Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Tuesday, July 25, 2006 Observation:

On Monday, July 17, 2006, Jo Anne and I went out to dinner with our good friends, Dick and Lucene Fox, and Bruce and Bev Loder.  We went to Don José's in Tustin where the Mexican food is usually pretty good.  My taquitos this night however, were buried in some kind of red sauce which made them soggy and mushy and hard for me to get down.  It turned out not to be my favorite dinner at Don José's or anywhere else as a matter of fact, but the company was enjoyable and salvaged the evening.

We got home about 8:30 p.m. and Jo Anne set me up in my bedroom to watch the Dodgers/Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game which was in about the sixth inning when we tuned it in on my TV.  The score was tied at two runs each and a warm feeling began to swell within me that perhaps this evening the Dodgers would not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as they so typically do.  I had watched but a short time when the Arizona Diamondbacks began to hit everything the Dodger pitchers were "throwing up" to the plate.  Before I knew it the score was five to two in favor of the Diamondbacks with two men on base.  At that very moment I heard a very loud screeching noise like a high-pitched siren and my ventilator went totally dead.

Not being able to breathe is a very interesting experience.  I had never before heard the noise coming from my ventilator during 17 years of use, nor had my ventilator ever just gone totally dead in a split second.  I panicked when I realized I wasn't breathing, but then tried to be very positive in my mind, thinking that any second Jo Anne would rush into the room, discover the problem, and get me breathing once again.  I waited for several seconds but she didn't come -- and she didn't come -- and she didn't come!  I then entered into a state of resignation knowing that she was not coming, and that I would soon be entering the spirit world.  The sad thing about the entire experience is that as I now began to enter the twilight zone -- half alive and half dead -- I was still watching the baseball game.  Just as I slipped into unconsciousness an Arizona Diamondback hit a three-run home run over the deepest part of center field off of Joe Biemel, a journeyman left-handed relief pitcher that nobody but the Dodgers wanted.  In the foggy recesses of my mind came the voice of Vince Scully saying, "And now the score is eight to two in favor of the Diamondbacks."  What a way to go into the spirit world I thought; a bad Mexican dinner in my stomach, and the Dodgers being hammered by the hated Diamondbacks.

The next thing I remember, Jo Anne was standing over me weeping and wailing and trying to get me to come back.  All I knew is that I needed more air and was saying as loud as I could, "Bag me!  Bag me!"  She was bagging me with the ambubag (a special hand air pump) with all of her heart while trying to dial 911 at the same time.  The more she bagged the more the life came back to me, and she was soon able to move my wheelchair over to the bedside where she hooked me up to my backup ventilator that I use at night.  How long I had been out I have no idea, but I so easily could have slipped into the spirit world, and it would not have been a painful experience except for the memory of a bad Mexican dinner and the Dodgers/Diamondbacks game.

Now, lest you think that Jo Anne is guilty of "quad abuse", what follows is her side of the story.  She had left me watching the ballgame and had gone into the living room and family room area to do some things, and all of a sudden heard a horrible shrieking siren, like noise coming from, she thought, our backyard, or perhaps the neighbor's backyard.  She had never heard the sound before and really didn't know what to make of it.  She kept puttering around the family room, never equating the sound she was hearing with me or my ventilator.  Finally the sound started to really bother her and so she started to go outside through the back door to further investigate.  Passing by my bedroom she glanced in and saw me vacantly staring up at the ceiling.  She thought I had passed out and our son John's words came to her that if I ever passed out she should lay my chair back to get the blood rushing into my brain once again.  As she moved behind the chair to lay me back, she saw all of the red warning lights on the ventilator were flashing, and all of a sudden realized that I was not breathing and that was why I had passed out.  Somehow the high-pitched siren noise had been blocked out of her mind until she realized the problem was with the ventilator.  She had never been able to connect with 911 for whatever reason which was fine with me.

Later that evening, as Jo Anne was feeding me an ice cream sandwich, I thought I had never eaten anything that tasted so good.  I have been living "on the edge" for 17 years now, but I think this was my closest brush with death.  As things typically go in life, when our respiratory therapist brought out a new ventilator the next morning and Jo Anne described the noise and what had happened, this "expert" said, "Oh, that's the sound the ventilator makes when it is announcing an all systems failure -- the ventilator has died."  Isn't it interesting that during all those 17 years, nobody ever mentioned this sound or demonstrated it for us? 

