Posts Tagged ‘Avengers’

What is your name?  What is your quest? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” – The Keeper of the Bridge of Death

What is a Quest?  The term is defined as “a long and arduous search for something” or “An expedition undertaken in medieval romance by a knight in order to perform a prescribed feat”.  I looked a few days ago through the dictionary that sits just to the left of the dais on the floor of the House of Representatives for what it had to say about “Quest” and what I was presented with was nothing but lame jargon…on the floor of the House of Representatives?!  I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.  Tim Keller purports that a quest is a journey upon which one embarks  – not entirely of their own choice – that either leads to their death, or they return from the journey so changed that they cannot return to their old life.  Conversely, an adventure is something chosen freely that one embarks upon and at its end is able to return to their old life as it was before they left.

Looking at an example such as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings is a quest, while The Hobbit or There and Back Again – as it is also calledis an adventure (even if the the trailer for the upcoming film may hint  at it being a quest rather than an adventure).  Bilbo comes back to his old life as it was before he left it.  In Lord of the Rings, Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Sam, Merry, and Pippen do not – and – spoilers – Baromir dies.  Frodo and Gandalf go with the elves to the Grey Havens; Aragorn marries Arwen, becomes a father, and embraces his destiny as the long expected King of Gondor;  Gimli and Legolas become life-long friends; Merry and Pippen are now the tallest of Hobbits and in the books must return to the shire to defend it from destruction; and even though Sam marries Rosie and lives inHobbitton for some time – sans Frodo, his dearest friend – he eventually is called to the Grey Havens as he had been a  ring bearer too, never to return to the Shire once he leaves.

Much like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars is a quest, Dune is certainly a quest, as is the Terminator franchise; in these cases the main characters go through things that leaves them vastly different than when they began.  Luke Skywalker goes from a lonely and forlorn  farm  boy on a backwater word to the hero of the Rebel Alliance and the last of the Jedi Order.  Han Solo: from rouge smuggler to, Rebel hero, hunted bounty, General, and the pirate who actually has a change of heart and finds it within himself to love a princess.  Leia: from youngest member of the Imperial Senate, to Rebel leader, orphan without a home, hunted fugitive, warrior princess, and willing to risk it all to save the life of the pirate who’s heart she won.  And Obi-Wan Kenobi…from Jedi, to hermit, to teacher, to sacrificing himself for a cause greater than himself:  allowing the rebels to escape the Death Star and calling out the potential he saw in a 19 year old farm-boy who he’d spent the child’s entire life thus far guarding in secret under the guise of “a crazy old man” (who thought it too dangerous to go alone, so he gave him his father’s lightsaber).  In Dune, there is no doubt what-so-ever that young Paul  Atradies cannot go back to the life he lead as the son of Duke Leto on the water-world of Caladan once his family leaves their home to manage spice production on Arakis at the behest of Duke Leto’s cousin, Emperor Shaddam the IV.  Paul goes from a young teenager to the Duke of House Atradies after the murder of his father and subsequently  the undisputed leader of the Fremen – the native people of  Arakis – waging war on House Harkonen and the Emperor for the freedom of Arakis and the Fremen; eventually waging war across the galaxy and becoming Emperor of the known universe himself.

These stories are fraught with danger and intense conflict which bring about great transformation and change within it’s characters, but it often isn’t “all pony rides in May sunshine”  We often shy from quests because we don’t like the pain and difficulty that must be persevered though and the unknown that is the fork in the road:  deciding to do what is right or shirk from it.  It’s why some, when faced with such choices, become the hero while others become the villain of the story and such a choice leads to a destiny of “glorious purpose” bent on selfish and devious ends.  It’s why Yoda voiced concern about Anakin Skywalker and was reticent to know what came after suffering because he didn’t know if perseverance and character would result in Anakin’s life or resentment and anger and it took a generation to ameliorate that mistake amidst Yoda questioning the readiness of the younger Skywalker.

The truth though, is that human beings need quests, especially men, and Superhero movies – from Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Iron Man and the Avengers, and Green Lantern – to video game franchises, like Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda, readily support this idea.  Often though, destiny does not call upon us at the moment of our choosing and we are reluctant to get involved.  We’d rather save whales, because that’s easy…and not the universe.

