07 February 2011

Eleven in '11 ... No. 5 (the grand gesture)

No. 5
the grand gesture.

There he is.  Standing.  Outside.   Attitudinal hip jutting out contrapposto to one side.  Ratty raincoat draping his kick-boxing svelte frame. Full head of hair spiked just so.  Boombox hoisted above his head, and Peter Grabiel's enduring, endearing and searing "Your Eyes" raps gently on the heart of Ione Skye, knocking her to the core.  Indeed, the grand gesture has hit its mark.
There they are.  Sitting in squalor in the big city.  Rags on their backs, stomachs empty. Children of all ages, wander the streets or live in abusive homes in New York City.  Because of displacement and death and disease, tens of thousands of these starving children are left uncared for as the line between abundance and dearth is a hair's breadth of chance or fate or poor parental choices in the big city of the Industrial Revolution.  Charles Brace witnessed this spectacle in 1854 and was moved into action.  His response was to found an organization removing children from big city squalor, transporting them out on "orphan trains" to awaiting pioneers and farmers for adoption throughout the mid-west who wanted to add to their families or needed working hands to help take care of the family farm or homestead.
30,000 children lived on New York City streets
Some statistics suggest upwards of 200,000 orphaned or abandoned children were placed throughout the mid-west over 50 years of the program's existence.  While there were reported cases of abuse or indifference (Billy the Kid was an "orphan train" kid), over 85% of the children themselves thought it worked for them, with many becoming successful businessmen and  politicians (two state governors).  And, it all started with one bold, grand gesture.

What exactly is the grand gesture?  To my way of thinking it is doing something that you would not normally do in your typical course of the day or year for that matter.  It is not ordinary, but is, by definition, extraordinary.

I know that many romantics think this is all about the love.  The Valentine's Day proposal (like the billboard pic above) is a big one here.  But, that's a little too on the nose, somehow, to my way of thinking.  It certainly is not unique, but it does genuinely touch the recipient to be sure.  As far as that goes, well done, you for making a memory for you and your betrothed.  However, I'd like to suggest that the true grand gesture is about the noblesse oblige that moves and touches all of us.  It's not just for the one recipient, but the whole of us, as far as that's possible.  Which is one of the reasons a very practical "orphan train" grand gesture can have an impact on an entire society.  The grand gesture can be cute, sure, but hopefully  it can also be impactful as well as heartfelt.

Many people find themselves today running marathons several times a year, raising money for cancer causes who only a few short years ago had never imagined they could run 26 miles.  There are teams of these like-minded marathon runners who became runners because they wanted to "do something good" to help find a cure for the disease that harmed their respective families.  They raise awareness and monies and set an example for all of us. This is a grand gesture.

If you've never volunteered to help someone read or put some time in at the soup kitchen or coach a team sport, well, then perhaps you've found a grand gesture for you personally.  It certainly is a noble obligation, and over the course of a lifetime of volunteering you will have touched many, many individuals in your community.  I like that.  Goodbye Mr. Chips shows us all the impact our involvement in the lives of people can have over a lifetime of being engaged.

Other grand gestures are massive, public spectacles.  Take the art work of Christo, who came to California in the early 1990s to place over a thousand large umbrellas throughout the rolling, golden hills of the Golden State.  He did the same in Japan, though with blue umbrellas.  Here in this one project you have thousands of large umbrellas, blue and gold, dotting the countrysides of two countries separated by an ocean, a culture, but sharing a wonderful grand gesture.  Many argued this was pointless and a waste of time.  Others lauded the project with high praise.  Either way, it was a very grand gesture.

What are some examples of grand gestures that you'd like to share with us?  Leave a comment or two!

Up next?
No. 6
the museum.



Sandy K. said...

You make me think. I like that. I'll be back when the smoke clears....

Julia Christie said...