In retrospect, this last brush with death was another wonderful wakeup call.  I had reinforced into my mind and heart how precious a gift life is and how quickly it can be taken from us.  I developed renewed motivation to live each day as though it were my last.  Also, there came to me a feeling of intense gratitude that my life truly is in the hands of the Lord and that perhaps I still have a mission to perform in mortality.  I also well came to understand that dying is easy -- it is the living that is hard and demanding.

I know of no more humbling thing than not being able to breathe.  When you can't breathe, nothing else matters at all!  How well I understand the words of King Benjamin to his people:
"I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants."  [Mosiah 2:2-emphasis added]


Friday, July 14, 2006

Plimsoll Mark

Friday, July 14, 2006 Observation:

Well, Major League Baseball has made it to and through the annual all-star break.  Of course the American League won the all-star game as they have for the past several years.  Why do I have to be cursed with being a National League fan as well as a Dodger fan?  Speaking of the Dodgers they are only two games out of first place in the National League West -- will miracles never cease?

Major league baseball players play 162 games beginning in April and ending in September.  Although they are a bunch of overpaid millionaires playing a "game", even they need to take a break to reenergize and refocus their efforts for the "dog days" of late summer and early fall.  Too much of anything can be detrimental to our mental health and thus we need an occasional break.

A while back I was reading an article regarding the need of recharging our batteries from time to time in "The Religious Educator" periodical published at BYU.  An institute director at Purdue University in Indiana by the name of C. Robert Line, the author of the article, introduced me to an interesting concept in his writing called the "Plimsoll Mark".  I went to the Internet to research the "Plimsoll Mark" and discovered the following: "Samuel Plimsoll brought about one of the greatest shipping revolutions ever known by shocking the British nation into making reforms which have saved the lives of countless seamen. By the mid-1800's, the overloading of English ships had become a national problem. Plimsoll took up as a crusade the plan of James Hall to require that vessels bear a load line marking indicating when they were overloaded, hence ensuring the safety of crew and cargo. His violent speeches aroused the House of Commons; his book, Our Seamen, shocked the people at large into clamorous indignation. His book also earned him the hatred of many ship owners who set in train a series of legal battles against Plimsoll. Through this adversity and personal loss, Plimsoll clung doggedly to his facts. He fought to the point of utter exhaustion until finally, in 1876, Parliament was forced to pass the Unseaworthy Ships Bill into law, requiring that vessels bear the load line freeboard marking. It was soon known as the "Plimsoll Mark" and was eventually adopted by all maritime nations of the world."  (http://www.plimsoll.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33&Itemid=24)

The metaphor regarding the "Plimsoll Mark" is pretty obvious.  Just as a ship will become unsteady and subject to disaster if overloaded, so will a human being experience the same thing.  We all have a "Plimsoll Mark".  It will vary from person to person, but all of us can experience overload if we exceed our own unique "Plimsoll Mark" with regard to work, tension, and stress.  Just like highly overpaid millionaire baseball players we too need to take an "all-star" break from time to time.

The way we re-create ourselves when we begin to exceed our own individual "Plimsoll Mark" will vary of course from individual to individual.  For my wife Jo Anne, she finds renewed energy through buying and returning items.  I am a little concerned because her favorite store, Robinsons-May, is going out of business soon.  Jo Anne has tried to keep it afloat by herself, but apparently, despite her best efforts, the store is going bust.  I am praying that Macy's is not the store that fills the void; I'm thinking more along the lines of Kmart.

Spencer W. Kimball loved movies and found in them a way to deal with his "Plimsoll Mark".  From his biography we read: " Movies provided one of his relaxations. All the winter Spencer bought a monthly family ticket for a dollar to the Thursday night movie at the Ramona Theater. The shows were mostly second rate, but a bargain. The better theater was over on Main Street. (Spencer ever after teased his son Andrew about the time a freckle-faced girl from Cactus Flat sat on his lap by mistake in the dark.) When Spencer found himself in a city waiting for a train he often went to the theater. He had gone to the silent films (and even sung at intermission) in the "Cozy Corner" in Thatcher as a youth. He and Camilla had marveled at the advent of talkies, seeing their first in Los Angeles in 1930. They loved films."
"In 1939 his diary, though incomplete, mentions thirty-eight movies. One day in 1938, while on vacation, he saw two double bills: Tom Sawyer, No Time to Marry, Tale of Two Cities, and Naughty Marietta. Particularly in the early years as an apostle, when travel by train often meant layovers, he took advantage of the chance to catch up on movies and went, occasionally even to two or three, after not having attended at all for months. In 1949 his journal notes fifteen movies, in 1950, twenty-nine. During much of this time he was on enforced vacation, recovering from his heart attack. He noted a little apologetically, "We see many shows when away like this and resting, since we see so few when at work normally."  (Andrew E. Kimball, Edward L. Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball: Twelfth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 146-147.)

