Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bleachers: On Perfection, Forgiveness, and Fame

I just finished a great book by John Grisham, the second one of his that I've read and that has nothing to do with lawyers. A Painted House was the first I read and loved and I just finished Bleachers. Bleachers took me a few hours to read and had me reeled in from the beginning. To not give away too much of what happens in the book I thought I'd discuss a few of the themes that are present throughout the book: Perfection, Forgiveness, and Fame. I suggest reading the book before reading on, unless you don't mind some of the plot being exposed by my own potentially skewed perception.

Eddie Rake is a star of a coach; I drew many parallels to Coach Herman Boone, Denzel Washington's role in Remember the Titans. His players all either loved him or hated him. Most who hated him come to realize later in life that that passion that they felt toward him wasn't hate but actually love. (It's amazing how closely related those two terms are. A passionate feeling you feel towards something. The true opposite to love, in my opinion is apathy or indifference.)

The apathetic and the indifferent were the true losers in the eyes of Eddie Rake. When he first arrived in Messina as coach in 1958 the team thought they had had a pretty good year the previous year having a record of 3 and 7 (or something similar) and having beat a particular school. Rake, hearing this, proclaimed them losers. I thought that was kind of harsh, but when you come to think of it, they were happy with something much less than perfection. They were indifferent or apathetic to the thought of reaching perfection. Eddie Rake spent the next 34 years trying to teach every player that anything less than perfection was failure. This is a hard concept, but I don't think he believed it 100%. He knew that if they weren't striving for perfection they were then failures, not if they weren't perfected.

Many of the players later in life found that their lives were being governed on the thought of whether or not Rake would be pleased with what they were doing in that instance. Their coach became somewhat of a second conscience to them, someone they lived to please and feared to disappoint. In this light, I drew many parallels to God and his love for us. We should know his love for us so well that we crave his appraisal and shrink at his disappointment. He wants us to strive for perfection, knowing that in this life we will always fall short of it.

Eddie Rake was no saint, he made some pretty bad mistakes that he regretted to the end of his life. He tried hard to make amends, but forgiveness didn't come easy. Forgiveness requires two parts. The first (though not a requirement for the second) is that the perpetrator must show some form of repentance and desire to be forgiven. The second requires the victim to accept the apology on the grounds that the Savior's atonement will take care of the rest, and that justice belongs to God. If one or the other is not fulfilled, the person responsible (victim or perpetrator) is at greater fault.

However, just because one is forgiven doesn't mean that life starts again as if nothing had ever happened. Trust is not required in the act of forgiving, but must be regained by the perpetrator at great cost.

One other theme I find interesting is that when young people become so famous at such a young age, rarely do they amount to anything. Neely Crenshaw comments, "When you're famous at eighteen, you spend the rest of your life fading away." They expect the fame and glory they gained as kids to be sustained throughout life, and when it doesn't they literally fade away. Look at the lives of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, the Olsen twins, etc. These are just movie/television stars that naturally get more media coverage, but the fame is the same no matter the profession, and I imagine the effects don't change either. I'd like to finish with one of my favorite poems by Percy Shelley that resonates with the same thoughts on fame and glory:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: 'Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

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