And so I will end as I began: Who are you and what is your Quest; what are you searching for…and are you willing tto embrace that quest in the same manner which young Talia Al’Guhl escaped the pit…jumping without the rope?

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Lex Luthor.  While not the most famous of villains in Science Fiction or Fantasy – that distinction goes to Darth Vader – he’s close, in most minds ranking equal to The Joker and Magneto (and unfortunately higher than my favorites, Ra’s Al Guhl and Darkseid); he’s the Gordon Gekko of DC Comics (unless someone wants to throw Bruce Wayne – not Batman – into that role).  Of these nefarious characters, he is the most relateable; yes, even more so than Magneto.  While some would certainly argue different as to the relateability of the character – probably because of Luthor’s stature and wealth – it’s the seven seasons of Smallville that make the case, thanks to a brilliant turn by Michael Rosenbaum.  It’s the transformation of Lex into the character the world has come to know that gives pause to ask “Would I have made the same decisions he did had I been in his shoes?”  and watch him make the smaller choices along the way that bring him to where he is as the show ends.  Which brings me to “Luthor Syndrome”.

What is it?  It’s the condition that Lex suffers from, a condition that you and I can suffer from too.  Lex Luthor was born into resources, born into wealth and power.  These circumstances helped lead him to believe that he was special, that he had a destiny and the means to achieve it.  He felt as if that end MUST be achieved, so that he could do greater things than his father did (the whole juxtaposition of the father/son relationship between Clark/Lex and Jonathan/Lionel is fantastic and a study in and of itself, especially in an age of such fatherlessness amongst youth).  Because of his roots, Lex felt that his destiny was owed to him – that he was entitled to it – and the choices he makes are justified in light of his embracing his purpose to rule (he finally becomes President by the time the show’s finale ends).  Before I go on, I want to make a quick point:  the idea of destiny isn’t a bad one at all, it’s how we choose to lay hold of and embrace it that can be a dangerous thing; it didn’t start that way for Lex, but he let it overtake him.

Curing one’s self of this disease is a great challenge and as the entirety of Curiosity’s recon mission to Mars didn’t happen in a day, neither will this.  It’s a rare individual who doesn’t desire to be more than they already are or more than society around us says we can – or should – be.  Most if us have it in us, I think it’s hard wired; the proof lies in our love of myth, triumph, and heroes who rise to greatness (and it hits home even more when movies like The Dark Knight Rises and Avengers crush the box office…and that’s just this summer; wait till we go back to Middle Earth in December).  There is something inside of all of us that looks at what culture says about us – or what we should be like – and our response is to prove them wrong and sometimes at great cost, for there are few whom society accepts on account of themselves and those whom are accepted are the ones the rest of us are told we should emulate…often to the detriment of giving up on who we are and creating an image we don’t even want.  Add too all this the idea – espoused by many in government today – that you have a “right” to just about anything you want – thusly entitled to it – and the curing is even more difficult.

Thanks to “Luthor Syndrome” living with some sort of “disability” can be even more of a challenge.  I’ve talked before about the “conventional wisdom of society”, that folks with disabilities are “less” in comparison to those without and how erroneous such thinking is; thinking prevalent enough to warrant more and more prenatal genetic testing for all sorts of conditions and disabilities.  Additionally, there is also the dark side of having a disability, the sense of entitlement that can come with perseverance.     As much as suffering through the difficulties that can arise from having a disability can lead to perseverance, and that perseverance can lead to character, it can also lead to a sense of  entitlement.   Sometimes, having persevered, having overcome, a sense of entitlement can creep in – a feeling that says “look what I’ve done; where is my reward…the world owes me a prize…look at what I’ve been through”  When that doesn’t happen, then comes anger, disappointment, resentment, disillusionment, and sometimes, even hate.  The steely, arctic truth is that we are owed nothing, yet so many  of us (living with disabilities and without) think that we are.  I live in this tension often.

