Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Viewpoints



(A view of Edinburgh from the top of Calton Hill)

It was another beautiful weekend in Edinburgh. On Saturday I walked from my flat to Calton Hill. Every time I go somewhere and some one says to me "This is the best view of Edinburgh" they've always been right. But there's no view of the city that can match Calton Hill. The Hill itself is a stunning mixture of Greek ruins (known as the Scottish National Monument, it was meant to mimic the architecture of the Parthenon and to commemorate the soldiers killed in the Napoleonic wars but the city ran out of funding and the structure was never completed), the miniature fort that was the Governor's house of Calton Jail (at one time the largest prison in Scotland), and the most magnificent vistas you can imagine.


(The Scottish National Monument)

But Calton Hill is not the only stunning monument I saw this weekend. I have finally been to Edinburgh Castle. For the past two weeks, from almost the moment I first arrived in Edinburgh, I have wanted to go to the castle. How could you not?

(View of Edinburgh Castle from the top of Calton Hill)

The Castle sits in the center of Edinburgh. The royal mile, the high street of Edinburgh, leads from the Castle down to Parliament and the Palace of Holyrood House (the royal family's quarters whenever they come to Scotland). The Castle is literally hewn into the rock face of one of the cities' hills. Inside the castle you can see all sorts of little museums, as well as walk around the grounds. I got to see the crown jewels of Scotland but, alas, no pictures were allowed.

(Edinburgh Castle as I see it every day on my way to class)

The views and the jewels weren't the only things only display at the Castle. The majority of the Castle's museums are dedicated to some historical aspect of Scottish warfare. But there was one particular exhibit, entitled "Reconstructing Lives," that has made a permanent impression in my memory.  The exhibit was part of a larger story arc of the multi faceted nature of Scotland's relationship to war. In this portion of the exhibit they took a moment to remember that war has consequences beyond the possession of territory and the ambitions or principles of great nations. They examined the reality of modern warfare; life after the conflict. And, in the case of the exhibit, life with a prosthetic. There have been so many technological developments in military medical practice that more and more soldiers are surviving, while in any other period in history their injuries would have killed them. But, as the exhibit discussed, even though we can perform more complex surgeries and save more lives, the infrastructure for dealing with the lives we've given back is, well, a work in progress.

(Exhibit on soldiers and prosthetics)

There was a video playing in the exhibit of an interview with a former British army officer, Chris Moon. Officer Moon lost the lower half of his leg and arm clearing landmines in Africa. During the video he said two extremely powerful things that have stuck with me. Firstly, he observed the differences between the people he knows that were born with their disabilities and those that acquired them later in life. He said the reason that those who acquired their disability later in life struggled so much was because it's as if they have lost a part of their identity. It's not just the functionality of a hand or a leg that makes it's loss so painful, it's the specific and particular physicality of that limb, it's the two freckles on the back of your hand the look like snakes bites, or curve of your calf, whatever it is, it was yours and yours alone. To lose a part of our bodies, or our minds for that matter, to lose something that is supposed to be and always has been inherently your possession, it is the physical manifestation of losing a part of your definition of self.

The other thing that  Officer Moon said was that "The truth about humans relationships is that they should be about interdependence." I think that's something we often forget, about our relationships to other people, but our relationships to our own bodies as well. The framework of our bodies is so intricate and complex, it's amazing. But the common perception is that each portion of our body is independent of the other. But, if theater has taught me nothing else, or at least 8 weeks of movement classes, it's that every segment, every limb, every neuron of our body is interconnected, is interdependent.


Perhaps it's silly but I believe we can learn something by just looking at our bodies. Our bodies are stronger than we think and that is because of the nuances of the interdependent network that connects the cells and organs and etc. that compose the human form.  If our bodies can survive when something is taken from it, whether it's a brain injury or a lost limb, if our body can work together to find a new way to be strong, why can't we do that with people? I think an integral part of being a human is interdependence. And it's not just dependence, there's a difference. Dependence is one sided, interdependence isn't. Interdependence is about mutual support.  To me, this ultimately manifests itself in the theatrical experience. Theater epitomizes the necessity of the interdependent relationship, it couldn't exists without it.  A playwright with no actors, actors with no audience, they would have no function. The beauty of the theatrical experience is that, at it's core, it serves as a continuous cycle of interdependence.  Artists want to tell stories, the audience deserves to have their stories told.

(The evolution of the prosthetic leg)

 I've met so many people in my life who thought themselves dull or boring, who thought they didn't have a story worth sharing. I cannot express to you enough how false that is. We all have a story to tell. And our stories are worth hearing. And other people's stories are worth listening to. Our stories are what define us, they are the most powerful inheritance we can leave behind. The reason I believe theater is so crucial is because it is the vessel through which a person's story can be told and shared with the global community. Everyone has a story; every soldier, every parent, every stranger, everyone. It's what connects us, it's what truly makes us human.

4 comments:

  1. One of your best entries. Thank you for the account of Chris Moon’s observations.

    I don’t know why things happen this way, but I read your blog immediately after watching Ken Burns talk about the importance of story. His last words in the video were: "We all think that an exception is going to be made in our case and we're going to live forever. And being a human is actually arriving at the understanding that that's not going to be. Story is there to just remind us that it's just OK."

    We should never doubt the importance of telling stories.

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  2. This is a brilliant bit of writing which ignites so many many thoughts in me. I also believe that we learn the most from the everyday stories, from our very common existence and you have encapsulated that notion so beautifully. What a wonderful piece you have written, I wept to read it.

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  3. Stories also define a culture. Listen and read the defining stories of the people of Edinborough and Scotland . What stories live for hundreds of years? What jokes do they tell about themselves? What stories are told when Celts are worn?

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  4. You might be amused to read todays article in the Huff post....
    https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?shva=1#inbox/13895706ad56f2cb

    especially considering what you have just written....

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