Posts Tagged ‘Return of the Jedi’

In the Star Wars three-quel, Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader famously tells Luke Skywalker:  “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side” as a statement of finality and admission to the grim hold Emperor Palpatine had upon Vader’s life.  Fortunately, we know that all changed shortly thereafter.    Think for a moment on the power of those two lives within that fictional universe.  Darth Vader: innocent; chosen; hopeful; hoped in to bring balance to the Force and Justice to the Galaxy as one of the greatest Jedi Knights; powerful; eager; reckless; a Hero of humble beginnings; too self-aware; arrogant; prideful; discontent; susceptible; a deceiver and deceived; fallen; enslaved; instrument of tyranny; destroyer of millions; redeemed.   Luke Skywalker:   innocent; chosen; hopeful; hoped in to bring balance to the Force and Justice to the Galaxy; powerful; eager; reckless; a Hero of humble beginnings; humbled; learned; self-sacrificing; truthful; caring of friends and family; champion over evil; agent of redemption.  Two hyperspace lanes diverged in a star system…and Luke Skywalker took the one less navigated through.  Two lives, with such an effect on an entire galaxy and a far reaching legacy that bled over into (at least) the next generation.

Phil Coulson, Agent of the Strategic Homeland Intelligence Enforcement and Logistics Division (SHIELD), and supporting character in the Iron Man films and, more importantly, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.    One man. No special abilities. A greater hero than the Avengers combined…because he combined them.  He believed in The Avengers, the heroes, when they didn’t believe in themselves.  His death served as “The Push” that was needed to coalesce the Avengers into the Family of Heroes the world needed them to be in order to defeat Loki and the Chitauri invasion.   Coulson knew a push was going to be needed and was at peace with and willing to have his death be that catalyst.  His sacrifice saved New York City – and the world – more than Iron Man’s willingness to fly the alien bomb into space.

This is all thought-provoking and inspirational pondering;  the type of fictional stories that inspire and spur on humanity; giving us hope the world will continue to spin on.  Such inspirational stories in real life are rarely like this and they involve homeless men, a wake, and telephone poles even less.  Nevertheless, one such story does involve a homeless man, another a wake, and yet another, a telephone pole of sorts.

Peter Bis lived on a bench near Union Station in Washington, DC.  Peter Bis was an institution on Capitol Hill. Peter Bis always referred to himself in the third-person.  Known by many on Capitol Hill as a friendly homeless guy who talked to everyone and actually remembered you, he recently passed away.  There’s actually a memorial spot under the tree near the bench he used to sleep on where people have been leaving flowers and messages (which I recently visited).  From interns to congressional power-players everyone knew him and often chatted with him.  I used to see him all the time when I was an intern with the Heritage Foundation seven years ago, as his “Sheldonian Spot” – long before there was a Sheldon Cooper – was less than a hundred feet from the front door of my intern housing that Heritage provided.  While saddened at his passing and the loss of this quirky institution of a man, I didn’t really grasp the extent that was Peter Bis until I realized that articles were written about him, in memorium, by National Review, The Washington Post, National Journal, and The Huffington Post (linking to a article in Roll Call).  The area that many consider to the the most powerful square footage in the world – as far as power, politics, and influence goes – has mourned the loss of a homeless man; a single life who spent most of his days on a park bench.  That’s inspiration.

A dear friend of mine will sometimes tell the tale of something that happened at his father’s wake years ago.  A young man arrived at the wake, one my friend had never seen before.  He slowly approached the casket and just stood there for what seemed an eternity.  Standing there, this younger man broke; the dam burst and the emotional flood water swept forth with great intensity.  My friend watched this both intrigued and mystified.  As the young man turned around and walked back down the aisle my friend asked him: “how did you know my father that it would produce such a reaction?”  The younger man explained:  “I didn’t have a Dad growing up and your father was the only man I ever knew who took time for me, who talked to me like a man, like a son, who invested in me; I’ve never forgotten that”   Therein was a life to emulate.

