way, he becomes immortal.” – Will Bloom, Big Fish
  (written by Daniel Wallace (novel), John August (screenplay))

I am a story teller, a skill I learned by watching my father. My father is also a school teacher. I would say ‘was’ a school teacher, as he is retired. But I don’t really think that good teachers ever stop teaching and they don’t even necessarily need to seek that as a profession to be a good teacher.

After hearing of the most recent passing of professor Ron DeRoo, whom served as an accompanist and co-clinician for a music group I was involved with in High School and from whom I also took jazz piano instruction later on while attending college, I got to pondering those words from the movie again.

Specifically, I got to thinking about what kinds of pursuits in life are most prone to fit with the nature of the Big Fish ‘story telling’. I came to the conclusion that the three that most stick out in my mind are those of teachers, writers and philosophers.

Teachers

More so than any other life pursuit or profession, (good) teachers will influence the most lives. The nature of teaching is to influence others. To provide them with information to help form their thoughts and ideas. Of all the teachers I can think of, those who influenced me the most were those that did not simply provide me with information in a given subject but instead provided insights in a way that they could be applied to any subject.

A truly good teacher, whether by vocation or their very nature, will lead you to look at life and reality in a different way. They will not simply provide you with information and knowledge, but will help you to formulate how you absorb such knowledge and further teach you how to continue to do so when you are no longer benefiting from their direct tutelage.

When you watch others speak fondly of people they have known, people that have had the greatest impact on their lives, they more often than not speak of people that taught them things or gave them insights that helped improve their minds, their lives or there way of approaching any variety of circumstances.

Writers

I originally considered ‘artists’ in general for this grouping, but decided instead to focus just on the art of writing. Writing consists of using words that represent concepts to convey ideas. Even if writing fantastic fiction, the author above any other art form, has the most direct connection to specific concepts and manners of creating and influencing thoughts.

The practice of any art form that is well mastered will require that the artist puts a great portion of their heart and soul into the results of their art. But where an actor can only show you their skill in portraying a role, a painter can only show you their mastery of creating images with their pallet or a dancer can only express ideas through motion, the writer has to convey those concepts and conceptualizations that they possess through combinations of words directly representing those concepts.

Other mediums fall short of passing along such vivid combinations of ideas. The use of words, word phrasings, combinations of perceptions and circumstances, and the ability to portray all of them only through the written form requires a direct link into the mind of the artist writing the words.

Philosophers

The category of philosopher is actually a bit of a redundancy when included with the other two, as the best teachers and writers generally will also require a foundation built upon a good philosophy. Actually all of them are somewhat redundant, as they all tend to overlap — even someone who’s primary means of communicating their ideas is through telling them directly must create those ideas not-unlike a writer does. Even if they are doing so in-the-moment.

Philosophy, directly translated, means the ‘love of knowledge’. As a branch of scientific examination, it is the study of knowledge as it relates to reality.  As Ayn Rand (the philosopher who has had the greatest influence on me) once said (paraphrasing), everyone has some kind of philosophy – a way of living, dealing with their surroundings and making choices – whether they choose to see it that way or not. Some of us  spend more time and effort defining and examining our philosophy, and some arrive at distinct conclusions that they communicate to others who find them worthy of consideration.

So whether they are formal or informal philosophers, it is those who help us to form our way of interacting with the world that will ultimately influence us enough to spread on part of their own essence and way of thinking in us. Thus, I am reasonably certain that those who will live on the longest after they perish from this world will be the teachers, the writers and the philosophers.

As a final thought, I’d like to re-post my statement in the guestbook for my beloved teacher:

… I remember Mr. DeRoo fondly from my [many years of knowing him.] It is quite sad to hear of his passing, but he was the sort who touched many lives and inspired many smiles. He shared his love of life and his joy and knowledge for music with many and will be remembered by all.

Whenever I hear of someone passing, I reflect on a lesson I learned from the movie ‘Big Fish’ – those people who touch the most lives, live on forever in the hearts and minds of those they influenced and never die so long as people speak of them or share and pass on what they gained from knowing them.

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We have all gotten soft.  We lead our lives in a sanitized way where we are able to avoid the thoughts of the blood that is on all of our hands.  We have built a society where it is possible for us to abdicate the job of ‘killing’ in our name onto others.  The job of killing for our food, the job of killing for our defense and public safety, the job of killing to build our homes.

This train of thought is one that I have visited before many times in regards to the practice of hunting, but was raised more recently after someone posted a video of police officers killing an aggressive dog in LaGrange, MO.  Many of the links and comments on this video follow a simple theme.  People are outraged.