As with many other things there is a choice to be made between character – often considered to be a positive element or quality – or entitlement. It’s much akin to a fork in the timestream, or watching a parallel dimension: in one, perseverance produces character (and subsequently, hope) and in the other entitlement is produced due to a lack of character.  This sense of entitlement, if not gratified but rather spurned and crushed, can lead back to the fear and anger from which one started.  Fortunately, there is a way to combat “Luthor Syndrome”: humility.  A friend once told me that “the best cure for entitlement is Scripture”.  Therein is the truth of our state in relation to the Creator and Master of the Universe.  Andrew Murray’s book on humility has also been suggested, fortunately it’s on one of my bookshelves.

The world we live in and the worlds we create for ourselves often aren’t nice places because of “Luthor Syndrome” – how would you fight it?

Sometimes the telling of a tale doesn’t end when you expect it to because there is more story to tell than first anticipated, as shown by  Peter Jackson’s announcement regarding what is now a trilogy of Hobbit movies.  So it is with Alpha Company of the 2012 Reborne Rangers.  When we last left our intrepid band of young heroes they had gone to lunch and I was face down upon leaf covered ground trying to get my body to calm down after successfully jumping off a telephone pole thirty-feet-and-some-change into the air.  In retrospect, if that doesn’t live up to Joel Clark’s motto of “do it for the story” I am not sure what does (even if it isn’t jumping off a skyscraper construction crane in South Africa).    I felt like after that experience I’d given it all and there was nothing left – no more wisdom or challenges –  and once again, I was wrong.

By the time I got my bearings enough to just sit and rest at lunch, the Rangers were on to their next challenge:  Goliath.  After eating what I could for the sake of needing energy, I slowly made my way out to the the Goliath challenge,  just to watch this time.  Watching this larger team of 24 assemble itself into six smaller squads of four is interesting, as you get to witness wherein the bonds of what will be life-long friendship in many cases has really formed; adversity, difficulty, and challenge does that.  Continuing these friendships is somewhat easier than the first group of Reborne Ranger had it because of Facebook and other social media tools such as Skype.

Goliath is the only high adventure challenge at Lake Ann Camp that I haven’t done; I missed the chance to do it in 2005 because I was in Washington, DC during that part of counselor training for the summer.  I think it’s about 30-40 feet tall from the ground to the bell at the top of the challenge.  While most of the high adventure challenges at Lake Ann Camp are more “solo” oriented, Goliath is a team challenge from start to finish.  First, the four teammates climb a rope net to reach the first rung of the large ladder. Next, the team must find a way to traverse vertically up four horizontal beams held together by cables.  Finally, the squad needs to fund a way to enable one of the team members to ring the bell suspended ten feet above the final rung of the ladder.  Ringing the bell is even tougher when your counselors decide who get to be the one to attempt the “jump shot” and it’s always the most in-obvious choice (oh the wisdom of counselors).

While not all the Ranger squads successfully rang the bell, every squad came close.  As I sat and watched these challenges unfold, and engaged some of the Rangers in conversation about things they learned so far this week, I began to recover from the exhaustion that came from The Leap.  At the same time though my mind was racing because I was still piecing together what I thought would be my final address to the Rangers later that afternoon as part of their commissioning/graduation ceremony from the Reborn Rangers program.  As the hours ticked by I kept watching, talking, and thinking; reaching back to some of what I discussed earlier in the week about the purpose and destiny  for every one of these Rangers.

Soon enough, the time came to head out to Pine Chapel for the Rangers’ commissioning ceremony.  As I slowly walked down the path to Pine Chapel, I saw that almost all of the speakers from the last few days were back again to address the Rangers one final time:  Jim Dourty, Cheryl Tinsley, Doug Champagne, Ken Riley, Ken Rudolph, Chris Howard, and myself – all of them wore the Rangers shirt for Summer 2012, a symbol of what these students were about to step into.  As Chris handed me my shirt I was reminded of the last time someone bequeathed a Ranger shirt to me, 13 years prior.  As I took my seat next to The Commander, Doug hefted a wooden mallet I call “The Hammer of Thor” and began striking a bell with it as the Rangers filed down in two columns to their seats; 26 strikes total, one for each of the twenty-four students and their two counselors.