Telephone polls aren’t considered to be inspirational either but I happen to know one that is, it’s at Lake Ann Camp and I climbed it…and then jumped off.  Even though I’ve already told the story, it’s told from my point of view.  It isn’t told from the viewpoints of any of the thirty-plus people who watched it happen.  Recently one of the Reborne Rangers from Alpha Week 2012, Maggie Syme, posted a  picture to Facebook of what the scene looked like before my climb of that dastardly telephone pole.  The caption she included with the photo said “The most inspirational moment of my life; Thank you, Aaron Welty”  I saw  that photo – with that caption – and I was speechless.  Yes, I conquered The Leap.  Yes, it was hard – seeming near impossible at moments – but I’d been through tougher things; things I’d even talked about earlier that week.  In being taken so aback my this, I thought, and even said, “it’s not like I saved NYC from an alien invasion like The Avengers did.”  Later, Maggie told me that she cried long and hard after seeing me make that climb and leap because it had impacted her that much.  I’ll never forget, Katie Decker, another Ranger, leaning over my exhausted body as I lay face down on the ground, telling me “you just changed my life”.  At the end of the week, Josiah Wyse, whose incredible story I’ve also already  relayed, told me that there were two moments that week where I left him without words: one was bequeathing the lightsaber, the other was this climb.

This was a huge “lollipop moment” for some; a moment that was much more significant for them then it was for the one doing it, and it wasn’t a walk in the park for me at all.

Mind your surroundings, be aware of the power and impact of your life; be an inspiration to others and invest in them.

Reborn Rangers praying before I began my climb.

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Star Wars lightsped it’s way back into theatres this weekend, in 3D no less, so in honor of it’s return, I want to talk a bit about what I, among many, affectionately call “The Wars”.  I’m an unabashed Star Wars fan, a FANBOY if you will.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen the Star Wars films or the Star Wars:  The Clone Wars animated series; I lost count long ago (let’s not even get into the comic books and ever expanding novel collection I have).  The only things that has had a greater effect on me if life are the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my own unique story (and yet Star Wars has had it’s own role in that).  Late last year, a friend pointed me to the “Never Beyond” series that has been created by a group called People of the Second Chance.  The idea is to focus on individuals (real or not) who’ve done things that they should certainty be condemned for, but that even for them redemption is still possible (or achieved in some cases).

Which brings me to Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith formally known as Anakin Skywalker (one of the figures that the People of the Second Chance has highlighted).  The first time you see Vader in Star Wars (only later changed to Star Wars:  A New Hope in a theatrical re-release prior to the release of Empire Strikes Back in May of 1980) you know nothing about him, except that his very presence exudes fear in those that do not know and dread in those that do.  His troops have just wiped out the resistance to their boarding party, and his ship just plain dwarfs the Blockade Runner/Tantive IV.  Watching him threaten the hapless rebel trooper while he lifts the trooper under his own power, choke him to death, and then toss his lifeless body aside like a rag doll, you know this guy is bad news (and this is just the start).  He goes on to threaten/capture/torture a teenage Princess Leia (who he doesn’t know is his daughter), restrain the princess while they both watch Leia’s adopted home-world be destroyed in an instant along with almost two billion people, strike down his former friend and teacher in a duel, and almost kill Luke Skywalker (whom he doesn’t know is his son) in a space battle; and this is just the “first film”.  Except for Episode I:  The Phantom Menace, the Star Wars saga is filled with Anakin/Darth doing unspeakable thing: wiping out an entire tribe of Tusken Raiders after he watches his mother die because of their treatment of her, beheading Count Dooku, killing younglings during the siege on the Jedi Temple, wiping out the Separatist Council AFTER the Clone Wars are over, almost force choking his pregnant wife to death, cutting off his son’s hand (and destroying his innocence), and watching while his son gets tortured almost to the point of death by his Master, Palpatine/Darth Sidious – but I’ll come back to that one.  As an aside to buttress the point of Darth Vader being a bad dude, there is gargoyle of him hidden high on one of the towers of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC; the stone carving  was part of a competition to choose a representation of evil, and Vader won out.

Having established his bona-fides as a baddie, it is sometimes asked, “when did Skywalker become Vader?”.  The easy answer is “when Darth Sidious/Palpatine christened him as such in Revenge of the Sith”  Another might say “after he slaughters the Separatist Council on Mustafar and you see his eyes change to the red/yellow'”Sithy’ eyes that we saw Darth Maul have in Episode”.  The final, and best answer, I think is this:  Anakin Skywalker because Darth Vader to the fullest extent when he lashed out in rage after Sidious lied to him and told him he killed his wife (which, it could be argued was a partial truth).   This of course is forever immortalized with Vader screaming “NOOOOOOOOO” and crushing all the medical machines around him using the Dark Side at the end of Episode III.

