Friday, March 22, 2013

Lenten Lessons: Gordon Freeman on Perseverance

                  Our final Lenten Lesson comes courtesy of our own unofficial mascot, Dr. Gordon Freeman, and it deals with the most important human factor in any enterprise: perseverance.

                  When we first meet him, Gordon is a young theoretical physicist working in a top secret lab in New Mexico, where he functions basically as a lab assistant, doing the dangerous and uncomplicated work in advanced particle experiments.  By the time we leave him, he’s triumphed over an alien invasion, a Marine death squad, Special Forces, automated machine-gun turrets, helicopters, zombies, tripods, several giant monsters, a telepathic Lovecraftian-overlord, and his former boss, led a thus-far successful rebellion against an all-powerful inter-dimensional alien empire, explored a dimensional border-world, liberated an enslaved alien species, befriended a giant robot, launched two satellites, disproved String Theory*, and won the affections of a very attractive girlfriend.
                 *okay, I may have made that one up, but all the others are completely legitimate.
                  How did a nerdy, bespectacled lab-rat who never fired a gun in his life accomplish all that? Simple; he just kept going.
                  Gordon didn’t start out with any big plans or ambitions; all he wanted to do was to get out of the monster-infested Black Mesa Complex and get help for his friends still trapped below. He had no idea how he was going to do this, or even which way he needed to go to reach the surface. At every turn he encountered locked doors, collapsed ceilings, spilled chemicals, and other obstacles that threatened to trap him forever in the bowels of the complex. But Gordon simply met and responded to each of these problems as they came; he crossed each bridge as he came to it (literally in some cases).
                  For instance, Gordon never stopped to wonder how on Earth he would escape with the U.S. Marine Corp gunning for him. All he did was try to survive each individual encounter he had with them. The problem changed from “Oh, my God! The Marines want to kill me!” to “Oh, my God! These four guys want to kill me!” Which is a much more manageable problem.
                  Likewise, Gordon didn’t try to plan out a path to the surface; he had no means whatsoever of doing so! All he did – and all he could do – is keep moving forward down whatever open paths were available to him and hope that they eventually led somewhere. If he hit a dead end, he’d either try to get around it or go back and take another path. In this way, he successfully wormed and wound his way across almost the entire facility despite having literally no idea where he was going. The important thing was to just keep moving forward. If he stopped or went back, he would never have survived. Indeed, along the way he meets a number of fellow scientists or security guards, almost all of whom are determined to wait out the disaster in their own little hiding spots. None of them have thought their position through, though. For one thing, their trusting that neither the military nor the aliens will find them, which is a dubious hope at best. For another, the aliens are teleporting in more or less at random, meaning that there is no guarantee whatsoever that one of them won’t just teleport right into their “safe-zone.” Finally, most of these guys are so isolated, so well hidden, that they would have no way of knowing when or if the situation improves; they’d would simply be stuck there until they either died or ventured out (not to mention the fact that the facility itself is destroyed after the incident, so anyone who tried to wait it out died anyway).
                  Years later, after returning from the suspended animation he was placed in at the conclusion of the first story, Gordon finds himself in even more dire straits: the Earth has been conquered by the all-powerful Combine, and he has suddenly become one of the leaders of the resistance. Again, he proceeds deliberately, step-by-step, to unravel the Combine’s power. He doesn’t stop to consider how likely it is that he or any of his friends will survive, let alone succeed. All he does is continually and doggedly work to overcome each obstacle as it arises. When the rebel base is attacked and he himself is trapped underground, he makes his way through the zombie-infested town of Ravenholm. When Alyx, his partner and love-interest, is captured by the Combine, he simply breaks into the massive Citadel where she’s being kept.
                  Gordon, you see, embodies a very simple problem solving mentality; face and identify each problem, begin to work on improving or correcting the problem, and don’t stop until it is solved. Never give up; never surrender. No matter how hopeless, how horrible, how desperate the circumstances, Gordon just. Keeps. Going.
                  The secret to Gordon’s success is the same secret of all success; constant, relentless effort. In almost every endeavor, the person who does not give up cannot fail.
                  In our lives, we will fail. We will encounter obstacles. We will make mistakes. The only way we will triumph in the end is by simply pressing on passed them, picking ourselves up, and trying again. That’s the only way we can succeed.
And, more importantly, this is the dynamic of the Christian life. As St. Francis de Sales said, “In this battle we are assured of victory if only we will fight.” Every Christian is either Peter or Judas: when we sin (and we will), we either seek Christ’s mercy, or we despair.
Gordon Freeman provides us an example of the dogged, unfailing perseverance that can move mountains. He teaches us three main things on the subject:

1.     Focus on What Matters

Gordon doesn’t set out to be a hero. His path to becoming what he becomes started with him simply doing what he could to get out alive and help his friends. It’s in trying repeatedly to do this that he accomplishes everything else.

2.     Do What You Need to Do, Even if You Can’t See How

Time and time again, Gordon is faced with an impossible task; get to the surface. Get to the other side of the base. Kill the Nihilanth. Rescue Alyx from the Citadel. Each time he attempts it without hesitation and accomplishes it simply by responding to each situation as it came. He doesn’t try to plan out any brilliant schemes; he simply sees his objective and starts moving towards it.

3.     If You Don’t Give Up, You Can’t Lose

Every time his opponents think they have him trapped or beaten, Gordon fights or thinks his way out of his predicament and just keeps coming. He becomes what he becomes for the simple reason that he never gives up. He triumphs because he focuses on his goal and works toward it unwavering, unable to be moved by anything save death. Therefore, he wins.

Vive Christus Rex!  

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