Parenthetically, I might suggest that today's movies are a far cry from those that were watched and loved by President Kimball, one of the hardest working apostles the Church has ever known.  And then there are those rare individuals who seem to have no need of a "Plimsoll Mark". 

Apparently Elder James E. Talmage, the author of the book "Jesus the Christ" was absent a "Plimsoll Mark".  Elder Talmage always worked long hours almost never taking any time off.  President Heber J. Grant was very concerned about Elder Talmage's health and tried to get him to play golf, thinking it would be a good diversion and beneficial to him.  President Grant was an avid golfer and knew that if he could get Elder Talmage to try the game that he would be converted to it for the rest of his life.  His son, John Talmage, recorded what happened: "... Finally a compromise was reached [between President Grant and Elder Talmage], and a test agreed upon: James would give the game of golf an honest trial, and work at it until he was able to hit a drive which President Grant would rate as satisfactory, "a real golf shot." "If you hit just one really good drive, nature will do the rest," President Grant assured his pupil-to-be. "You won't be able to resist the game after that.  It was agreed that James would make his own choice after he had acquired the skill to hit the specified shot... If, after giving the game a fair trial, James still felt no interest, President Grant would cease his efforts to get Dr. Talmage to play."

"On an appointed day, the two, accompanied by a number of others of the General Authorities who played golf and who had joined the friendly argument on the side of President Grant, proceeded to Nibley Park for James' first session in what was expected to be a series of lessons. James removed his coat and was shown how to grip the club and take his stance at the ball. The coordinated movements involved in making a golf stroke were carefully explained and then demonstrated by President Grant and by others. Finally it came James' turn to try it himself."

What followed astonished all those who watched, and probably James himself. Instead of missing the ball completely, or weakly pushing it a few feet along the grass, James somehow managed to strike the ball cleanly and with substantial force. It took off in a fine arc and with only a minimum amount of slice. Some who saw it described it later as "a truly magnificent drive," which was probably a considerable exaggeration. However, there was consensus that the ball went close to 200 yards and stayed in the fairway... The spectators were momentarily struck dumb, then burst into enthusiastic applause. "Congratulations," said President Grant, rushing forward, beaming, with outstretched hand. "That was a fine shot you will remember for the rest of your life." "You mean that was a fully satisfactory golf shot?" James asked, cautiously. "It certainly was!" said President Grant. "Then I have fulfilled my part of the agreement?" "You have-and don't you feel the thrill of excitement? Now you'll be playing regularly. As a matter of fact, we can go into the clubhouse now and I will help you select a set of clubs." "Thank you," said James, putting on his coat. "If I have carried out my part of the agreement, then I shall call on you to live up to yours. You promised that if I hit a satisfactory drive and did not feel the spontaneous desire to play, you would stop urging me to do so. Now I should like to get back to the office, where I have a great deal of work waiting. So far as is known, James never again struck a golf ball, or made the attempt."  (John R. Talmage, Talmage Story: Life of James E. Talmage--Educator, Scientist, Apostle, 226-229.)

So what does a "mobility impaired" old guy on life support do when he hits his "Plimsoll Mark"?  I am limited physically in what I can do, but after hours of working on my computer and reading I reach my "Plimsoll Mark", and thankfully I can get reenergized by watching Dodgers baseball, Lakers basketball, and BYU football.  I also enjoy watching the same movies President Kimball watched so many years ago on Turner Classic Movies.  I even find relief by rolling outside and looking at the flowers in our front yard.  Thankfully, it doesn't take much to renew my energy and spirit which is a great gift.  How about you?



Wednesday, July 5, 2006


Thursday, July 5, 2006

Several weeks ago Jo Anne and I were visiting with our good friends, Miles and Barb Gardner, in Surprise, Arizona.  We had gone to Arizona to see our youngest son John, receive his certificate as a specialist in ER medicine from the University of Arizona in Tucson and at long last become a full-fledged M.D. having successfully completed his residency.  It has taken him four years of college, four years of medical school, and four years of an internship and residency to ultimately achieve his goal.  John knows how to work!  He also knows how to play, but somewhere along the line he learned how to "scratch".