As the Rangers were seated, the addresses commenced and Jim Dourty was first at bat.  Drawing on some of what he had talked about earlier in the week, the telling of his time in combat and relating it to the spiritual life, Jim explained to the Rangers that, as Rangers, we’re leaders and targets on the spiritual battlefield; life from here on out would not be easy and difficult things would happen.  He also made it clear how proud he was of these students and that he considered it an honor to stand with them as a Reborne Ranger.  I was up next.

As I walked the short distance with my trusty walker and locked my feet in to sit on the back of it to address the Rangers, I reminded them of my words from earlier this week about the unique purpose and destiny that is at work for (and in) each one of them.  I told them that because Christ is the greatest Superhero of them all, and because we are to be like Him, we can he heroes too.  That with heroes, there is so much work to do that there is only enough down-time to iron the cape and then it is back to the skies.  In the midst of this, I heard the quiet and familiar tones of the “Warp Whistle” of both Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 3 fame; my phone was ringing.  Someone was trying to call me and I had no idea why, and everyone heard it.  Ignoring the call, I continued addressing the Rangers; this was their first step into a larger world, a new reality, and as they stepped into the new world Jesus would be with them…always.  I couldn’t have been prouder of this group of teenagers; all they had been through this week, all they had learned, they were ready to join the ranks of Rangers from summers past.  Drawing my lightsaber, I saluted them then walked back to my seat.

As I sat down and switched my phone to “buzz mode”, I tired to shake the sudden onset that something wasn’t quite right.  My phone buzzed again and I ignored it, trying to focus on the other speakers who were addressing the Rangers.  It kept buzzing; it hadn’t gone off like this all week long and all of the sudden it was exploding, and taking me from where I was – Ranger graduation – to somewhere I didn’t want to be:  Distracted-ville.       I honestly don’t remember much of what the others said in their final charge to the new Reborne Rangers.  After the final words wrapped, the counselors were called upon to be the first inducted into the ranks of Reborne Rangers, signified by the individual striking the mallet against the bell and receiving their shirt and congratulations from the speakers who just addressed them.   Afterwards, the counselors called their students up one at a time to strike the bell, receive their shirt, and be congratulated.  It’s an emotional thing to be a part of this after watching these teenagers grow, during this intense week, further into the individuals the Heavenly Father has for them to be.

After the ceremony concluded I sat down to pull out my phone and the uneasy feeling returned.  There was a message for me to call the office in Washington.  Finally getting in touch with the right people I learned that my boss was resigning that night and that things would be different when I got back to town.  By this time, the Rangers had left Pine Chapel, but the speakers were lingering.  Slowly getting up from the bench I shuffled over to them, explained the situation, and Chris, Doug, Cheryl, and Jim all prayed for what might lie ahead.  I realized later that it was no accident that I was at Lake Ann Camp when learning such news, there was no better place for me to have been.  That night as we sat down to dinner I ate my first steak in who knows how long; it was great.

Chapel at Lake Ann Camp on Friday nights is intense.  Instead of it being just 200+ Senior High campers, it’s almost all the programs, combined. Jump Start, Junior High, Fresh Start, Senior High, and Reborne Rangers are all represented.  As I arrived at Chapel late I saw Ken Rudolph sitting outside the building preparing to preach, so I sat with him; I love talking with this man of God.  We talked a bit about the news I got from Washington earlier – I love that my Lake Ann family watches out for me – and we prayed for the situation, Ken’s preaching, and that lives would be touched and transformed that night.  Then it was time for Ken to go under the lights again and preach with everything he had in him (and he did).

In the midst of Ken’s sermon, I stepped out to try and contact my parents to let them know the situation in Washington.  Once I couldn’t get a hold of them I quickly hung up the phone as I realized that Ken was telling the story of someone who was at Lake Ann Camp this week; Ken was telling a packed house the story of Josiah Wyse.  Realizing this, I hopped up off that bench and ran back into the chapel to find Josiah at the end of a row of seats near a window.  We just sat there together as Ken told the tale and watched the light come on in the minds of many of the campers as they realized that Ken was talking about someone who was in the very room with them; the room just came alive after that.  This was a moment in which tears were acceptable as the story of Josiah’s life, that would have ended in darkness, in fact, did not and the story was now being used to facilitate real-life impact in the lives of hundreds in the room with him.  There are few, if any, proper words for such a moment; just awe, really.  There is no doubt in my mind that some of those who took to the stage that Friday night were moved by Josiah’s story, what the Lord had done, and won’t be the same as a result.

