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Bench in Pond

Andrew Miller | Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I have become my own life’s hero.

I have accomplished a feat so great, so bold, so mighty I no longer consider myself merely mortal. I have transcended this world into the ethereal sphere and conquered the foe heretofore deemed indomitable.

I have removed the bench from the pond.

On Saturday night I went over to a friend’s house to enjoy an evening of good old-fashioned fun. The get-together was proceeding along normally with a top-40 radio inspired playlist and multiple small circles being formed in various locations: the family room, the closed-in porch, the room next to the kitchen, the kitchen. It was while standing in the small circle in between the porch and the kitchen that my fellow columnist Brad Blomstrom and I had individual yet identical strokes of genius.

Our friend and host Christine earlier in the week had told us (and shown us evidence that) their outdoor bench had been thrown in their backyard pond and now the pond had frozen over. There stood the bench as majestic as an obelisk to which worship is owed. Christine and her roommates agreed that they no longer wanted their bench to be in their pond and proclaimed whosoever could remove the bench would be champions (of the get-together, of the night, of their hearts).

Brad and I were going to get that bench out of that pond come hell or high water. But we faced many obstacles. At first we started to chip away at the ice to see how deep into the pond this solid layer lay. The ice was thin, quite thin. And we had broken enough of it that from our first vantage point we would have fallen in instantaneously upon contact with it. We moved to the opposite edge of the pond and thought to use plywood boards to diffuse our weight. Brad would have had to be the one to actually venture onto the boards, as I carry a larger load with me, but we both thought this could potentially work. Unfortunately, our early ventures into chipping away the ice had proven the futility of this method.

Finally, after several more minutes of analysis and further assessment of the situation, we employed the TV cable Brad had found, lassoed the bench, and pulled the bench out of the pond. With our friends all watching in eager anticipation that we would fall into the ice-cold water, Brad and I triumphantly heave-ho’d until our mission was complete.

Critics, cynics – all proven wrong.

That night that bench was removed from that pond.

Shouts of joy rang out from the huddled masses that watched us in our victory. “These men have done it! Clearly they are superior to us!” One of Christine’s roommates thanked us profusely and everyone I knew at the get-together gave me a firm handshake and a knowing head-nod. Saturday night was my night. And Brad’s.

So I reiterate: I have become my own life’s hero. And I think I’ve proved it through this (slightly) exaggerated account of my Saturday evening. But what does this anecdote say about life (more specifically my life) that is of any interest to The Observer readership? Well, it’s a complicated matter but I truly believe that the primary reason any of us does anything is ultimately due to some innate desire to prove our own worth.

The nature of self-glorification is sometimes overlooked as selfish or downright mean. People think those who are self-serving are detestable human beings. Overt ambition is derided by popular culture because of the tendency of it to engender excessive pride, particularly in the modern era as ambition has led to some of the greatest follies known to man (from the invention of the Segway to George Lucas unleashing Jar Jar Binks on the world of cinema). Pride leads to a distorted view of reality in which only the individual in question matters. Such blatant disregard for the actual circumstances of the world, then, not only degrades people with whom this individual interacts but the individual himself.

But let’s think about pride in a different way. Isn’t being proud just a fancy way of saying, “I want something good to happen?” If George Washington had not been proud would he have crossed the Delaware? If Harriet Beecher Stowe had not been proud would she have written “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”? If Seward had not been proud would we have Alaska as a state?

Pride, and more specifically being proud of one’s actions, is the essence of the American ethos. Without acknowledgment of the greatness of one’s own personality, the American Dream would fail: a man could not socially thrust himself upward without initially believing himself to be the greatest man of all time.

So I rescued that bench from that pond because I believe in the American Dream. I believe that all men act first out of self-interest and that such selfish behavior is in fact the most American of all behaviors. I had no choice but to get the bench out of the pond. Not doing so would have meant I had defected from the very ideals that were instilled in me at an early age. And I will only ever act in a way to promote my own conception of my greatness and my genius.

That’s probably the main reason I applied for this columnist position.

With love, this column is dedicated to Christine, Morgan, Heidi, Becca, Emily, Kahki and, of course, Brad.

Andrew Miller is a senior English major. He can be contacted at amille15@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.