Posted in Miscellany

Paid forward by a Stranger

The French existentialist Jean-Paul Satre was a cynic when it came to the milk of human kindness. He smirked by saying that generosity was more or less a feelgood giveaway of the doer in the self-contentment of magnanimity. The intention is ego-driven, not altruistic. Satre may be a brilliant intellectual in the post-modernistic world, but he was essentially missing something, obviously not knowing it for the following reasons. 

I still remember a lecture given by a religious sister whose spirituality bloomed in her charity and intelligence about the practice of charity in our daily lives, rather than doing it as a penance after a guilt-ridden confession. For you never know, the one benefitted from your kindness might be an angel in disguise (the mysterious shopper!) or even Christ himself (the Lord of Lords!) So, how will I interpret an act of generosity when a total stranger paid for my sandwich at Subway?

It was a rather gloomy afternoon today because of the disappointment with the general members of humanity that I felt most acutely painful to my glass heart. The things deemed trivial or insignificant matter to me, stay in there until I burn them with candlelight under moonlit tranquility of the mind. Samuel Johnson is right in saying that you cannot will away the unpleasant feelings in full force at once. That is why we object to despotic edicts of stoic austerity to quell the perturbed state of mind. The Sun was high, but the spirit was low, and I could not pretend to be cheerful and optimistic as if there was no word for Unpleasantness in my dictionary.

So when I was in a nearby Subway store during lunchtime, I felt wretched and wished that the time would go fast so that I could go home with the alacrity of departure. But no, the reality bit when a store clerk asked me if I wanted my bread to be toasted. No, I said politely and proceeded to the counter for payment, when the register guy told me that the man before me paid forward my sandwich. Really so? But I didn’t know him. There were two men, seemingly office workers from nearby, coming for some quick bites like me. And I still don’t know which man paid for mine, but what does it matter when both of them are total strangers anyway? Then I checked my reflections on the outside building’s crystal-clear glass windows and saw a woman decently presentable looking in thin figure clothed in a DKNY tweed jacket and Michael Kors jeans, which disqualified me for being a hobo woman. So why did he pay forward for my Tuna sandwich?

Whether he was a confessional penitent doing penance or an angelic agent is still a mystery, but then something is better to remain as it is, I think. The unexpected surprise from the stranger put my emotions on the continuum of low arousal on one hand and high pleasantness, on the other hand, creating satisfaction that my life could be likable and ultimately livable. It’s a small pleasure that keeps my sailing endurable and doable in a wide ocean alone against monsters, thunder and lightning, and doldrums. No wonder the sandwich tasted sweet.

Posted in Film Review

About ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959)

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A great film with a sincere message about life and human nature transcends a divide of time and a boundary of the territory. I believe that a good movie has a lasting sensory impact on the viewer and cultivates the mind with a visual efficacy of precipitation. In this regard, the epic historical drama ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959), directed by William Wyler, is an epitome of masterpiece cinema not for a time but all seasons. The remarkable triumvirate of the outstanding screenplay, the excellent performance of the cast, the fascinating cinematography produces supreme one of art that resonates with spiritual elements of humanity in the witchcraft of motion picture.

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The film follows a history of Judah Ben-Hur, a young Jewish prince whose life is forfeited by a betrayal of trust and corruption of friendship. From the height of his prime to the fall, then to redemption, it is heroic acts of high human drama wonderfully conjoined with a tale of Christ whom Ben-Hur encounters by Providence. His wrath is untamed, and anger is the roaring of a lion. Ben-Hur chooses vengeance as a will to live in the march of death in the desert and the prison galleys on the Ionian Sea. He feeds on ire and utters curse every day until he intends to execute vengeance upon the perpetrator with recourse to the old retributory law of an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Who can calm the turbulent vortex of the soul in despair and save him from the night of the soul?

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The film revolves around Christ, and Ben-Hur is another disciple of his teachings through conversion into faith, charity, and hope. The figure of Christ is the central theme of the film, but his face is unseen, and his voice unheard. We can only see his rear, but it is the mysteriousness of the person of Christ that elevates the story of Ben-Hur to the sphere of hagiography. The providential encounters with Christ in the climactic moments of his life lead him to the way of Christ, which mirrors the process of Ben-Hur’s redemption from Wrath to Grace, from Desolation to Hope.benhur-christ-a

Whether or not you believe in Christianity is not a prerequisite to appreciating this excellent epic drama because it would be a loss to any lover of arts to forego the spectacular beauty of the cinematography, not to mention the spiritual thematic of one man’s redemption from hopelessness. The grand epic scale of cinematography that depicts the tale of Ben-Hur in the trail of Christ from the Nativity to the Crucifixion is akin to watching Michelangelo’s remarkable frescoes of the Sistine Chapel that illustrate the story of humanity from the Genesis to the Last Judgment under God’s mysterious plan for mankind. In conclusion, ‘Ben-Hur’ is not a movie about a hero but about a triumph of hope over the desolation that saves a man’s soul from self-destruction, resonating with ‘Dum spiro, Spero,’ meaning ‘while I breathe, there is hope.’

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Posted in book review

How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend by Monks of New Skete

How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend: The Classic Manual for Dog OwnersHow to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend: The Classic Manual for Dog Owners by Monks of New Skete

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my favorite saints of the Church is St. Francis of Assisi because of his humanity, compassion, sweet nature, and his love of animals with whom he is believed to communicate based upon the story of his converting the Wolf of Gubbio to a tamed animal. The story goes that while living in the city of Gubbio around 1220, St Francis volunteered to take leave and meet a ferocious wolf who devastated the country by attacking people and livestock. When St. Francis finally met the wolf, instead of punishing him for the offenses, he gently admonished the wolf to cause no more plight to the people and the livestock and promised him that he would be fed daily by the people of the city. The wolf was grateful for the compassionate promise and put his front paw on the saint’s hand as a gesture of accepting the advice. Thereafter, the Wolf of Gubbio kept his promise with the saint and became a tamed pet animal of the city.

With this evocative image in mind of the gentle saint and the tamed wolf I had once seen on a prayer card, I selected to read this book by Monks of Skete of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In this regard, I was piqued by the facts that (1) these monks were reputable German Shepherd breeders and acclaimed canine-human relationship teachers; and that (2) the monks lived with the dogs in accordance with the teachings of the Gospel manifested in their healthy relationship with the dogs. However, the monks of Skete carefully avoid religious jargon in the book lest the book should be interpreted as a promotion of their faith. Instead, their faith is carefully incorporated into the belief of fostering their ideas about dogs with a philosophical and spiritual foundation for personal change because dogs mirror who we are by responding to the way we treat them without deception.

The gem of this book is the monks’ views on salubrious human-canine relationship as appreciation of truths of the two worlds: one world of our own human prowess as a caretaker and one world of their own pristine nature as a guide to the wondrous natural world from which we have gradually distanced. While we provide them with food, shelter, and veterinarian care, dogs enable us to appreciate the beauty, the warmth, and the compassion that are deeply rooted in our humanity we often overlook or even try to suppress in the face of existential dilemma. In consideration of the aforesaid, I believe that the story of St. Francis of Assisi and the Wolf of Gubbio is not a myth but a truth.