Glory Bowl:  A time to enjoy a large fire that makes the inner pyro of most guys jealous and, more importantly, to share what God has done in the lives of campers that week.  It’s a Lake Ann Camp tradition that happens every Friday night after the combined chapel.  I’ve learned that Glory Bowl is much longer than I remember it.  More than anything though, the Glory Bowl confronted me with the reality of how much pain teenagers are in these days; I just couldn’t believe it.  From additional stories of struggling with suicide, drugs, abuse, and even homelessness, story after story just hit me like a smooth stone to the forehead; I just don’t remember it being like this when I was a camper, if it was it was to a much lesser degree.  Yet, in the midst of all this pain, the new Reborne Rangers rose to the occasion and more than once went to comfort and encourage these campers who were clearly hurting and the Rangers’ actions served as a great indicator of growth in their lives.  As I drifted off to sleep that night I was saddened that my time at Lake Ann Camp with these Rangers was drawing to a close, but there was one last nagging thought on my mind and I fell asleep without a resolution to it.

Saturday morning came bright and early and with it, that nagging thought.  As the Rangers gathered in the training room one final time before breakfast, to exchange contact information and spend moments together as as team, I just watched; sometimes laying on the floor to rest.  These teenagers had arisen to the “Avengers Challenge” – taking a group of leaders in their own right and forging them into a team.  I may never know what it was, or multiple things, that served as “the push” but they had done it.    And the time to give them one final charge and pass the torch was quickly approaching.

As breakfast was ending, the cinnamon rolls having been gleefully consumed, I asked for the attention of the Rangers.  As I stood there, I reminded them of what Jim Doughtery had shared with us the night before about being spiritual targets and the reality that tough things would happen.  I explained that hard things were happening to some of us and relayed the basics of what was happening in Washington and how I would be affected.  I reminded them that we had spent time ironing our capes this week and it was time to go back to the skies again.  Then I did what no one expected:  as I talked about passing the torch from one generation to the next, from one of the first Rangers to those newly minted, I asked Josiah to stand.  As he stood, somewhat bewildered, I explained how there has never been a story quite like his happen at Lake Ann Camp before and I wanted there to be a symbol for the passing of the torch that they would all remember.  With that, I removed my lightsaber from my belt and handed it to him.  For a few seconds no one spoke, they knew what was happening and couldn’t believe it.  In fact, Josiah didn’t want to take it but I assured him it was being freely given.  With that, the nagging thought fled so very far away.

It was tough to say goodbye to these new Rangers, my padawan learners.  The same could be said for my Lake Ann Camp family old and new.  Sharing in the staff Glory Bowl later that morning I urged those at Lake Ann Camp this summer to enjoy every moment, as there would come a time when life would take them away from Lake Ann Camp and on to other things and the encouraging and uplifting environment would no longer be the norm.  It was a joy to get to be a part of that once more and hear what happened that week in other programs.  As the staff Glory Bowl was ending I knew my time was ending too.  I slowly walked my way to from the chapel to the trailer to retrieve my luggage as my ride pulled up.  At that moment who should be walking down the gravel path but the Commander himself, Ken Rudolph.  Introducing him to my brother and sis-in-law and saying farewell for now, I got into the car and we drove off…

…but I’ll be back, you can count on that; thus ended one of the greatest weeks of any summer at Lake Ann Camp and I got to be there for it.

