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So… If I could invite ANY ten people who had ever lived to dinner, who would they be ? I first asked myself this question during the summer of 1992. I was camping in Roosevelt National Forest, and late one night I found myself bored and alone in a tent -in the dark- for several hours with nothing to do. Unable to sleep, and having nothing to read, no television to watch, and no radio to listen to, I began looking for mental exercises to keep my brain occupied and to make the time go by quicker. Some people “count sheep” in this type of circumstance to try to get to sleep. I invite historical dignitaries in my mind to imaginary dinner parties. You may infer whatever you want to about me from that fact….
Incidentally, on an aside-note before I get to the dinner guest-list, I would never “count sheep”, because having actually LIVED on a sheep ranch when I was younger, I can tell you that sheep are the LAST animals I would voluntarily spend time thinking about for ANY reason. I can still remember my Dad saying to me with barely-disguised disgust in his voice, that sheep would stand there in the snow and die of starvation right next to a bale of hay because they were too stupid to eat it. But I digress…
At any rate, I did manage to pass a few hours in the tent that night, racking my brain as to who it would be best to invite. Once I got the guest list worked-out, I spent a little time on the seating arrangements to try and create the most interesting dinner conversations possible at my imaginary dinner party. I still remember a few of my original invitees, and I find it interesting to note that the guest-list has changed a bit now that I am re-visiting the thought experiment over a decade later. I think that this is one of those mental exercises along the lines of ” If you had a million dollars and you never had to work again, what would you do?” However you answer that question is what you are supposed to do as a career. In much the same way, who you would invite to dinner in this question, reveals a lot about you. The changes in how I answered that question then and now, also reveal how I have changed as a person in the interim.
Well, like many of you out there reading this, the first thought that comes to mind, when told that I can have dinner with anybody who has EVER lived, is to bring back loved-ones who have passed away. In the great scheme of things, the people that we know and love in our own small, historically-unimportant lives are much more worthy invitees to this hypothetical dinner, than any statesman or heroic figure could ever be, and I am sure most people would do the same thing. So I would save the first seat at the table for my Dad. I miss him all the time, and it’s ironic too, because I took so few opportunities to enjoy his company while I had the chance, and that only makes it worse. My Dad and I shared a lot of the same interests, so I have a feeling that he would enjoy talking to a couple of the other invitees to this dinner party as much as I would. It would be a fun night. For the sake of argument in this thought exercise, I am pre-supposing that my Mom and Sister were already coming to dinner anyways so they don’t count against the 9 more official-invites I have to send to historical figures and such.
The second seat at the table goes to Albert Einstein. If there is a human being who ever lived that I am most in awe of, it would be him. People like Einstein come along about once every millennium or so, and during their relatively brief time here on earth, they make discoveries so profound that they will be talked about forever basically- or at least as long as our species lasts. His genius, his clarity of thought and perception, and his ability to see, understand, and define the relationships between the fundamental forces of nature that underlie our entire universe were unlike any who ever came before him, and probably will never be surpassed by any who come after him. I mean no disrespect to his family when I say this, but the man’s DNA should seriously be dug-up and cloned in my opinion. As a species, we can’t wait around another thousand years for somebody like him to come along by genetic randomness. Every generation should have their own Einstein. If it were so, we would soon know everything there is to know, comprehend everything there is to comprehend, and reach our full potential as a species. Maybe someday genetic engineering will endow EVERYBODY with this level of perception and intelligence. Wouldn’t that be something?
The third seat at the table belongs to Abraham Lincoln. I once heard somebody on the radio describing the events of a man’s early-years ( I didn’t know it was Lincoln at the time) – and he was reading off a list, nay an un-ending LITANY, of all the failures and obstacles the man had to overcome in life. ( At the end of the long list of failures and obstacles, the radio-host mentioned that oh-by-the-way, the guy he had been talking about was Abraham Lincoln, who went on to become one of history’s greatest figures.) Failure- time and again- at EVERYTHING he tried, through poverty, defeat, and severe depression… and yet he persisted, and eventually- even when he DID finally hold the highest office in the land- he performed his thankless tasks commendably in one of the darkest times on our nation’s history as the recipient of little encouragement and much derision. If ever there was somebody who had an excuse to fail in life, it was Lincoln. And yet even as he was scorned and hated by so many in his own time, in hindsight, we revere him for his vision, his fore-site, his seeking after justice, and as the living embodiment of the leadership qualities that we desperately seek for now in vain, in an age of lobbyists, special-interest groups, sound-bytes, and focus-groups. Surely if anybody could give us sage advice to guide us through these uncertain times, it would be Lincoln.
