The girl in the picture

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On June 8, 1972 during the Vietnam War, a little girl made world-wide news when she was photographed running from her Vietnamese village, which had just been bombed with napalm by South Vietnamese planes. It's a miracle that she was even alive. Her clothes were burned completely away and skin was dropping from her body, which was still on fire. 

The photo won many prizes, including a Pulitzer, and has been credited with hastening the end of the Vietnam War. But what happened to the nine-year-old child who became known around the world simply as "The Napalm Girl"?  This week I had the privilege of meeting and hearing the story of this miraculous lady.

Kim Phuc Pan Thi was rushed to a hospital by photographers, but her injuries were so severe she was placed in a morgue and left there to die. Her parents finally found her still barely alive in that morgue after three days and desperate treatment was begun to try and spare her life. After 14 months in a Saigon hospital and sixteen skin-graft surgeries, she returned to her village.  She continued to struggle with physical pain as well as the mental anguish of being used as a propaganda tool by the communist government. 

Ten painful years after surviving her horrifying experience, Kim committed her life to Jesus Christ. Kim sought a way to find freedom to grow in her faith, and in 1986 the communist government allowed her to continue her education in Cuba. For years Kim considered herself ugly because of the scars that covered her body, and she feared that as a result she would never be loved, never be married, and never have the chance to raise a family. In Cuba she met another young Vietnamese student who later became her husband. While on their honeymoon in 1992, they saw a chance to escape communist control, and they defected to Canada where they still live with their two sons.

Kim says it was only through her relationship with Christ that she was able to find love, peace, meaning, and purpose, and eventually to extend forgiveness to those who caused so much pain for her and others.  Kim is doing an amazing amount of work around the planet sharing her faith and working through foundations she has set up to especially provide medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war. 

Her grace, love, forgiveness, and commitment to powerfully sharing the message of Christ is beyond inspiring. I'm thankful that her famous photo was not a picture of the end of the road, but of the beginning of an incredible journey that has brought peace to people throughout the world.

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Two from a two at a zoo

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Each time over the last year and a half that we've visited Shari, Robin, and Asher in St. Louis, our visit has included a trip to the impressive St. Louis Zoo, recently named the "top free attraction in America" (we like free). We also like zoos. No matter how many times you go, the unpredictable behavior of fascinating animals keeps the experience fresh. 

Today had another fresh twist. Asher turned two years old today, and for Kathy and me, this was his first time of not being confined to his stroller or the arms of a parent or grandparent. Asher loves seeing animals at the zoo, and as soon as we passed through the front gates he successfully petitioned his way out of his stroller. Freedom! Free to run anywhere and do anything that the herding team of Shari, Kathy, and me would allow.

Asher not only loves zoo animals - he loves life in general. And as much as he enjoys animals, it also seems he enjoys everything else at the zoo. With each step (or even half step) there was a fascinating rock, or leaf, or stick, or wall, or sign to stop and behold. He definitely has to poke any glass sign that lights up to see if it's a touch-screen monitor. We were inside the zoo for more than 20 minutes before actually getting to see any non-squirrel animals. We'd probably still be there sans animal sightings without occasional gentle nudging by his mom. 

This continued throughout our visit (and lest you misinterpret this, I loved every minute of it). Asher is even more fascinated by people (especially those close to his size) than rocks, sticks, leaves, and touch-screens. Asher almost didn't even see the huge grizzly bear that swam over and suddenly put its face six inches (including several inches of glass) in front of Asher's face. Asher was too busy noticing the little girl standing next to him. Same thing a little while later at the polar bear tank. The animals were coming close today. Including the monkeys. As crazy as Asher is about monkeys, even they had to compete for his attention with the stroller confined four-year-old little boy who didn't seem to appreciate that Asher kept calling him "baby."

In observing all this, I quickly realized two take-aways that interestingly are somewhat opposite each other:

1) How often do we miss some of the most important parts of life because we're so focused on less significant stuff? At a zoo you can see amazing animals that you rarely get to see any other time or anywhere else. Or you can be so focused on little things that you can see every day and everywhere to the point that you totally miss the amazing. Two-year-olds usually outgrow their fascination with rocks and leaves, but I imagine we've had more than one guy at our Seesalt or Chillipepper student conferences who missed out on a potentially life-changing face-to-face experience with God because their focus was on the girl sitting next to them. Sometimes we need to turn off the TV, take out the earbuds, disconnect the devices... They may be distracting us from experiencing much more amazing and important things.

