I Am Death

John James Rambo is dead.

No, I mean, seriously. Rambo died, like, a long time ago.

Most people are only familiar with Sylvester Stallone’s portrayal of the muscular Vietnam vet from the four Rambo FirstBloodRambo_021Pyxurz
movies he starred in, but fewer realize John Rambo actually made his first appearance in a book, David Morrell’s First Blood, which was first published in 1972. The book differs quite dramatically from the First Blood movie that hit theaters in 1982, most notably in its ending. SPOILER ALERT: John Rambo does not walk away in the book; he is shot and killed by Special Forces Captain Sam Trautman. In fact, an alternate ending of the movie has Trautman (played by Richard Crenna) killing Rambo as well.

Of course, it would have been extremely difficult to make Rambo sequels if the title character was deceased, so he did not meet his demise at the end of the first movie. I haven’t seen the fourth movie, Rambo, but I did notice a common theme which emerged from the first three films: John Rambo was not particularly keen on fighting and killing. He could rise to the occasion when he had to and leave an impressive trail of carnage behind him, but he generally tried to keep to himself and avoid violence whenever possible.

Rambo didn’t remove himself from the presence of people because he was shy or was really into meditation or anything like that. He got the heck away from everyone because he knew every time he was around a bunch of people, somebody was going to die. It might be part of a mission or it might be a misunderstanding between he and the locals, but whatever the case, wherever John Rambo went, death came with him.

There was a time in my life that I honestly believed I was cursed. I believed that anyone who came into contact with me was not going to successful at whatever they were trying to accomplish. If I was involved in what you were doing, it was not going to go well. If your life was going pretty well when you met me, you could be pretty sure it wasn’t going to stay that way. I wasn’t even sure where this curse came from; I actually just thought it was me somehow. Wherever I went, bad stuff happened.

I don’t have quite as fatalistic view these days, but there are still definitely times when I remove myself from situations because I believe I would be a detriment. I believe a lot of people do this and don’t even realize it. They become so convinced that nothing good can come out of them that they begin to project that onto other people and situations as well. If a normally healthy person gets sick, it’s because they came into contact with them. If a normally successful person falters, it’s because they drug them down. If someone who is usually happy becomes depressed, it’s because they altered their mood.

Now, Rambo was always forced back into action by Trautman or some other situation which demanded him to re-engage, and probably each one of us who has felt the urge to run away and hide have faced similar moments of truth. With Rambo, though, everyone knew he was going to deliver once he got out there. With us, eh, not so much. We might succeed, but we might also fail spectacularly. When we try to tell someone this, however, they tell us how silly or melodramatic we’re being. They don’t understand that we have totally lost our confidence in ourselves, and that we believe we are carrying death with us wherever we go.

I’m sure the John Rambo who went on to be featured in three more movies after First Blood wished sometimes he could have had the fate of the John Rambo who died at the end of the book. That way, no one else gets hurt because of him. Without him, though, an awful lot of positive things would never happened. That’s what I and everyone else who has ever struggled with this feeling fight so hard to grasp: We really do serve a purpose and function, and we really are capable of doing good in this world.

The John Rambo in us doesn’t have to die. He sure may want to sometimes, though.

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Obsession With The Beast

“Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee, as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick

moby dickI have attempted to read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick three times in my life. None of those times occurred while I was in school. Somehow, even as an English major in college, it was never an assignment in any class I was in. I obtained a copy of the book for myself years ago when I worked for a used college textbook warehouse. I’m not sure why I felt as if I needed to have it then. It just seemed important somehow.

I say that I have “attempted” to read Moby Dick three times in my life because I have never actually finished it. In fact, I’ve never even gotten that far into the book. It’s not an easy read, and it is very, very long. I think what keeps me coming back to this literary classic is the character of Captain Ahab. Or, at least, the idea of Captain Ahab – a man so blinded by his obsession with a gigantic sperm whale that he eventually allows the very thing he has been pursuing to literally drag him down to his death.

Over the past two years, I’ve been reading a lot about depression. I have a real passion to understand this beast. I would eventually like to help people escape from it. I sometimes feel as if it has stolen large chunks of my life from me. There are times, though, when I wonder if I really want to escape it. It has been with me so long, I am not sure how to live without it. Sometimes I’m not only not sure if I can get better, I’m not even sure if I have the desire to get better.

I have gained a ton of useful knowledge on the topic of depression from all the reading I’ve done and the counseling I’ve received. In a weird way, I actually enjoy learning about it. It helps to unravel many of the mysteries of my life I’ve never been able to figure out. I like to hear people’s stories, even though some of them do not necessarily have happy endings. I’m fascinated by how our own minds can turn on us, warping how we perceive our own realities. I’ve become this sort of morose geek, I guess.