The year was 1986, and I was only four years old.  I wouldn’t know of it’s existence for a few more years, but that’s the year the “golden cartridge” known as The Legend of Zelda appeared on the 8-bit video game scene dominated by the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and changed things, forever. That golden cartridge gave us Link, the Hero of the Land of Hyrule, destined to confront and defeat Ganon, the Dark One with an iron grip on the land, Princess Zelda in his dungeon, and the power of the Triforce in the balance.  But it was only the beginning, as this legend has spawned numerous video games, music, apparel, philosophy book, and even a short lived cartoon.    While in many ways  built on what had come before, such as Dungeons and Dragons on the Mattel Intellevision; a game I have fond memories of playing with my Dad, Zelda took things to a whole new level.  The golden cartridge has left a hero’s legacy that is far from over, with the new Nintendo Wii U releasing later this year (which I’ll be testing tonight).

A portion of that “hero’s legacy” lies with the music made famous by these games over the last quarter-century; The Main Theme, Zelda’s Theme, The Song of Time, The Lost Woods, Guredo Valley, and many melodies played on the mythic Ocarina in Legend of Zelda:  Ocarina of Time – the Zelda game that’s generally considered perfect.    I’ve spent many hours over the years enjoying the music of this franchise, second only to Star Wars, and Thursday night I finally got to see it live.  A friend and I heard about the possibility of the Legend of Zelda Symphony coming to our area and successfully plotted to attend; an event such as this is the musical version of seeing a Star Wars film or The Avengers at 12:01 am, complete with some in costume.  In a performance like this, musical pieces are arranged according to the games they came from, and each musical piece uses music from within the game to accompany the telling of the story of that game on the screen; something similar to Star Wars in Concert (which I attended a few years ago).

The show began with a “Legend of Zelda Overture” exploring the use of the “Overworld Themes” in the various games, and a “Dungeon Suite” to highlight the many variations of labrynthian tone in the Zelda-verse, after which the creative producer arrived on stage brandishing the legendary “golden cartridge” and the crowd came alive with clapping and cheers.  That moment was only outdone a later in the concert when  the conductor of the orchestra stopped the show in between the Ocarina of Time suite and the Windwaker suite to draw the attention of the audience to the fact that she would be conducting the Windwaker suite with the actual Windwaker baton, and this too was met with much clapping and cheers.  It was after the Ocarina and Windwaker suites that the storms started, and led many a fan to make references and jokes about both the Windwaker baton and the “Song of Storms” from Ocarina of Time (maybe it was one of those “you had to be there” sort of things).  The show continued in spite of the rain, fitting as the orchestra moved into the darker world of Twilight Princess and then into Link to the Past (as that story starts “on a dark and stormy night”).  It was after this musical number – and the included “finale” – that some thought the show was finished and started to exit, but far from it.

The creative producer took to the stage again to introduce the first encore as “coming from a small cartridge”, which meant we were headed into GameBoy territory with “The Ballad of the Wind Fish” from Legend of Zelda:  Link’s Awakening; a game I spent many hours playing on both black/white and color screens.  At this point I knew the show couldn’t be over, as the most epic of all Legend of Zelda tunes had yet to be heard, the theme for the almost amazonian tribe of characters in Hyrule known as the Guerdos and fittingly, before it was played, it was dedicated “to all the ladies in the audience”; and subsequently, there was no doubt of it’s musical “epic-ness” as the music was accompanied by video footage of Link challenging the ways of the Guerdo to learn of the one male told of in legend, to be born and to lead – the one who would become Ganondorf, the dark and evil king.    The final encore was good, but a bit of a letdown, as it was a suite from Legend of Zelda:  Majora’s Mask; a game I never really got into when it released, because the surroundings and game mechanics were very different from what had come before (but it certainly has its fans).

In the end, it was a wonderful evening of fantastic music; a portal into the past and a childhood I was blessed to have and will happily never quite let go of. Of greatest imprtance though, this musical journey serves as a reminder that without the foundations of divine Wisdom and Courage, the pursuit of Power is but foolishness.

