Sunday, September 24, 2017

Laocoön and His Sons

My friend Joe is one of those guys who has a heart of gold while being driven by a deep desire to help others. Sometimes, Joe's eagerness can get the best of him, but throughout every situation and circumstance, he keeps a smile on his face and laughs off any opposition. Why? Because he's driven by a passion that few others have: bettering the lives of others over his own. His selflessness is refreshing, and the more time I spend hanging out with Joe, the more I admire his zeal and energy. It's hard not to like a guy like Joe.

A couple of weeks ago, Joe had swung by my place to help me carry a couple of old couches I was going to throw out to the curb. I have been struggling with some nerve damage in my back so I needed a helping hand, and he was quick to offer it. Upon arriving at my home, though, Joe realized that my old couches weren't that bad, and that his dad needed an upgrade from what he current had. So, one quick phone call later, we were loading the couch and love seat into his truck. When we started loading, I noticed he had a lot of other stuff including some really large rubber mats that weighed a lot and were sticking out a bit over his tailgate. They were so bulky, in fact, that his off-road truck tires were nearly skimming the inside of the wheel wells. I asked him what they were for, and being a physical trainer, he said they were for his growing gym, of course.

I prefaced this story with a quick bit about Joe's personality because I wanted to set the stage for this: Joe finds good in nearly everything he encounters. Whether it's a person down on their luck or some grungy old rubber mats, Joe's heart and mind immediately aim for the positive. What looked like junk to me, Joe saw as a potential benefit for his growing list of clients. No longer would his clients have to exercise in his gym on a concrete floor. No, Joe saw some dirty old mats and decided with a little TLC, his gym would soon be a more comfortable and safe place to exercise.

Once we finished loading up the couches for Joe's dad, he strapped everything down and was on his way. A little later in the day, I receive a couple of text messages from him. First, he exclaimed that the couches were delivered and implied that his dad was very happy. Next, though, Joe said that the several hundred pounds of rubber mats were strewn all over the freeway. He lost them going over a bump in one fell swoop. What surprised me, though, was how humorous he was about the whole ordeal, and better yet, how excited he was for his dad's latest furniture upgrade. Joe's the man! Needless to say, he returned to the scene on the freeway and loaded the mats back up into his truck. Poor guy . . . they really were horrendously heavy.

Flash forward to today: Joe came by my place again to pick up my old chair and ottoman to take back to his new home. Despite it being a matching piece to the couch and love seat, he loved it too much and thought it was so comfortable, he wanted it for his place. (Hey, we all deserve a good nap once in a while.) So, he and I chatted a bit, loaded up the chair and ottoman, and he was on his way yet again. We even joked about the déjà vu of it all. And wouldn't you know it, not 15 minutes later, I got a call from Joe. At about 60 miles-an-hour on the highway, the chair flipped out of the back of his truck, flew up about 10 feet into the air flipping end-over-end, bounced off the freeway tarmac, flipped some more, bounced and flipped and bounced and flipped until it came to a stop on the shoulder. Cars broke hard to avoid a collision and poor old Joe, he was beyond embarrassed. When I called him back and spoke to him on the phone, though, he was his normal, high-spirited self! The incident didn't sway him much and we both laughed at the frequency at which things seem to fly out of the back of his 4x4. Good guy Joe, though, no matter how disappointed he was at losing the chair, he was still buzzing with energy and happiness. And that's why I like him so much.

Laocoön and His Sons, attributed to Agesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus (dates unknown), is a roughly 2000 year old Hellenistic baroque marble sculpture of Laocoön, a Trojan priest, and his two sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraeus, being attacked by sea serpents. It was excavated in Rome in 1506. According to folklore and history, there is some disagreement as to why this piece was created. Some believe it depicts Laocoön, who was a priest of Poseidon, and his two boys being punished for attempting to expose the truth behind the Trojan Horse (according to Virgil's Aeneid). Others believe Laocoön was a priest of Apollo and this was his punishment for not remaining celibate (according to Sophocles). Pietro Aretino (1492-1556), an Italian author and playwright, is quote as saying, "The two serpents, in attacking the three figures, produce the most striking semblances of fear, suffering and death. The youth embraced in the coils is fearful; the old man struck by the fangs is in torment; the child who has received the poison, dies."

Regardless of which tale you may believe, the piece has long since been seen as a symbol of human agony. This is mainly because of the expressions on the faces of the three men. Fear, anguish, and desperation are all present as the three wrestle and contort their bodies into unnatural positions in order to stay alive. Much the same, every single human being alive today wrestles with agony in some fashion, be it mental or physical. As the centuries have rolled on, this action-packed piece has been iconic in exemplifying human tragedy.

The reason I brought up Joe at the start of this entry was because despite the odds, despite the frustration, despite his pickup's penchant for spitting items onto the highway, he doesn't let life get him down. No matter the agony, fear, anguish, or desperation, Joe keeps his head up high and his eyes on what's more important. Sure, we all have our moments where we wrestle with horrible circumstances or situations, and of course, it goes without saying that they are inevitable, but my friend Joe helps me to remember that it's just stuff; stuff in the here-and-now that will soon pass. Joe helps me to remember that hurdles come and go, but if I'm focused on what's more important like the well-being of others, I can get through it okay. It might be painful for a time, but I serve no one else other than myself if I stay mired in my pain, frustration, anger, or any other negative feeling. Joe reminds me that nothing in this world goes with me when I die, and so with that as the foundation, I too can overcome challenges with a smile on my face. No, it won't be easy--despite Joe making it seem very easy--but I have to say, at least I have someone helping me to be a better person. Even if he doesn't realize it.

Or maybe he does.

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