Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Unbroken Path

I recently attended the Eagle Scout Ceremony of a friend of mine, Daryl Intravatola, and there was a tradition that struck me.

When Daryl was awarded with his Eagle Scout Neckerchief, his fellow scouts tied it around his neck on top of the existing neckerchief from his previous rank, while a man at the podium explained that the path to Eagle Scout is an unbroken one, that the scout has moved seamlessly through the ranks, from one experience to the next, up to this point.  Once the white cloth was tied around Daryl's neck, the yellow one was removed, and a smooth, unbroken transition was made to the prestigious title of Eagle Scout.  This boy scout tradition mirrors a trend that exists in our everyday lives.

As a person grows and matures, he or she makes changes daily to adapt to the ever-evolving world around him or her and to better fulfill his or her newly-discovered potential.  What's interesting to me, though, is how quickly these minor shifts in behavior or thinking translate into massive personality or maturity overhauls.  Your best friend from Elementary school doesn't turn into the pot-smoking porn addict over night, just as a baby's babbling doesn't become the polished and practiced words of a politician or public speaker in the blink of an eye.  It's almost impossible to imagine that these transformations could happen, yet Billy, despite what he's been told his whole life, takes his first coughing breath of the stuff when he's in seventh grade and finds himself addicted less than a year later, and little Samuel's fight with Robert on the playground is long forgotten by the time he finds himself running for a position on the United States Senate.  These changes happen little by little, leaving an unbroken trail that leads from where someone started to where he or she wound up.

This gradual change explains why a mother sits crying over old photos whispering through the choking sobs, "she grew up so fast."  It's difficult to notice the transformation when it's happening ever so slowly right in front of your eyes, yet your cousins from New Hampshire are amazed at the difference a year has made in the child you swear hasn't changed a bit since last Christmas when they came.

There isn't that much else that I'd like to unpack about this idea, but it's interesting to think about all the blades of grass that make a pasture or the grains of sand that are collectively called a beach.  Congratulations on your Eagle Scout status, Daryl, and on all of your accomplishments along the unbroken path that you've followed to get there.

Monday, July 29, 2013


This post will be an adaptation of something that I wrote a year ago as a part of a journal that only ever contained three entries; this was the first.

Most people see the world as a structured system that flows consistently by the wind of hard-working, up-standing citizens who've spent their lives in rigid, unwavering dedication to whatever cause got them to where they ended up.  While this may be an accurate depiction of society, it creates a narrow-mindedness that limits the potential of an individual.  The average Joe refuses to humor the concepts of quantum physics or the delicate chess game of modern politics for all of the wrong reasons; he sees himself as unqualified or, I'm going to make up a word here, unqualifiable for such aspects the contemporary world.  What he doesn't realize is that all of the people who do involve themselves in the aforementioned practices are only able to because that's what they decided to do.  Basically, people tend to over-complicate things.  They see the little working parts of a system without acknowledging the predictable patterns and functions that govern each cog in the gearbox of the "big picture."

Let's take a few steps back and undress the familiar idea of basic algebra.  Where the average student finds himself throwing formula after formula at the page and reciting the silly properties of mathematical function, the more adept student understands that the entire class boils down to the idea that every line has a name, and that name is y=mx+b, the equation for the slope of a line.  I'm not saying you can pass Algebra without memorizing your properties or learning how to use the quadratic formula, but all of that stuff is just the icing on the Algebra cake.  Of course, my point isn't to simplify Algebra; it's to show that the world is just a math problem, and, fortunately for you, many of the variables cancel.

The equation of the world is not a simple one, like the equation of a line.  The world's problem has infinitely many variables raised to innumerable powers locked away in layer after layer of parenthesis and mathematical operations, but, like I said before, many of the variables take care of each other and make the equation easier to work with.  Food is processed, bagged, and shelved.  Clean water flows from the tap at the turn of a handle.  Even those out of work and money can find refuge in a homeless shelter.  All the rest is luxury, and everything is at your fingertips.  If you need to know something, type it into a computer.  If you need to build something, buy the materials from a store and get to work.  If you want to study something, enroll at a college, and bury your face in a book.  There are countless ways to easily access any highway to the destination at which you wish to arrive, and claiming your own incompetence is nothing short of giving up, only you haven't even tried, yet.