Perhaps the outrage is justified, but I felt it necessary to take a contrarian role since most people will react to such videos based on the emotional ‘gut’ reaction of watching something die rather than stopping to think further.  My initial comments included:

Worthy of criticism? Of course. Condemnation? I can’t say – I wasn’t there. It’s easy to sit outside such a situation and pass judgement based on ‘feelings’ – but I try not to pass judgments based solely on feelings.

Anthropomorphizing is the real enemy here. We all see our pets as members of the family and transfer those feelings onto other animals that come to harm. I guess my experience has given me a more grounded approach when it comes to animals.

A=A – is what is. An animal is not a human – or to counter the Ingrid Newkirks of the world, a rat is NOT a pig is NOT a dog is NOT a boy.

There is obvious grounds for critique on whatever causes led these guys to this action, but that does not necessarily equate to critique of the officers themselves.

To paraphrase Ted Nugent, the truth is that we all have a blood trail and a series of gutpiles behind us.  Things have to die to make our food, things have to die to make our clothing, things have to die to build our houses and so we can drive our cars.

When I was very young, I used to often explore the Z Farms behind our house.  Before too long the Z Farms were sold to make way for a new subdivision.  For a number of years, the majority of the landmass remained undeveloped as houses slowly popped up one after another.  But the roads made it easy access to a kid on a bike.

I used to love running around Heather Lake (renamed from it’s prior name ‘Dennis Lake’ which didn’t work as well for the new sub’s marketing) and seeing the various wildlife.  We saw deer, quail, mink, rabbits, woodcock, partridge, pheasant.  One year there was an entire family of fox that we found living under a bunch of fallen logs.  They kenneled up there for 3 years straight, each year bearing about 3-6 kits.  The only reason they stopped kenneling there was – you guessed it – someone decided to build a house there.

Dennis Lake used to be great for fishing too.  There was one spot that would get so many pumpkinseeds bedding up, that you could literally catch them with a bare hook – not snagging, they were so hungry they would bite at just about anything.  Oh, I should also add that this bedding area was just below the fox dens and it too was destroyed when the house was built.

The irony of it all is, that the people that moved into that house turned out to be rather outspoken pro-animal “rights” types, a reporter for a local news station in Detroit.  (I took great joys stopping by every now and again and pointing out that their driveway used to be a fox den and their new sand beach used to be a breeding area for the fish)

Swear off meat, give away all your leather and fur, ride a bike to work and start living in a tree – and stuff will still die so you can survive.  Ask any farmer how many small animals die below the tilling blades of their combines to make room for those soybeans and sprouts.  Ask any biologist how many animals have to be killed or displaced to build our neighborhoods and yes, even farms.

By the time I got to college, I had become an outspoken hunting advocate.  One of the projects I helped sponsor for a hunting, fishing and shooting club I started on campus was to encourage all of our members to keep track of ‘roadkill’ they saw as a means to raise awareness to just the sort of thing I am talking about here – stuff dies so we can live.  Oakland University was a commuters campus (where most of the students drove to college from home) and each of us came from a different direction.  There were five of us regularly keeping track of what we saw, trying also to not count any dead, roadside animals we had seen previously.

By the time we were done, the numbers even shocked me.  With five of us keeping regular track over a period of about 2 months, we didn’t just see dozens, or hundreds.  We literally counted THOUSANDS of animals.  The largest category was one I dubbed ‘UFO’ for ‘unidentifiably flattened organisms’.

The entire concept was culminated when someone chose to challenge me one day on the ‘morality’ of my hunting.  The person in question was wearing leather shoes and a leather jacket.  Upon questioning, they were not a vegetarian.  The crux of their argument was ‘how can you kill your own food?’  My question was, how can you challenge the morality of my killing my own without looking at the moral question of abdicating the job of killing yours?  Killing my own food (whenever possible) IS my moral code!

How many of us stop to think about the animal(s) that had to die to make our Whopper (and fries and coke) or the animals that were evicted to dig the foundation for our homes?  I do almost every time.  But, more importantly, how many of us cringe and immediately jump with an urge to shout foul any time we run across something that requires us to look upon the killing of an animal at all?

Death isn’t pretty.  But to reword a popular cliche, death happens.  (or if you prefer “Shit Dies!”)  It’s easy to try to see animals anthropomorphized as ‘human-like’.  But animals are not humans.  They can’t rationalize, identify, reduce, integrate, retain or conceptualize.  Animals do not have morals, are not sentient and do not have “rights”.

The goal of ‘humane’ behavior should be to keep unnecessary harm coming to animals.  But rational behavior is to know that sometimes, like it or not, the death of animals may be necessary or us humans to survive.

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