At the same time...

2) How often do we go through life and miss the little everyday things along the way that can bring us enjoyment? Stop and smell the roses - or the rocks, leaves, sticks...  I need to finish writing a script in the next few days. It's a big undertaking. It's important. I'm often thinking about it even when I'm not writing it. But it's not so big and important that I can't enjoy rocks and sticks. Especially when I can enjoy them with one of my grandsons. Beyond our own enjoyment, paying attention to the little things can make a big difference in important ways.

Take as much or as little as you'd like from #1 or #2. Or even both. Experiences from the St. Louis Zoo are free.


Goodbye to a circus

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First a little context. Before I was even born, my dad worked for Ringling doing public relations and marketing. He continued working with various shows, carnivals, and our own Cox Amusements throughout his life. I’ve been around around circuses my whole life. My favorite TV show as a little boy was “Circus Boy” (starring 10-year old future Monkee Micky Dolenz under the stage name Micky Braddock). Somehow I got and wore a hat just like circus boy Corky wore. For years Dad called me “Circus Boy Bill.” My favorite movies were “The Greatest Show on Earth” (still is) and “Toby Tyler - Ten Days with the Circus.” By age five, I had my first clown suit and professional clown makeup. By junior high I had built and tried learning how to perform on my own trapeze and high wire (my mother called it a low rope). I put myself through college by managing Cox Amusements. A former Ringling ringmaster visited our family for a few days (stayed in my room) and gave me a bullhook and trapeze that according to him were actually used in “The Greatest Show on Earth” movie (which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1953).  I could go on and on, but suffice it to say I have sawdust in my shoes.

Attendance at RBB&BC has been on the decline for some years and at the same time operating costs have continued to climb. Attendance took an even more drastic drop when, after years of protests by animal activist groups, the Ringling elephants were retired. (I have no desire right now to debate the use of animals in circuses.)

Feld Entertainment (owner/producers) has responded to the financial challenges, especially in recent years, by changing things up. A lot. There are (were) two units of the circus. Kathy and I saw the final version of the Red unit live a couple of months ago. Tonight we are are watching the final show of the Blue unit. Both shows are far cries from what “The Greatest Show on Earth” was even a few years ago. Both are good shows, but save for a few acts, it’s no longer what many of us consider “circus.” We’re not suddenly losing the Ringling circus tonight so much as we’ve been losing it for years.

Lest this seem harsh or overly critical, I understand. First, it’s not like circuses have always been the same. They’ve always changed and evolved. Secondly, the Felds did probably what they should have done. They changed with the times. They’ve tried to appeal to younger, “hipper” audiences. If I had been in their shoes, I may have done some of the same things. 

But it hasn’t worked. And the more it hasn’t worked, the more it seems they have tried to accelerate what hasn’t been working. In all fairness, I’m not sure much of anything would have turned things around to the extent needed.

So tonight is the final show. Some people who think the circus hates animals are glad to see it go. I’m not. I’m sad. I don’t want to overstate it, because I’m not one of the many who are losing their jobs. I’m not one of the ones who has spent much or all of my life as part of this particular circus family. I’ve been a part of great things that have ended and it hurts. It is sad. So far I haven’t shed any literal tears, and the reality is that I’ve got much bigger things on my own plate right now. But I am more than casually sorry to see such a great tradition come to an end after 146 years. 

(Update: I did fight tears at the end of the show as thanks and goodbyes were being said. It had to be incredibly tough for most all involved.)

After tonight, this circus is gone, but others remain. Some using the circus name are even less circusy than Ringling became. But there are still other more traditional shows still plodding along. They, too, are probably dealing with great challenges, but I’m pulling for them just as I pulled for the one I’m streaming from my iPad mini to my TV.

Prediction: We haven’t seen or heard the last of “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth.”  Though the brand has become somewhat diminished, that name alone is iconic and worth at least a small fortune (relative to my bank account anyway). Within a few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if the name were sold to another company which will put a new show on the road. If so, I hope it will be at least a little more traditional circus that will continue to change and evolve, but just not as fast and drastically. Who knows, maybe it will even go back to traveling under canvas (though probably a long shot). Or maybe that’s all just wishful thinking. 

Soon this final performance will be over and even those of us who care will quickly go back to our Ringling-less lives. (I’ve got a script to finish tonight.) When I find a little spare time (probably in a couple of months), I look forward to watching one of my copies of “The Greatest Show on Earth” movies.