Obviously, we can't do anything we want to; I'm probably never going to grow wings and fly, but if I want to see the world from the clouds, I could always purchase a plane ticket.  Today, there is little that we can't achieve, it's just a matter of plugging the numbers you want into the variables you control.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Shaking a Bag

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has shaken up a bag of trail mix, trying to get more of the delicious M&Ms to the top of the bag, only to find that my next handful contained more nuts and raisin clumps than chocolate drops.  It's likely that I'm also not the first to wonder why that is.  There are a few good ways to explain the tendency of larger objects to rise in a mixture; there's the physical way, which I can't claim to fully understand, but can assure you is true, and there's the other way.  

This planet is an enormous, diverse bag of trail mix.  God created the Earth, and it began to shake.  As the big ball of dirt and water spun around its axis and circled the Sun, the M&Ms, the nuts, and the raisins began to separate themselves.  We'll look at the humans as raisins, the animals as nuts, and the plants as M&Ms.  Most people tend to clump together, we get lonely by ourselves, and flock to others for security, comfort, and entertainment--overall fulfillment.  When we do, we begin to form little communities, and these raisin clumps climb to the top of the bag.  Animals, setting aside the fact that humans technically do fall into this broad category, are very good at surviving and don't focus on much else.  If they band together, it's for the purpose of ensuring the next meal (or that they won't become one for another animal), and so they never truly stick together like people do.  Despite that lions have their prides and birds their flocks, they're quite separated creatures, and tend to fall beneath the raisin clumps at the top of the mix.  That being said, a tiger could kill a man, should he be separated from his friends; likewise, a raisin could find itself below a nut, if it never clumped up with another of its kind.  After all, I've never seen a bag of trail mix neatly separated into three distinct layers.  Bringing up the rear, or landing at the bottom, are the plants.  Unfortunately for whoever bought this snack, the M&Ms are simply the most delicious thing in the mix.  In the same way, plants get picked on in nature.  People eat salad.  Giraffes chomp on leaves.  Cows... you get the point.  Plants get eaten, and they don't eat animals--not really.  They're always at the bottom of the food chain and, similarly, the bottom of the bag.  We literally step on them every time we go outside.  

Cool story, the world has order to it.  But I want to zoom in because no one really cares about the plants or the animals.

Some people just seem to rise to the top.  They all rise for one reason: they're good at what they do.  Einstein was a really good thinker.  Fabio was really good looking.  Michael Jordan was really good at basketball.  It doesn't matter what you're good at, as long as you excel.  That's what makes a person big in the bag of societal trail mix.  I realize that I've just reduced the greatest human achievers to raisin clumps, but that's essentially what they become: a part of the mixture that's no more important than any other one to achieving the sweet and salty taste, but that reaches the top simply because of its size, and as a result, they get eaten.  It's a strange and sad way to put it, but that's the reality; the pressure of fame and status in society often breaks people under its weight, leaving it up to historians to tell a more attractive and appreciable tale than the clusters of dried grapes often deserve.  

Why would you even want to be a raisin clump?  The idea isn't so bad.  But when you're not expecting the sticky, sweet mass in what you thought was just an average handful, it makes you want to spit and sputter.  But being an M&M would be the worst.  First of all, nobody likes to be at the bottom, and, to make matters worse, you get picked on by the guy who bought the bag.  Being the sweetest treat in the mix means being the most oppressed citizen in society.  You get your rear end constantly booted by the man himself, and you never asked for this fate.  Personally, I'd want to be a nut.  They may not be the most delicious.  They may not be on the top.  But they're the only salty among the sweet and turn what would have been an indulgent, fattening treat into an energy-supplying balance of proteins and carbohydrates.  What a role.  I'm sure I don't have to draw out the parallel that can be drawn between the nut and the working, middle-class citizen.

In summary, don't be an M&M, keep in mind that it's okay be a clump of raisins, just understand that, at some point, you'll make someone cringe, and never forget the nut is the most valuable and least appreciated member of the trail mix team.

Just something to think about.