Love for Hyrule Always,

Aaron

On Wednesday evening of this week, I missed a fight for the first time.  In almost thirty years of flying I have never missed a flight.  I was to catch a flight from Ronald Regan Airport to Detroit Metro to spend time in Michigan, a well-worn routine.  While this summer flight to Michigan generally happens in August, part of the reasoning for an early trip was needing to get to Lake Ann  Camp next week to speak to the Alpha week of Reborn Rangers 2012, a special leadership program that has run each summer since 1999; the other reason, because my family was already planning on being at the Watchtower in the Upper Peninsula (the lake house in the middle of nowhere) and extra travel on their part to retrieve me wasn’t going to happen on my account.  In preparation for this  flight, I made sure to do two things: (1) to book a cab ahead of time, and (2) check with the TSA to make sure that I was allowed to pack a toy lightsaber into my carry-on bag for use at Lake Ann Camp later on.  I checked with the TSA and booked the cab; that cab never arrived. The company tried to track it down, never did, and sent another cab.  This second cab whisked me away to the airport, but to no avail; TSA security took their time making me wait for a special screening – since I can’t go through detectors – and did nothing when I clearly heard my name being called for this flight to Michigan, which happened to be the last flight to Michigan for the night.  Rushing to the gate was an exercise in futility as I realized the door was closed and the plane moments from pulling away.

“When is the earliest flight tomorrow?” I asked the girl behind the Delta counter. “6 am, and you might want to be on that one”, she replied.  Calling my Dad, I explained the situation and after conferring with him, elected for the 6 am flight.  With my next move decided, I grabbed my bags and walker and slowly made my way out of the airport to a cab, feeling a bit deflated and defeated as the cab drove me home to The Sanctum.  Upon arrival home, an out of state friend calls and I explain the situation, considering the possibility that there was a reason I missed that flight beyond a cab driver’s mistake; her affirmation was simple “there’s probably someone you’re supposed to meet tomorrow” and I left it at that.  Later that evening I posted about the debacle on Facebook and a friend mentioned “sounds like you might be living an episode of Touch”; the FOX show about an autistic boy who can see the connections between people – expressing what he sees through patterns and numbers – and his struggling father who aids the boy in ensuring that certain lives cross at the proper time.  I went to bed that night knowing I had to be up at 3:45 am to catch another cab at 4:30 am for this 6:00 am flight.

Awaking the next morning, I got ready for the long day ahead and packed some last minute items.  As I was going about this task, a verse from the Book of Genesis exploded into my mind in song form – thanks to all those years of listening to GT and the Halo Express – Genesis 1:27, so I began to hum and sing it as I went about my business.  In short order I received a text message to my phone informing me the taxi I scheduled was en-route to my location.  I hurried out the door with bags and walker to meet the taxi in front of my apartment building.  As I approached the car, I noticed the identification number: 127.  I stopped, looked again, smiled, and got in the car; maybe I WAS about to live a television episode.

Upon arrival to the airport, personnel were kind enough to get me through the security line quickly and no TSA agent went rummaging through my carry-on to inspect the lightsaber traveling within.  Past security, I stopped for breakfast at the McDonald’s near my departure gate and had to execute the child-like stunt  of sneaking under the barrier to get in line.  This caught the attention of a man standing in line named Mark, who helped me pass the barrier once he caught on to what I was doing; there aren’t too many in line for McDonald’s at the airport at 5 am on a Thursday.  We got to talking about still being child-like when you grow older and the wonderful gentleman offered to pay for my breakfast.  It’s afterwards that we began to talk about why he was in town and where he was from.  I learned that he was in town to talk to members of the Minnesota Congressional Delegation about some hunting and conservation issues.  Asking what offices he visited, he mentioned two offices where I knew folks who worked there and we talked about who those people were and my connections to them.  Unfortunately our conversation was cut short as he had to catch his multi-stop flight back to Minnesota.  Reflecting on that, the small voice in the back of my mind insisted I contact him to share the story of my own journey with no idea the effect such a tale might have.  Considering the last time that clearly happened, a “chance” meeting which lead to The FENX Project appearing on NBC around the country, I have complied with that prompting and hopefully it encourages him in the midst of a world where there is less and less to smile about.

On a lesser note, during my flight I heard a young lady in my row ask the person next to her why it was that the “superhero base” in The Avengers was a “flying, invisible boat.”  I seized the opportunity to set her strait and explain it’s from the comic books and you need to sometimes do things to keep the fanboys happy; besides, it is Joss Whedon we’re talking about.  As one friend later remarked to me, “And you wondered why you were on that flight…”  With this whole “adventure within an adventure” behind me, who knows what next week at Lake Ann Camp might bring, but I know I’ll be meeting some folks for the first time whom I am meant to connect with.

