Friday, April 7, 2006

"I had no idea that life was as short as it is."

I have observed two very sobering events transpire the last couple of weeks.  Last week Jo Anne and I attended the funeral of Wendy, the young wife of Rick Varner.  Rick and my two oldest children, Mike and JoLene, were very good friends all through their high school years and beyond.  Rick and his wife, Wendy, married a little bit later than some; she was 28 and Rick 33 when they fell in love and were married in the temple.  Wendy was a remarkable person in many ways.  She had a degree in finance from the University of Alabama and was an outstanding tennis player who taught tennis lessons for some prestigious tennis schools in Southern California.  They had three children during the first few years of their marriage and Wendy's greatest fulfillment in life became that of full-time mom.  And then suddenly Wendy began to have trouble with cancer.  For the last 3 1/2 years of her life she was in a constant battle with the cancer that finally caused her passing away at age 38.  I know her death at such a young age has caused my children some serious reflection.  When we are young we don't often think about death and though we know that we will eventually experience it we most often assume it will come at a much later time in life. Of course, asking why death came to such a young, vibrant wife and mother who was so vital to the joy and success of her husband and children is a very bad question with no good answer.

Just this week we also learned that a good friend of ours, Dave Jones, a colleague in CES in Southern California for many years, passed away while exercising at a gym with his wife and son.  Dave was a number of years younger than me.  He was a great athlete in his day and we played many basketball games together in Long Beach when I could still shoot three-pointers.  He was a great teacher and priesthood leader who exerted an influence for good on numberless lives during his lifetime.  His death, coming so quickly and unexpectedly, was also very sobering news to us.  Why did he pass away so unexpectedly and at such a relatively young age? 

I do not intend this to be a morbid observation about death.  Death simply will come to all of us when it will, and most likely not according to our will.  I guess the reality of our mortal situation is that life at best is very fragile and can be taken in an instant.  James, very truthfully and beautifully, put it this way: "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."  [James 4: 14]

I am maybe a little more sensitive to the truthfulness of what James said because of living on life support for 17 years.  Many have heard me describe my life as "living on the edge".  I have had numerous near-death experiences and have escaped from each one with a feeling of joy that I am still alive.  Even though with our faith, death should be nothing to fear, still and all, I believe the Lord has placed within each one of us the desire to cling to mortality as long as we possibly can.  I think it is not bad to realize that we are all "living on the edge".  Knowing that life is like a vapor that can quickly vanish away should motivate us to make the best out of each day and to take nothing for granted.

An author I have enjoyed reading over the years is James Michener.  His historical novels have entertained thousands of people for many decades.  I was reading an interview that was conducted by the Academy of Success a number of years ago in which Michener was reflecting upon a revelatory and life changing experience he had as a young man that instilled within him the vision necessary to achieve the success he had in life as an author.  "And it was as clear to me as if a voice were telling me to do this: "This is the choosing up point, kiddo -- from here on." I had no idea that life was as short as it is. That concept comes very late in any human life, I think. I thought life was immeasurable, extensive to the horizon and beyond. But I did know that my capacities were not unlimited. I had only so much to spend, and let's do it in a big way. And I think that was all the difference."  [James Michener]

As I am growing older I can say with Michener, "I had no idea that life was as short as it is."  How providential it would be to have the wisdom to understand that life is not "immeasurable" at a much younger age.  Hopefully however, if we are fortunate as Michener was at a young age, to just understand and internalize the fact that our "... capacities [are] not unlimited..." and because of it we must be more selective and wise in the use of our time and energy, we would be most blessed.

As I have become more conscious of my frail mortality I have also become more cognizant of the way I use my time and capacities that I have remaining to me.  I find that I am increasingly more selective in what I choose to read for example.  I have found that everything that is available for me to read comes in at a far second-place to the scriptures.  Of course there is still a place for Turner classic movies, Lakers basketball, Dodgers baseball, and BYU football in life. However, I have a spirit brooding over me that impresses me that I must be about preparing for the "final exam", and to keep me off balance, I don't know when that exam will be administered.  None of us do!


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