The fourth seat at the table goes to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Although he was long dead by the time I picked up his essays as a skinny 16-year old trying to make sense of a world that didn’t seem to make much sense, when I read Emerson, I sometimes felt as though he were speaking DIRECTLY to me personally, through his words. His thoughts were my thoughts,his feelings were my feelings, and his yearnings were my yearnings. No author ever spoke to my soul like Emerson did. Most people wouldn’t be able to guess this about me from my current couch-potato physique, but when I was a teenager, I was a serious middle-distance runner. I didn’t posses the genetic traits requisite to be truly “elite” or to compete in the Olympics, but still, for a time there, when I was 16-17 years old, I was just below that level. I was on a sort of “vision-quest” in those times- seeking the limits of my mind and spirit through athletic exertion, self-discipline, and most-of-all through transcendental thinking. My mental and spiritual approach to running took me a lot further in that sport than I ever had any right to go, and Emerson was a big part of that journey. I can still remember spending the summer of my 16th year in a tent by myself on South Padre Island, Texas, running 3 times a day on the beach, and filling my mind up with Emerson’s writings and philosophy as I watched the sun set over the Laguna Madre. My favorite essays of his are Heroism and Spiritual Laws, and they absolutely changed my life and opened up my world. How I would dearly love to meet Emerson!
The 5th seat goes to Henry David Thoreau. I didn’t get into him as much as Emerson, but I know that he and Emerson were kindred spirits, and were friends. I think that Ralph would want to see Henry again. I would sit them right next to each other at the dinner table and listen to them talk. It should make for good conversation.
The 6th seat goes to Thomas Jefferson. His revolutionary ideas and writings changed the world unlike anybody else who came before him or anybody since. In the Declaration of Independence he went WAY beyond merely justifying the birth of new nation. Rather, he spoke as nobody had ever spoken about the inherent rights of ALL men. “We hold these Truths to be self-evident…” He revealed fundamental truths to all mankind that we are all indebted to him for forever. His words are God’s own Truth on this earth as far as I am concerned. The nation that was formed and built upon the vision and principles he set forth, has ushered in a new age of progress, prosperity, freedom, and human enlightenment for the world. Even today, 200 years later , his words are spoken in hushed, hopeful whispers by the enslaved and oppressed. His ideas are like a light in the darkness in remote corners of the globe where the torch of freedom and democracy has not yet been brought. And don’t tell me that if Thomas Jefferson were presented with the opportunity to expound on today’s current-events, that it wouldn’t make for some good dinner conversation! ( By the way, Saturday Night-Live did a hilarious skit once, in which the founding fathers came back to life and held a news conference to answer questions and solve all the world’s problems. In the skit, Thomas Jefferson loses his temper, because he can’t get the reporters to ask him any relevant questions. All the reporters care about is the “slave-sex ” scandal. They say the funniest humor is based on truth, and this accurately characterizes the shallow, celebrity-obsessed, intellectually incurious nature of the news media today… )
The 7nth, 8th, and 9th Seats go to Charles Darwin, William Dembski, and Micheal Behe. They are all sitting next to each other, and nobody is getting up from this table until we settle the whole Evolution versus Intelligent Design controversy once and for all. I actually expect that the conversation would be a lot more respectful and congenial than many would predict. All three of these individuals were and are intellectual rebels. They have all had scorn and insults heaped upon them, and they all have the intellectual courage and honesty to see what they see, as opposed to what they want to see. All three state their theories based solely on the facts as they are best able to understand them, with no regard to acclaim, popularity, or approval. Darwin was working in the dark, without the benefit of a lot of modern data and knowledge that we have now. My guess is that the three of them would sit down and find common ground and consensus in the end. Common descent would be agreed upon, as well as Random Mutation and Natural Selection being true, but I expect that when confronted with the irreducibly complex nature of human molecular biology, and the unexplained abiogenesis of a DNA information processor capable of storing tens of millions of lines of ordered and structured CODE, Darwin would probably acknowledge the limits of his theories to explain EVERYTHING and probably would acknowledge the apparent hand of design in human biological complexity. Richard Dawkins is not invited. Although he might be able to contribute to the conversation intellectually, he is so hateful, obnoxious, and poorly-mannered, that he would probably fart at the dinner-table and throw rolls at the other guests. Dembski, Behe, and ”the Chuckster” will hash things out without him I am sure.