Let me explain my use of the word "scratch".  While staying with the Gardners in Surprise we noticed out in their yard a number of quail.  The quail were in family groups and were very interesting to watch.  The mom and dad quail would have their little chicks out with them in the hot sunshine scratching for food and then herding the little ones back under the shade of a bush when it got too hot.  We came to understand while watching them that there was one mom and dad quail that had 21 chicks.  When that family went out to scratch for food, the entire family was scratching and working hard.  Mom and dad quail simply could not scratch for food for themselves and all their children, and so these little ones were scratching for themselves, and in the process learning to become independent and strong.  On the other hand, one mom and dad quail only had one chick.  Watching this family we noticed mom and dad scratching hard and giving food to their little baby, but that the baby chick was not scratching at all. Having all its needs met by mom and dad quail it was as though the baby chick had not learned how to scratch for food.  Why did it have to scratch when mom and dad were doing all the scratching for it?

Now, my observation is not about family size, but about the necessity of each one of us learning how to "scratch".  No child is done a favor by parents who do all the scratching and thus put their child or children on early retirement.  If a child does not somewhere along the line learn how to "scratch" how will it ever find its way successfully through life?  I suspect it is as difficult now to teach children how to "scratch" as it ever has been at any time.  We are such an affluent society, and many moms and dads can do everything and provide everything for their little "chicks", but at what cost?

One of my favorite people over the years has been Spencer W. Kimball -- a man who knew how to "scratch".  He graduated from high school in 1914, and his father, Andrew Kimball, also his stake president and president of the board of education, delivered an address at the graduation ceremony and announced that Spencer would not be going to college in the fall; he would be on a mission. Spencer, in his journal recorded: "Father informed me in these exercises before all the people that I was to be called on a mission. This took me by surprise for I had been planning to go to college."

"Four days after graduation he was at work in Globe, eighty miles west. His job had already been arranged. Two summers back his father, hard-pressed financially, had helped him find a job with the Anderson-Blake Dairy at $47.50 a month plus meals and a bunk. The second and third summers he earned $62.50 a month at a different Globe dairy. Except for tithing and an occasional five-cent ice cream or chocolate bar-"once in a while I would indulge myself"-Spencer had saved his whole wage to pay for books, clothes, and pocket money at Gila Academy through the winter. Now the money would go for his mission."

"Spencer described life at the dairy: "June 22. Nothing extraordinary happened. Same work each day. Arise at 8 a.m. Eat breakfast. String from 30-40 bales of hay around the mangers and remove wires therefrom. Help wash about 300 bottles. 10 a.m. help yoke up the cows. 10:30 milk till 12 pm. when I turn separator and feed calves. Clean the refuse hay out of the mangers. Dinner at 12:45. Sweep up boards in barn and clean up waste hay. Rest. 5 p.m. Help wash bottles again. Saw wood, put separator and strainers together. Milk again from 11pm.-2 a.m.

"It was tough work. The scalding water he and the other boys used to wash the milk cans made their fingers tender. As soon as he would start to milk his two dozen cows, morning or night, the pressure on his tender fingers would split the flesh. They swelled and cracked until the blood would ooze out. "I could have cried many a time," he remembered. Some of the boys' fingers got so sore their fingernails fell off and their forearms swelled. Some of the cows' udders seemed so hard, Spencer remembered, that "it was almost like getting milk out of iron bars." When he would walk into town for Sunday School with some of the other boys, their fingers would throb so badly they would hold them over their heads to help the blood drain out. "I always made the joke," said Spencer, "that we supposed people who saw us thought we were giving up, surrendering. But of course, we put our cracked and bleeding hands in our pockets if we passed anyone."
(Andrew E. Kimball, Edward L. Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball: Twelfth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 50.)

Couldn't Andrew Kimball, a prominent man in the community, have made life a little easier for little Spencer?  I suspect he could have, but chose not to.  Much of the greatness of Spencer W. Kimball came from his ability to work hard day in and day out.  After his years of working at the Globe Dairy I would imagine that most other jobs he ever had seemed relatively easy.  His dad taught him how to "scratch" and he became strong and self-reliant in the process.

What do we do today to help our children learn to "scratch"?  There aren't many Globe Dairies anymore are there?  Understanding the principle of "scratching" for ourselves however, is invaluable, and then we must be creative in applying the principle in our lives and in our children's lives.

"Scratching" need not be unpleasant.  I believe the chick that scratches for its own food ultimately enjoys it more than the chick that never learned how to "scratch".

"It does not seem to be true that work necessarily needs to be unpleasant. It may always have to be hard, or at least harder than doing nothing at all. But there is ample evidence that work can be enjoyable, and that indeed, it is often the most enjoyable part of life."
(Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990, Mihaly Csitkszentmihalyi)