Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Tuesday, October 31, 2006 Observation:

Each year when Halloween rolls around I am reminded of my mom and dad, long since gone from this earth.  They were married in Abraham, Utah on October 31, 1925 -- Halloween.  At the time of their marriage my dad was 17 and my mother 18.  My dad had only an eighth grade education, but my mother had graduated from Hinckley high school, near Delta, Utah, as valedictorian.

They couldn't make a living by farming in Abraham, so when my 17-year-old dad heard that there was work in the mines in White Pine County, Nevada, he went there to investigate.  He traveled to Ruth, Nevada, a very small mining town, and went to the Star Pointer Mine, an underground copper mine, owned by Kennecott Copper Corporation.  The day he went to the mine there was a large line of men also seeking work. Dad was only 5'4" and weighed, at that time, probably 125 to 130 pounds.  The hiring boss took one look at him and told him there was no way that somebody so small could do the hard physical labor required of a miner.  Dad, never lacking in confidence, told the boss that he could out shovel any man he had working for him.  The boss liked his spirit and said he would give him a chance to prove what he said was true.  That began dad's career as a "mucker" in the Star Pointer Mine.  A mucker is one who shovels ore into little ore cars after blasting takes place in the tunnel in which they are working.  True to his word, dad was a world-class mucker as I learned later in life in trying to keep up with him shoveling anything.

Dad sent for mom and they began their life together in Ruth, Nevada and working for Kennecott which dad did until the day he died in 1970.  On his 34th birthday he was walking home from work one day and realized that he had spent exactly half of his life working underground.  He applied for a new position above ground which he was granted and eventually began working in the warehouse where his expertise with numbers and handwriting stood him in good stead.  He was working in the warehouse at the time of his death.

Mom and Dad had one message for their boys; "Go to college, and don't end up in the mines."  We must have paid attention because all four of us graduated from BYU and went on to receive graduate degrees.  Both mom and Dad were instrumental in inspiring us to go on to college and to a better lifestyle, but mom was the driving force.  It was not until I was paralyzed and living on life support that I truly appreciated what my mother did for me as a young boy.

She was a voracious reader all of her life, and instilled a love for reading in me and I believe in all of my brothers as well.  Almost every year for Christmas and my birthday I would be given a beautiful book of some kind.  I remember receiving and reading such books as Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Heidi, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, The Bobsy Twins, and a series about a great fictitious athlete by the name of Chip Hilton.  Chip Hilton was a fabulous baseball and basketball player and through this series I followed him from high school through college.  I could hardly wait to get my next Chip Hilton book. 

Mom was the cultural refinement teacher in Relief Society for many years.  Her love was to teach great literature which she shared with me and my younger brother, Kim.  She introduced us to Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and a host of other great writers.  In the early 1950s before the civil rights movement began she had us read a book entitled "Black Like Me".  I still remember how horrified I was as a young boy to read of the plight of African Americans in the United States.  My mom was forward thinking with regard to these kinds of things.

However, she was not only a voracious reader but she loved music and sports as well.  She never forced me into music but once I signed up to play the clarinet in the fourth grade and then to take piano lessons when I was 12 years old she would never let me quit.  I can still remember her standing behind me and counting out loud while I practiced the piano.  She was a pretty tough taskmaster. As the years went by I began to love music and had always loved sports of any kind.  She was a knowledgeable sports fan and won a little money by entering the Ely Daily Times football prognostication contest for college football.  In her 80s when she would be living in our home for several months out of the year, we would watch every Lakers game we could together, and she knew what was going on and had a few insults for the referees if the call went against the Lakers, or especially her hero, Magic Johnson.

When I had my accident it took only a few days to realize that my life from that point on would be a life of the mind and spirit.  Because my mother had instilled such a love of reading and music in me, and because of her constant encouragement for me to do my best as an athlete I discovered that my life could be very fulfilling and satisfying because I loved so many things that I could do with my mind.  Of course I couldn't play my instruments anymore or participate in sports as I had once done, but I could listen to music, and watch sports, and especially I could read and write with my voice recognition software.  Reading the scriptures and other great books has been so fulfilling and rewarding during the 17 years I have been paralyzed, but I have also enjoyed great music, great baseball, basketball, and football games, as well as Turner classic movies.