More than once, though, in the process of writing this blog, reading all those books, and talking about depression with anyone who wanted to strike up a discussion about it, I have been confronted with the following question: Do you ever wonder if you’re getting a little too into this? The world is full of authors and actors and researchers who have been sucked into the abyss of whatever dark knowledge they were pursuing. They chased the whale, and the whale took them down into the depths of the sea.

I enjoy writing this blog. It’s therapeutic, in a way. I want it to be somewhere people can come to and say, “Oh, I’ve experienced that before!”, and know they are not alone. Eventually, though, I would like to offer the occasional story of how I’ve overcome something or some accomplishment I can celebrate or some tip I can pass on to someone else. Not that I haven’t done that here before, but those types of postings have been few and far between. I suffer from depression, and I know it. I just wonder sometimes if I am a little too comfortable in that knowledge.

Maybe the point of Moby Dick was to show that Captain Ahab literally could not live without his arch nemesis in his life. He could not exist without the pursuit of his enemy. One has to wonder if Ahab had managed to kill the whale cleanly and live if he would have been any happier. Some days, I feel as if I am chasing that same whale, and I wonder if the pursuit is worth it. And I wonder if I can live without it.

Tuneful Tuesdays: Windmills

I only have vague memories of reading Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote in high school. In fact, I’m not sure we were even required to read the entire book, which might explain why I only remember small excerpts of it. No matter how hazy my memory is, however, there is one thing that anyone with even a passing knowledge of the novel remembers – windmills.

In case you perhaps don’t know what I am referring to, here is the story in a nutshell: Hidalgo Alonso Quixano reads so many chivalric novels that he eventually loses his mind and begins to do all sorts of crazy things to revive chivalry and dispense justice. One of the quests he embarks upon is to take down the “giants” he sees in the fields. Those “giants,” however, turn out to be windmills, but Don Quixote (the name Quixano ascribes to himself) refuses to believe this and sets about vanquishing these enemies.

This particular aspect of the tale has been referred to countless times in all different sorts of mediums, including in the song “Windmills,” by Toad the Wet Sprocket. The song was featured on the group’s 1994 album Dulcinea, which is still one of my favorite albums of all time. It is essentially an examination of how people can spend their lives chasing unrealistic dreams or expectations, using the Don Quixote reference of “too much time raiding windmills” as a metaphor.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am in the process of attempting to shed myself of some things which are not beneficial to me. My stubborn mind, however, keeps trying to convince me I need them or, even worse, that I can somehow bend them to my will and make them work for me. I should know better, but I keep imagining myself conquering the windmills and convincing everyone that the battle was somehow worth it. Perhaps I should quote another Don Quixote-inspired song here – “The Impossible Dream (The Quest),” from the 1965 Broadway musical Man of la Mancha.

Sometimes it’s difficult as a man to walk away from a perceived challenge, no matter how insurmountable that challenge may seem or how much it costs him to face it. We want to say any price is worth it and that we fought the good fight. In reality, though, some fights just can’t be won. Or it might be more accurate to say some fights are more worth fighting than others.

Do It Now

One of our Christmas traditions as a family each year is to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. I muppet_xmas_3am not ashamed to say this tradition is not because of my children, but because of me. For a movie populated for the most part by felt-covered marionette/puppet hybrids, it stays remarkably true to the source material, which is, of course, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I’ve actually read the book more than once, and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Most of the appeal of the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge lies in his redemption, and rightly so. The idea of there being hope for even the worst of souls is one everyone would like to believe. What often strikes me about Scrooge’s story, though, is how many things he loses that he can’t get back. His childhood. Scores of opportunity to help the poor in past years. His business partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge’s future may look bright, but his past is littered with loss.

Of course, Scrooge’s greatest loss is that of his one true love, Belle. Most movie adaptations of A Christmas Carol do not include what may possibly be Scrooge’s most humiliating moment in the book, when the Ghost of Christmas Past shows him a glimpse of the then-married Belle’s family on Christmas Eve. It’s that terrible moment when a person realizes everything they should have and could have said that would have made things turn out differently, but they have no power to change any of it. By the end of the story, there’s no great reconciliation between Scrooge and Belle. What’s lost is simply lost.

It’s Christmas Eve here in America, and we just finished our annual Muppet viewing for this year. I’m thinking of all the times I didn’t speak up when I could have, all the opportunities I let slip past me, the words I needed to hear that were never spoken to me. Even in what might be the most poignant redemption story of all time, there were no second chances to say what needed to be said or do what needed to done. Just like Scrooge, we can walk through the memories of the past, but we can’t touch them, speak to them, or alter them.

If there is someone in your life this Christmas that needs to know you love them, tell them right now. If there is someone you need to walk away from, walk away right now. If someone needs a sign that your care about them, show them right now. If you’re thinking of getting someone a gift, buy it right now. If there is something wrong, make it right. Once the chance is gone, it might be gone forever.

Since tomorrow is Christmas, I don’t plan on writing anything here. From my family to yours, have a Merry Christmas. God bless you all.