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

In May 2008, movie-goers the world over were introduced to Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man; it changed things forever. Marvel had formed their own movie-making apparatus and had an ambitious plan: release movies about the origins of characters in the Marvel universe (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America) that made up the more recent incarnation of the Avengers, known as “The Ultimates” and release them in a specific order, connecting one to another to build up to something that had never been done: an Avengers team-up film. That film released this weekend and the assembly required was worth it.

Picking up where some of the previous movies ended, Nick Fury and the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division (SHIELD) are in possession of the Tesserac (or Cosmic Cube) last seen at the end very of Thor and in Captain America. SHIELD is running tests on the cube, hoping to turn it into a new energy source for Earth. Unexpectedly, Loki (Thor’s brother and the villain in the Thor) materializes via the Cube, and begins wreaking havoc on SHIELD HQ to steal the Cube and use it to subjugate Earth with some extra-terrestrial assistance. Comprehending the gravity of such a threat, a rouge Asgardian allied with a an army not of Earth or Asgard, Fury assembles the Avengers to defend the Earth. Such a defense is not without difficulty, as personalities and world-views clash spectacularly. Captain America follows orders; Iron Man and Bruce Banner don’t trust Nick Fury and Banner doesn’t trust himself, Black Widow and Hawkeye have personal issues to work through, and Thor is, well, Thor; throwing around muscle and Mjolnir, his hammer, at anyone who looks at him wrong and dialogging as if William Shakespeare were possessing him. It’s not until the team suffers a sobering defeat that they coalesce and, thus inspired, become the teammates that Nick Fury (and the audience) knows they can be (and needs them to be). As always, something awaits those with patience at the end of the credits and the big reveal won’t disappoint those familiar with the Marvel-verse, but may leave the average movie-goer wondering what the big deal is; trust me, it’s huge.

There’s no question where the lines are drawn in this film: there are heroes and there are villains, human and flawed. Captain America struggles to lead the team as a man separated from all he knew, often charging shield first into battle. The Invincible Iron Man is found to be less so, but willing to make the sacrificial call others won’t. Black Widow feels compelled to rectify past sins and pay the debt she owes to another. Hawkeye learns he has others he can trust and lean on, needing not to be so distant upon wherever he is perched. Thor begins to see that he doesn’t always have to be the one out front, and that despite all that’s happened, he still cares for Loki and wants his brother to return home to their family; face justice, yes, but reunification more so, to show the past (and Loki’s origin) is the past. Bruce Banner finds someone who believes in him in Stark and a family in his fellow Avengers, fearing less the green-gamma demon within. And the gruff, yet fatherly Fury? He shoulders the burden of managing such a powerful force, knowing all to well the cost of fighting such a war and making the hard choices. The final scene at the absolute end of the credits illustrates how amazing it is to see this team unite on, and off, the field of battle. This film, as well as some of it’s predecessors, gives reason to believe in heroes in a time of great tumult and uncertainty.

Executing an endeavor such as The Avengers, making a movie not only about beloved characters, but also a dream team of fan-boy heroes AND have the story of each character moved forward, is a Herculean task to say the least and cannot be done by just anyone. Enter Joss Whedon, the mind behind Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse and Astonishing X-Men; he’s no stranger to heroes or the Marvel universe. So much of this film was classic Whedon; from snappy dialogue filled with humor, internal and external conflict, character motivations, the exploring the dynamics of family, and the heroes never emerging unscathed. At times it felt like I was watching aspects of his previous work spill over onto the greatest canvas he has ever been given and the picture he paints is, well, marvelous. Not to mention that Harry Dean Stanton’s roll in the film might be the greatest cinematic “in-joke” I’ve ever seen (and only Whedon would have done it). It’s clear that after toiling in the shadows of Hollywood for so long, working to tell the stories that he burst at the seams to tell despite difficulties and cancellations that Joss Whedon is the Prom King now; Long Live the King.