I have volunteered with my children at Thanksgiving to help feed those less fortunate, raised 'Pennies for Peace' with them during class projects, and helped out a stranger with gas money a time or two.
Nevertheless, I consider my grandest gesture the thoughtful, carefully considered raising of my children, so that they do not become an afterthought, (as I believe so many kids are today) the results of which society has to deal with on a grand scale. My two oldest children have left the nest, are happily self-sufficient, and consciously make efforts to contribute to our community and society. My Daughter is in college, and works nearly full-time to support herself and my Son is on the management track at the company he works for. If I can be as successful with the rest of my lovely brood, I will consider this my obra, mi sinfonia de la vida, my legacy.

christian soldier said...

broke my foot-lying there w/ no thing to do-called friends who had served on my board -asked if they wanted to help form a Lutherans for Life Chapter-yes-
then-after several years-thought I'd give up the presidency-
off spring said-"Mom-if you save one baby's life-it's worth it."
a few months later-spoke on Life Sunday-couple was thinking of aborting their baby--9 months later-she placed that baby in my arms and thanked me for my speech...

Dumbwit Tellher said...

I wish I could say I've offered the world a grand gesture of some importance or meaning; sadly it's been on a smaller scale such as singing in the church choir, playing in a Christmas band going to local nursing homes, and volunteer work. But I too have put my heart & soul into the raising of my brood of 4. Hoping they too contribute to society and make a positive impact on others. Once again you've got me thinking and on a Monday that is not easy.
Hope your weekend was a great one Jg!?

Char said...

the grandest thing like that i've done is forgiven a loan to a friend.

Caleb Garcia said...

"In Your Eyes" is emotional- its all heart. Such is the nature of the grand gesture. Its a challenge, its a risk, are you heart enough? Great post JG- this is a unique blessing.

James said...

I never had heard of the "orphan train".Very fascinating, thank you.

preppyplayer said...

Here via To The Manor Born.
Is there such a thing as a small grand gesture or an unimportant one?

because here is my experience with a small grand gesture-

I was about 22 years-old, driving down the Garden State Parkway in my convertible. It was one of those rare NJ Summer days- no humidity and not to hot.
What was typical was that there was tons of traffic.
So even though I sat in a long line waiting to go thru the toll booth, I was enjoying the beautiful weather with the top down and the music rocking!

Eventually it was my turn to pay the toll and as I handed the change to the toll collector he waved it away. With a big smile and a wink he said, " your toll was paid by the last car and he said to tell you that you are beautiful."

I think I smiles for the rest of the day and have never forgotten that gesture- be it small, grand, or kind.

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Sandy -- thank you!

Julia -- you're correct. what a lovely grand gesture to give to the world: healthy, self-governing, loving children who become contributing adults. i also really like that word "obra" ... fascinating!

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Carol -- absolutely admire your volunteer spirit. and working with a board of directors is always an interesting complication in one's life.

Deb -- exactly what i think! those local little grand gesture (the personal ones) can have such a huge impact over our lifetime. lovely, my friend!

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Char -- that is an amazing grand gesture, the forgiveness of an obligation. so impactful and will not ever be forgotten.

Caleb -- appreciate the compliment, bud! right back at ya ...

Jg. for FatScribe said...

James -- first heard about the trains from a Marvin Olasky book "Tragedy of American Compassion" about dealing with poverty in America. thanks for your visit!! He's no Abraham Kuyper, but a good book.

Preppy -- outstanding grand gesture, and a perfect addition to the discussion. btw, thanks for the follow; your blogs and website are very cool. i really can't believe your family is that handsome and athletic! i see where they get it from ... look forward to reading your blog and one day purchasing one of those animal hats!

Kathy said...

FatS..I just can't wrap my mind around all those homeless children....even with the knowledge that in many places, it goes on today. Excelent post...looking forward to "museum".....speaking of museums...have you visited the new Google museum site? thoughts? k

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

I think my grand gesture is being an auntie. It's an amazing opportunity to be involved in the lives of teenagers - especially from a bit of distance. I now fully understand why my father always loved a house full of our friends. Some mentoring out, riding on the coat-tails in. Perfect.

