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Celebration As It Should Be
A Review of the Inaugural Celebration of the New York Heroes Society,
by NY Heroes Staff

Photographs of this event can be viewed at: sandstead.com/images/nyc/equalatwork/

A vivid sunlight and racing chill stretched across the rolling, snowbound hills, on this February morning. But, breaking through the winter scene, there were numerous small projections of granite, marble, and bronze, many attended by stands of noble trees. These edifices were built for a purpose. In their midst a group of men, women, and children moved through designed pathways intent upon a design of their own: to celebrate life.

This was the scene at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York on Sunday, February 1st, 2004 at the New York Heroes Society's Inaugural Celebration. Robert Begley, President of the group, chose this location for their first event in order to celebrate the life of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, whose grave is located here at Kensico and whose birthday is February 2nd. Art Historian Lee Sandstead, a guest speaker at the event, recalled the dramatic change in approach to cemetery design that began in America in the 1830s. Prior to that time, the American cemetery was dominated by the Christian conception of remembering the dead, which focused on the loss of life, the dark mysteries of death, and even the morbid details of decomposition. Cemeteries such as Kensico were created so that people could enjoy themselves –much in the same way we enjoy large city parks today- while celebrating the lives of those they had revered and loved. When Professor Sandstead asked if anyone in the group felt strange about celebrating in a cemetery, a few people raised their hands, but everyone seemed not only attentive but joyfully expectant in the moment.

They were professionals, college students, retirees, philosophers, parents, entrepreneurs, dancers and musicians. Most came from New York City, New Jersey, Albany, and Connecticut, but some traveled from Michigan, Boston, Washington D.C., and Virginia. Nearly 60 in all had come out to rural New York to celebrate the life of the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and creator of the philosophy of Objectivism. They would also visit the graves of Lou Gehrig and Sergei Rachmaninoff. However, these hardy individuals didn't come only to celebrate others, they came to celebrate their own lives as well. A reading of Rudyard Kipling's poem If, recited by NY Heroes Vice President Arshak Benlian, brought the focus of the celebration to the values of the nascent NY Heroes Society, “a major purpose is to create an optimistic environment where people can simultaneously celebrate their own achievements and inspire others to reach for higher goals. The rational pursuit of our own happiness is what we strive for,” stated Mr. Begley.

True to the aim of encouraging people to pursue heroism in their own lives, an essential feature of the event, called "Celebrate Self", provided an opportunity for attendees to speak about their own goals and achievements. Most seized the opportunity, some speaking about their own life, others offering thanks to those who had inspired them to pursue and achieve greater things. From taking up or resuming college studies to getting new jobs and moving to New York City to remembering the heroic lives of the Columbia astronauts, all those who spoke did so not as confessors but as passionate achievers.

In addition to Mr. Benlian's reading of the Kipling poem at Rand's grave, brief histories on Gehrig and Rachmaninoff were presented by NY Heroes officers Dennis Baldwin and George Barker. Mr. Baldwin offered a poetic remembrance of the baseball hero, stating that "with one small step onto the field" Gehrig would endure pain again and again to become a heroic player among great players. Speaking of Rachmaninoff, Mr. Barker cited that after experiencing the dismal debut of his First Symphony, even though the composer continued to perform and conduct, he was lacking the confidence to write music again and was desperate for a solution. At his family's suggestion, he agreed to undertake confidence building exercizes that included a daily hearing of three positive statements "You will write your concerto. You will work with great facility. The concerto will be of excellent quality." Soon, Rachmaninoff was composing again and went on to create some of the most joyous, heroic, and celebrated music ever written.

A keynote address was delivered by novelist and philosopher Dr. Andrew Bernstein, whose novel Heart of a Pagan was the inspiration for the creation of the NY Heroes Society as well as previous "Celebrate Self" events also arranged by Mr. Begley. Dr. Bernstein spoke on the heroism of Ayn Rand and, offering ample evidence of the growing presence of Objectivist scholars in university philosophy programs and in teaching positions at significant universities in the country, ardently confirmed that the future bodes well for those who value human progress, who value man as a heroic being, and who see that each man's life is an end in itself.

What does all this celebration amount to? “Unfortunately, much of today’s cynical culture is against heroism,” says Mr. Begley. “But we are trying to improve that by responding to Ayn Rand’s words, 'Those who fight for the future live in it today.'" As the group sang America the Beautiful, the radiant faces told the story that these individuals were indeed excited about determining their own future.

Regina Milano, who attended the event, echoed this sentiment, "to see [Heroism] seeded, nurtured, and growing among people we see and touch everyday makes it so tangible and real. To paraphrase Voltaire, we are 'cultivating our own garden.'"

In the future NY Heroes will hold events that range from lectures on heroism to athletic activities to cultural gatherings that take advantage of the heroic spirit that made New York great.

For more information, or to be added to the NY Heroes email list, write to info@equalatwork.org.



Photographs of the event can be viewed at: sandstead.com/images/nyc/equalatwork/












Copyright 2004: New York Heroes Society, Inc.