Having experienced all of this as a character, not to mention the twenty years between Episodes III and IV wherein Vader actively hunts down and assassinates the remnants of the Jedi Order that escaped Order 66, when you see him in the Original Trilogy (Episodes IV-VI) redemption for this character is the LAST thing someone naturally considers.  Nevertheless, it happened and from the most unlikely of places – due to the efforts of the one person who should have hated him most: his son, Luke Skywalker.  Despite, the attempts to kill Luke at the hands of his father, Luke’s maiming as a result of Vader’s crimson blade, and the destruction of Luke’s ideal concept of who/what Anakin Skywalker was/is, Luke still believed that redemption for Vader was possible; he says as much when he explains all of this to a semi-shocked Leia Organa on Endor that “there is good in him…I have to try…to bring him back to the good side”

If I was Luke, I’d have a hard time not hating my dad (and I don’t even like typing that idea out when I think about my own dad and how wonderful he is) so that’s a testament to Luke’s strength of character and ability to see past all the dark and terrible things his dad had been involved with.  There is no indication as to what might have happened as far as the possibility of the restoration of any sort of relationship between father and son (even in the Return of the Jedi Infinities comic) much less a proper father/son relationship.  Interestingly, I once heard the voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones, be interviewed live on stageWhen James Earl was interviewed, he talked of the relationship he never had with his dad because his dad abandoned him when he was a baby. When he eventually reconnected with his biological father later in life while getting into acting in New York City, he said that the best he could do was to be his father’s friend. How terrible is that? Think of what he missed, what he never got to learn. And yet a man who never knew never knew his father gave life to a character who never really knew his son.

In Return of the Jedi, Luke surrenders himself to Imperial Officers after talking with Leia and explaining the dynamics of their family and his intent to turn their father back from the Dark Side of the Force.  Upon his surrender, he is taken to Vader, and in the insuring conversation Luke calls him “father”, prompting Vader to interject that Luke has accecpted the truth that Vader is his father.  Luke responds:  “I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father.”  Vader retorts: “That name no longer has any meaning for me.”  Luke counters “It is the name of your true self you have only forgotten.  I know there is good in you, the Emperor (Palpatine) hasn’t driven it from you fully.”  Luke then asks his father to leave this dark life he has lead, to walk away and essentially join the rebellion (which actually happens in a Star Wars Infinities version of Return of the Jedi); Luke offers an alternative, believing that his father’s redemption is still possible  Vader, resolutely responds “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side…it is too late for me, son”

The ensuing physiological and physical confrontation (via lightsaber and Force Lightning) between Luke, Vader, and Palpatine forces everything to one point of decision for Vader:  Do I continue down this dark path I have walked for 23 years and in so doing allow my Master to kill my son, or do I turn from this path, hopefully save my son, and destroy my Master – not to replace him – to free the galaxy from his tyranny.  We know Vader chose the latter, now importalized by his exclamation of “NO. NOOOOO!!!!” much akin to Episode III.  Had Luke not been in a situation where his father HAD to make a decision, it probably would have never been made; Luke was willing to sacrifice himself in hopes of seeing his father redeemed from the dark life to which he had succumbed.  (Interestingly, the scene title on the Return of the Jedi Blu-Ray for this point is called “Vader’s Redemption”.)  After this, as Vader is wheezing, and enduring the final minutes of his life, he instructs Luke “help me take, this mask off…just for once let me look on you with my own eyes”  Removing the mask, the last vestige of Darth Vader fades away and (for Luke) a new individual is in the place the Dark Lord once occupied; a change has happened and all of the darkness and pain he endured, redeemed (in spite of that darkness being his own choice).

The story of Darth Vader throughout the six Star Wars films is a compelling one, from his meteoric rise to the plunge into darkness and eventual redemption.  His redemption rings of the Gospel, with the Son (of Skywalker) willing to  sacrifice himself to bring one cloaked and bound in darkness back to the side of Light.  Most would consider Vader beyond saving, but one did not and took the requisite steps to give such an outcome the best opportunity to happen, knowing still that Vader would have to make the choice to recognize his folly and turn from it.  Moreover, upon Luke removing the mask (Vader could not do it under his own power) a new man comes to light, the old had gone and the new had come, to quote part of II Corinthians 5:17.  As Tolkien suggested, all myth ultimately reflects the One True Myth, the Gospel, even if unintended.

I love the idea of redeeming pain itself and painful experiences (bequeathing purpose) and pain used as a facet of becoming (my post on Tozer’s quote); it’s a personal thing for me.  The FENX is part of that: creating something to meet a need generated by difficulty and pain, and that creation opening doors to tell story and speak truth that would never have been comprehended if not for the pain and difficulty in the first place.  Ruminating on how that works often taxes my capacity.

What experiences in your life are in need to redemption and purpose?