The mother of a teenage boy who had a spinal cord injury called me to ask me if there was any hope for a good quality life for her son.  I began telling her enthusiastically about the computer and the blessing it is to someone in my condition to be able to read and write and have access to the Internet and etc. There was a pause and then she said "I'm afraid that won't do my son any good.  All he has done during his lifetime is to play and ride motorcycles.  I don't think he has ever read a book."  That was one of the most tragic statements I have ever heard.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell once spoke of traps that we might fall into during mortality if we are not careful. "[one  trap]... is that some of us neglect to develop multiple sources of satisfaction. When one of the wells upon which we draw dries up through death, loss of status, disaffection, or physical ailment, we then find ourselves very thirsty because, instead of having multiple sources of satisfaction in our lives, we have become too dependent upon this or upon that..." (Neal A. Maxwell, But for A Small Moment, 1 Sept.1974, BYU Devotional)

Thanks mom and dad on this Halloween for having blessed me in so many ways to deal with my physical ailment because of the multiple sources of satisfaction in life to which you introduced me as a young boy. 


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sword of Damocles

Thursday, October 12, 2006 Observation:

I have a friend whose e-mail name is "Sword of Damocles".  He has studied classical literature and was in a Ph.D. program studying philosophy at Columbia University in New York City for several years.  When I first saw his e-mail name I was intrigued by it, but at the time did not know of its significance.  However, in doing a little research I found out the following regarding the "Sword of Damocles".

Damocles, in classical Greek mythology, was a courtier at the court of Dionysius I. He so persistently praised the power and happiness of Dionysius that the tyrant, in order to show the precariousness of rank and power, gave a banquet and had a sword suspended above the head of Damocles by a single horse hair. Therefore, because of this ancient Greek myth, over the centuries the expression, "the sword of Damocles" has come to mean "an ever-present peril".

I don't think my friend is paranoid necessarily, but why would he choose the "Sword of Damocles" as an e-mail moniker? I must ask him some time.  As I have thought about it though, I believe it is his way of stating a fundamental truth regarding his mortality.  In a sense, we all have the Sword of Damocles dangling over our heads.  My expression for the Sword of Damocles -- "an ever-present peril" -- is "living on the edge".  I have been especially sensitive to the "Sword of Damocles" philosophy while living on life support for 17 years.  I have had numerous brushes with death, all of them convincing me that I indeed am living in "an ever-present peril".  You may think this is a very negative way of looking at life, but I don't think so.  Realizing that I am "living on the edge" and under the dangling "Sword of Damocles" helps me to appreciate and value each good day I am given.  It motivates me to make the best of every day of life I am granted. 

You may not want to believe it, but we are all "living on the edge" and directly under the dangling "Sword of Damocles".  I personally believe it is a healthy thing to realize how fragile life is, but I don't think the Lord wants us to face the present or the future with fear and trembling.  To feel at peace and secure each day of our lives is what living the Gospel should do for us isn't it?

A while back I was speaking on the phone to my good friend, Jim Carter, who lives in Ogden, Utah.  Jim has some health issues at this time in his life, and as we were sharing our medical histories with one another -- a sure sign of old-age -- I said to him, "Jim, when do we get to start living happily ever after?" He laughed and said that sounded like a question for one of my observations.  Well, I suspect that the Lord did not place us on this earth to really ever live "happily ever after".

Elder Boyd K. Packer put it beautifully in comparing the plan of salvation to a three act play.  “There are three parts to the plan. You are in the second or the middle part, the one in which you will be tested by temptation, by trials, perhaps by tragedy … Remember this! The line ‘And they all lived happily ever after’ is never written into the second act [of a play]. That line belongs in the third act, when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right...Until you have a broad perspective of the eternal nature of [the plan], you won’t make much sense out of the inequities in life...When you know the plan and the purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven”. (The Play and the Plan [satellite broadcast, 7 May 1995], 1–2)

And so, really only in fairy tales do princes and princesses live happily ever after.  That is not to say that life is not to be filled with peace, joy, and fulfillment, but that peace, joy, and fulfillment -- fruits of the Spirit -- will come from righteous living, exercising faith in Christ, and being strengthened by Him to deal with the vicissitudes of mortality.

I think we must be careful not to give our children a false impression regarding life.  They need to understand at some point in time that seemingly bad things can come into the lives of everyone.  A careful reading of the parable of the house built on a rock, as opposed to the house built upon the sand, will reveal that the full fury of the storm came to both houses.  Just because one house, or life, was built upon the rock (Christ) did not protect it from the full blast of the wind and rain.  However, because it was built upon Christ, it did not fall! 

The storm sooner or later will come to all of us.  It is not a matter of if, but of when.  However, if our lives are built upon the sure foundation of Christ, "... when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."  [Helaman 5:12]

Whether we want to believe it or not, living under the dangling "Sword of Damocles" or "On the Edge" is a reality for each one of us.  I think we will have to wait a while, at least until we enter the spirit world, to begin "living happily ever after!"