The 10nth seat goes to Buzz Aldrin. Looking back at human history from the future 1000 years from now, Apollo 11′s “one small step for Man, one giant leap for mankind” may be the single event that most defines the age in which we live. Neil Armstrong was first, but having read an awful lot about the space program, I have a feeling that I have more in common personality-wise with Buzz than I do with Neil. Also, I am in awe of Aldrin in this sense- not only did he have the incredible courage to get out there on “the sharp end of the lance” and boldly face danger and personal risk, he ALSO was the leading authority at NASA on the orbital mechanics and rendezvous theories that actually MADE the apollo missions possible. His mind AND his spirit are unique. Also, he would be one of the few people in the room smart enough to have a conversation with Einstein, so I would seat them next to each other.
And that makes 10. However, I am not satisfied with that, so I am dragging a couple of folding-chairs out of the closet, and asking “ole Abe” to please scoot over a little bit so we can squeeze a couple of more people in at the table. There’s plenty of food at my imaginary dinner, and I am sure nobody would mind a couple of extra guests. I’ll stand, so somebody else can have my seat.
The 11nth seat goes to Galileo Galilei. The man narrowly avoided being burned at the stake for his outrageous, audacious helio-centric theories, and is considered by many to be “the Father of Modern Observational Astronomy”, “the Father of Science”, and “the Father of Modern Physics”. I am bringing my laptop to the dinner table so I can show him some pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. If anyone deserves to see what is out there, it’s him.
The 12th seat goes to Sir Richard Branson. I’ll sit him next to Galileo. If there was ever a pair of visionaries that were far, far ahead of their times, it would be these two. They are both such outside-the-box thinkers that they would probably have all of the world’s problems worked-out before desert.Besides, if anybody in these times deserves to gain the benefit of the wisdom and advice of luminaries-of -yore, to better lead us forward into the future, it would be Branson. His keen-ness of perception, his vision, and his intellectual courage earn him a seat at this table as far as I am concerned.
The 13nth seat goes to Bill Russell, and he is going to be sitting right next to me. I’m a lifetime NBA fan, it’s MY imaginary dinner party, and he’s coming- so deal with it. A lot of people don’t realize this, but the Greatest Center in NBA history only stood 6’9″ tall. His keen mind, and his warrior heart allowed him to do things in his sport far beyond what his body should have allowed him to do. A lot of people also don’t know that he was a player-coach – not just a player- during some of the Celtics Dynasty years. In a room of 1000 people talking, I could find him blindfolded just by following the sound of his unique laugh. I haven’t met the man, but I can tell from listening to some of his interviews that he’s the kind of guy that nobody could ever hate- no matter what. ( Unless you are a Laker fan maybe… ) I would ask him to wear his championship rings to dinner, but that would be impossible, since he only has 10 fingers…
The 14th seat would probably be empty most likely. But just the same, I would be sending an invitation out to somebody that I would like to see just one more time before I die. If nothing else, just to ask how their life went. The purpose of this thought exercise is to see who you would invite to dinner for just ONE special night if there were NO limitations or considerations to be placed on the guest-list. So I am forced to admit that I would set aside a chair, just to see if this person showed up. And we’ll leave it at that.
If I could squeeze in a 15th seat, it would be Jesus of Nazareth. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. That’s not a bad idea really… Simple, true, and maybe even the most profound words anybody ever actually uttered in the long, sad, selfish saga of the Greek Tragedy that is human history. If we could all just learn to follow that ONE simple commandment in our lives, is there a problem anywhere in this world that would NOT be solved? Seriously, would there be ANYTHING that would be impossible? Naturally, he would be the one to say grace before we ate dinner…( Ha, Ha )
So… The final run-down is:
Me, My Dad, My Mom, My Sister, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, William Dembski, Micheal Behe, Buzz Aldrin, Galileo, Richard Branson, Bill Russell, One Probably-Empty Chair, and Jesus. That’s 18 all-in-all, which doesn’t exactly conform to the rules of the thought -experiment, but the point of the exercise is not really the specific number. It could be 8, it could be 16. The POINT is to learn something about yourself by the choices you make. Also, I could probably come up with a few more dinner guests if I thought about it longer, but probably the people who come FIRST to mind, are the ones that tell us the most about ourselves.
If anybody wants to comment on this post, please state what YOUR dinner guest-list would look like, and why you would choose the people you chose.