Divine Theatre said...

As a former passenger on that train I tend to admire those who perform less illustrious deeds; the poor Midwesterners who took in another hungry mouth, gave them a warm bed and, hopefully, love. Long term. Low key. No less magnanimous, though. No less noble. Perhaps more so?
I admire anyone who would stoop low enough to help pull up someone in need.
I am going to LOVE this blog!
Thanks for stopping by my own trite and shallow display! Thank you, too, for the kind sentiment.

Julie@beingRUBY said...

Hi Jg
sorry for the tardiness,,, been over a couple of times but my internet dropped out... spooky!! haha

Well funny you should mention it.. .. actually I just recalled this story to someone the other day.. and I think it was 1993.. on a plane back from LA to Sydney.. at LAX met a small boy with his father.. the child was traveling alone back to Sydney and was petrified.. I promised to look out for him.. Spent most of 14 hr flight sitting in the aisle on the floor next to him.. no spare seats.. and the kid was sick with anxiety.. poor petal so felt too guilty to leave him alone.. did manage a couple of moments back in the smoking section [back in those days] to eat and sneak a ciggie.. At end of flight the crew gave me a magnum of champagne...and the guy in the seat next to me offered me a free week on Lindeman Island.. [darn never took that up.. silly me] . The fact is.. I was not so much a wonderful person.. but the guilt was too much... just would have felt too guilty to leave that kid alone.. he sort of decided I was 'it' to calm him down..

OK.. there's the long boring story

Hope you are having a great week.. ciao xxx Julie

Divine Theatre said...

It just occurred to me...Do egregious mistakes count?

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Dog-Eared: Being an Auntie (or Uncle) is a powerful thing, and investing in the lives of your nieces and nephews is a very grand gesture, indeed.

K: yes, those kids on the streets were tough times to be sure. my two sons and i see "street kids" (runaways) on the streets of hollywood almost every sunday on our way to church. its a tragic thing even today in America, but daily around the world.

Divine Theater: you've said it best, i think. great words. and, if you even "like" this blog (shallow warts and all), i'll be chuffed.

oh, and egregious mistakes? well, the kids call that an "epic fail" but we can call it a grand gaffe if you'd like ... do tell.

Julie: always stoked when you drop by. your work with that youngster deserves more than a magnum. (you should've taken that trip!) grand gesture indeed!

Anonymous said...

I'm ashamed to admit that, during my years as an extremely corpulent prepubescent, my parents were left with no option but to contract with Christo to produce my dungarees.

Shelley said...

Jg. Can't really think of any grand gestures I've ever made. I generally just fall into doing useful things as I find those that interest me - fairly self serving, really. I served as a youth group sponsor for 9 years once, and I've been on the running club committee for about 10 years, but those are just small commitments that added up, not a sweeping gesture. Gretchin Rubin (of the Happiness Project) says her 'spiritual master' is St. Thérèse, who achieved greatness through very small things. I don't aspire to sainthood, but I'm certainly much better at small than at grand things.

Mandy said...

I have to say, in this regard, my husband is a much better person than I am. I'm more of the "take it slowly" type as opposed to the grand gesture type. He won me over with one very early into our relationship.

In August 1998, I was walking home from work one day when a car with five men in drove by. They screeched to a halt and turned round and began to drive up and down the road around me, calling out of the window and harassing me. Luckily, they had sped up the road to do another dramatic u-turn and I was able to slip into my road and into my garden gate, disappearing behind my garden wall before they drove into my road and could figure out which house I'd gone into. I met Stephen on 29 August 1998. We'd been dating a couple of weeks when he found out about the incident. From that day, he drove the 25km round trip his home to my work to my home to his home every single work day for a year until I got my driving license in October 1999 just so that I wouldn't have to walk home alone again!