Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Different Views of the World

A few weeks ago, I got the chance to have dinner at the Norwegian embassy in Washington, D.C. It was a lovely evening. The ambassador and his wife hosted a group of International Educators in their residence, and they were gracious hosts. The residence was decorated with objects which represented the best of Norway. There was a very old Norwegian Bible on the table (the ambassador's wife is an ordained Lutheran minister). There were pictures of the King and Queen of Norway. What was most interesting to me, however, was the artwork. He had several pieces by Edvard Munch. Munch is probably most famous for his work "The Scream."

The works in the embassy were even more troubling than "The Scream," if possible. They were all self-portraits, and the artist was obviously in various states of despair while women were depicted as the cause of his problems. As I was looking at the works in the drawing room, the ambassador came up behind me and said, "He was insane, you know." I said, "Really?" He said, "Oh yes, he also had serious problems with women . . . obviously . . . in fact, twice in his life, women tried to kill him." He then instructed me to make sure and see the works by his student. Apparently, Munch had only one student. There was only one individual that he could tolerate, to whom he taught his technique.

I walked over to the works by Munch's student, and I was immediately taken aback. Where Munch's pictures were tormented, his student's were serene. There was a lovely picture of a lagoon with sailboats and a peaceful picture of the Norwegian landscape (naturally featuring a fjord). I was immediately amazed. How could the one person this deeply tormented man tolerated have a vision of the world which was so different from his mentor? As I was standing there, marveling at the disjunction, the ambassador came up and said, "See, he has the same technique." I could only reply, "Wow."

To be honest, I couldn't tell whether he had the same technique or not. I will trust individuals more educated than I to speak to that. I do know that they saw very different worlds when they looked out their window, and I found myself hoping for the ability of Munch's student. I pray that I am able to learn from those who went before and by the grace of God transform that ability into something which brings peace . . . rather than despair. Of course, despair is a part of this world as well, but that is a different entry . . .

Monday, June 2, 2008

Memory Lane

I just got back from Washington, D.C. last week after attending a conference on international education. While I was there, I called a friend of mine that I hadn't seen in a while . . . and when I say a while, I really mean it. I saw him a year and a half ago for five minutes and prior to that, it was over 17 years ago. To fully appreciate this lunch, you really have to understand what my life looked like 17 years ago.

I was completely without direction. I was undisciplined and unmotivated. I was getting ready to leave Purdue (partly at my choice and partly at Purdue's). My father's dream of my being a rich engineer was lying in ashes, and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I was battling my second bout with clinical depression, and it looked like the best I would be able to accomplish with my life . . . my dream goal . . . would be management training school at a fast food restaurant (which if that is what you love is a wonderful goal . . . let's just say, it wasn't what I loved). My first true love had just dumped me (on the phone after I moved her to an internship), and I felt as though I had no prospects and no future. Certainly, I would never reach all that "potential" that so many had told me that I had over the years.

Now, nearly two decades years later, Greg comes back into my life to discover that I am actually, "Dr. Robert Wallace." I am happily married with two wonderful children.

As I sat there reminiscing with Greg—laughing nearly to the point of tears as we remembered the good times—I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the course my life has taken. Think about those people who only knew the you from 10 or 20 years ago. What would they think now? That same guy, for whom the high point of the day was Mutant Ping Pong in the BSU basement nearly two decades ago, was representing Shorter College and having dinner at the Norwegian Embassy on last Wednesday night. It really strained belief as I thought about it.

After our great lunch, I began to think about what "Dr. Wallace" might tell that amazing Mutant Ping Pong player of 17 years ago. As I look back, I see plenty of areas which need improvement. It would be difficult to pick just a few bits of advice to give. I look back and see wasted opportunities and mistakes, and I am tempted to want to rewrite history—change the course of my life. I want to pull on those loose threads to make the tapestry of my life look neater.

But, I also remember that I like who I am now, and who I am now is connected to who I was then. If I pulled on those loose threads, I might discover that I those threads are connected to more than I bargained for.

Still, I think I would like to give Rob of 17 years ago some advice. I think I would say the same thing to that Rob that I try (and will try) to say to my children, "Have the courage to make the hard decisions. Follow the call of God no matter how crazy it seems. Savor each moment of each day because it will never come again."

Of course, if there had been a Mutant Ping Pong Professional League, I would have said to leave for the pros years ago . . .