Riding towards Eternity,

Aaron

It is rare for me to come across something that I find so compelling that I have to act. A good friend of mine recently commented to me that we often come in contact with situations which impress upon us and move us, but they do not impact us enough to actually do something about it. For some it’s poverty and/or homelessness. For others, like Mike and Heather Colletto, it’s the trafficking and subsequent slavery of another human being – the robbing of another of that individuals’ inherent dignity bestowed upon them by the Creator by seeing them as less than human and ensnaring them in to a life of bondage either by deception or force. Still, for others it is the sacredness of human life – especially the unborn. This is a cause to which I have attached myself, along with countless other friends and strangers. In the midst of ALL that seems to be transpiring in our great Nation over this issue in the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a particular “sub-issue’ which isn’t addressed all that often, maybe because it gets wrapped up into the various facets of the larger issues at play within the Pro-Life Cause. This crucial “sub-issue” is the “quality of life” for individuals with medical conditions, physical challenges, handicaps, disabilities – call it what you like.

Previously, I wrote about my experience being interviewed on this very subject by an Emmy-winning pro-life television show, because of my life experiences, trials, and triumphs with Cerebral Palsy. Since that interview four weeks ago to the day, this issue of quality of life, the importance of it, and the lies surrounding it have been made starker than ever before.

Almost two weeks ago, I was present for a subcommittee hearing of the Energy and Commerce Committee, a hearing on Rep. Joe Pitts’s Protect Life Act to ensure no funding for abortion in Obamacare (since this hearing the bill has made it though sub-committee, full committee, and is likely to see floor action). During this hearing (which degraded into a circus at certain points) a member of the minority on the committee lamented the lack of access to abortion (if this bill becomes law) for the purpose of terminating a pregnancy wherein a fetus is determined to have a disability (just about a direct quote and certainly the spirit of the comments is not lost in how I phrased it). I caught this and my mind exploded. Here I was observing all this and I had to hear those words. The underlying “wisdom” in society is that such a life/baby/child does not deserve a chance because they will not have a good quality of life and/or raising such a child is too much of a burden to the parents (mother – since Planned Parenthood doesn’t really want the father involved at all). This is often how society is urged to think by purveyors of culture and it is a pernicious and sinister LIE. This “wisdom” is the under-girding foundation upon which that comment was uttered in the hearing last week – and people BELIEVE it. There I was, the proof to discredit this lie and no one knew because I wasn’t allowed to speak out because it would have broken decorum rules in a committee hearing.

Reeling from that experience over the last two weeks after it has been seared into my brain, I came across a blog post last Wednesday that floored me. Zack Arnold is the editor of the popular show Burn Notice on USA Network that happens to star Bruce Campbell among others. Zack’s blog post details his “Passion Project” (ironic/awesome since he edited the trailer for Passion of the Christ): a documentary about the late Chris Rush, a metro Detroit native and dear friend to Zack. Chris was a quadriplegic with Muscular Dystrophy who at a young age became an ambassador for Jerry’s Kids, met President Regan, was designated a honorary NASA astronaut, and as an avid Star Wars fan caught the attention of some of the crew who worked on Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Reading Zack’s blog post (twice) and watching the footage he had already edited together, I couldn’t help but ask myself “how can I help here, what can I do?” So I contacted Zack, and surprisingly heard back. Over the course of a few hours (as I told my own story and shared footage of The FENX Project and Zack expounded on Chris’s saga) I began to realize what a fantastic project this really is, and how much like Chris I actually am – we’d have been great friends given the chance. Since Zack is trying to raise $10,000 – with almost $5,000 raised as of this writing – to go out to Las Vegas for the next Muscular Dystrophy telethon organized by Jerry Lewis’s organization (and to try and interview Jerry himself) I’ve been trying to get the story out to folks in DC and around the country who might have an interest because they are familiar with my life and it’s triumphs and trials.

In this project, I see an excellent opportunity to showcase the quality of life someone can have while encouraging and inspiring others to live their own lives to their maximum potential; Chris did that. In the face of a culture that creates molds and an erroneous concept of the ideal which says “if you do not meet this you do not belong, we do not want you” – Chris lived and excelled. He reached higher and achieved more than anyone in the beginning (save his family – and I know how that is) thought possible, and that legacy has a chance to be immortalized.

I look forward to the day when Chris and I will walk together on streets of gold and talk about how our faith in Christ sustained us though trial, as we appreciate something for eternity that we never were able to experience as intended on Earth. One day, two Star Wars fans will race from one galaxy to the next to “be the first one to see them all” (as a young Anakin Skywalker once exclaimed).

Riding Towards Eternity to meet Him (and Chris),

Aaron