Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Isn't It Incredible What 26 Little Letters Can Do?

November 21, 2006 Observation:

On Halloween, October 31, 2006, I listened to President Gordon B. Hinckley speak to the BYU student body at their weekly devotional.  I was impressed that at age 96 he was still able to speak with such intelligence and clarity.  It was his opening remarks that caught my attention.  He said that on one occasion, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was asked what books he had read that had influenced him the most.  Emerson replied that he could no more remember all the books he had read than the meals he had eaten, but they had made him what he was.  As I reflected on what Emerson said, as quoted by President Hinckley, it struck a chord within me as being a true statement.  I suppose all of us are shaped, not only by the meals we eat, but by the books we read.

I have been blessed in my lifetime to have been exposed to some of the greatest books ever written which certainly have shaped my thinking and even my behavior I believe.  My mother introduced me to many great books as a young boy, and then I met Dr. Nan Grass while attending BYU, who for an entire two semesters, five days a week, taught me to love the great literature of the English language in her marvelous course, "Major British Authors".  Through her guidance I began to love the writings of Shakespeare, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Browning, Lord Byron, Matthew Arnold, John Milton, John Donne, Chaucer, and a host of others. 

And then, still a young man, I came to Southern California in 1970 to be the institute director at the Institute of Religion at California State University at Los Angeles.  I was able to determine what I would teach and one of the first classes I chose to teach at the Institute level was entitled "Presidents of the Church".  At that time there was a very meager lesson manual for that course which was a great blessing because it forced me to read a biography on each one of the presidents we would be discussing.  This began a passion that I still have to read biographies of great people.  I would read the biography of one of the Church Presidents and then around the dinner table each evening I would tell my little children stories from the lives of the prophets.  They were a very receptive audience and came to know a great deal about the presidents of the Church.  Little did they know how much they were helping me to teach my Institute class by trying out stories from the lives of the prophets on them.

The lives of these great men, along with the great literature I had been reading, shaped my thinking and inspired me to always want to be a better person.  I am always looking for good biographies to read.  How blessed I have been to not only read the biographies of great Church leaders, but also of men like George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and many others as well. 

Since my accident and loss of physical mobility I have also come to love history, and through my reading have witnessed the building of the Panama Canal, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Transcontinental Railroad, been on the Lewis and Clarke expedition, circumnavigated the globe with Magellan, experienced the incredible year of 1776 and Washington's crossing of the Delaware, seen World War II through the eyes of a "Band of Brothers", and on and on it goes.  How dull and boring my life could be if it were not for the magic of reading. 

Through my reading one of my favorite historical characters has become Theodore Roosevelt.  I am just amazed at this man.  I think my subconscious self would like to be like Theodore Roosevelt.  I have read three major books on his life and am just finishing a fourth that I picked up at Costco (not a bad place to find a good cheap paperback).  It is written by a lady by the name of Candice Millard and is entitled "The River of Doubt".  Roosevelt wanted to run for a third term as president of the United States but the Republican Party didn't want him.  The Republican Party was backing very strongly, Howard W. Taft, at the time and therefore Teddy formed his own political party which became known as the "Bull Moose Party".  Because of the third party Teddy formed, the Republicans lost the 1912 presidential election.  Teddy was used to winning and when he lost the election by a substantial margin he went into an unusual depression.  Shortly after the 1912 election he was invited to South America on a speaking tour, and his family, thinking an exciting adventure would help his depression, encouraged him to accept the invitation. He accepted on the condition that he could also do some exploring.  He was 55 years old at the time.  This book about his adventures and adversity in traveling down a river ("The River of Doubt") in Brazil that no one had explored and was not even on a map is exciting and reveals so much about the character of this great man.  He suffered greatly in the vast Amazon rain forest -- 1913-14 -- and died a few years later, much younger than he would have had he not taken this trip.

Theodore Roosevelt had traveled extensively in his lifetime.  He led his Roughriders up San Juan Hill in Cuba, had fought grizzly bears, had a big cattle ranch in the Dakotas, and was tough as nails.  I think his trip to Brazil tempered him somewhat and taught him a great lesson about life as evidenced by a statement he made near the end of his life. "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."  [Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, 1858-1919]

Having studied his life, this statement appears to me to be so untypical of this adventurous and vital man.  However, I believe any human being who learns to do what he can, with what he has, where he is, has discovered one of the great keys to a happy and fulfilling life.  I believe I have tried to adopt Roosevelt's philosophy into my own life since my accident.  I haven't always been successful in doing so, but those days that I do all I can, with what I have, where I am, are rewarding and fulfilling days. 

At this Thanksgiving time there are a multitude of things I am thankful for, but very high on the list is being able to read.  Although my body is mobility impaired, through the magic of reading, my mind knows no limits.  Through reading I have become acquainted with some of the greatest people with the best minds that have ever lived, and have vicariously experienced many of the world's most important events in history.  Isn't it incredible what 26 little letters can do? 

"... and be content with such things as ye have..." [Hebrews 13: 5]


Friday, November 10, 2006


Friday November 10, 2006

I have learned over the years to accept and deal with the big problems of life like being paralyzed and living on life support.  It's the supposedly simple and small things of life that make me cry out at times, "It just isn't fair!"

For example, my Internet provider for a number of years now has been Comcast.  Without consulting me, Comcast sold out to Time Warner, and a couple of weeks ago I got a letter in the mail from Time Warner informing me that some outfit called Road Runner would now be my new cable Internet provider.  They told me I had a week in which to convert my e-mail system to Road Runner and gave me the necessary information to get on Road Runner's "easy installation" website.

With some trepidation I accessed the website and my eyes crossed and began to water as I tried to follow the "easy installation instructions".  I soon discovered that these simple instructions would cross even a rabbi's eyes and challenge the intelligence of a rocket scientist. You may not know this about me, but I am a hard loser and like a challenge, so I dove into it and tried my best to get my e-mail working once again with the Road Runner service.  Conservatively speaking, I spent 15 hours before I admitted defeat.  It happened late one night when nothing I tried seemed to work and I just admitted to myself that there was no way I could get this Road Runner e-mail service to work.  I vowed that the next morning I would not even look at the Road Runner website nor even think about e-mail.

The next morning my son, Rich, called and wanted me to do a school project for his son Trevor which involved the use of the computer and e-mail.  I told Rich I would love to help out but my e-mail was not working right.  Well, about noon Rich showed up and I showed him what I had done and was doing to install the Road Runner e-mail program.  He took one look at it and said "Dad, I'll bet you that your password is case-sensitive."  I gave him my password and he punched it in using uppercase instead of lowercase and it was like hitting the jackpot.  25 or 30 e-mails appeared in my inbox and I haven't had a problem since. 

Why are our kids so much smarter than we are?  It just isn't fair!  Then to infuriate me just a little bit more, the other day for some reason, I went to the Road Runner home page and at the bottom right hand corner in small letters it said something like, "By the way, for you former Comcast users make sure that when you type in your password realize that it is case-sensitive." Have you ever felt you were getting close to being sanctified and translated only to have something like this happen and you think thoughts and mutter things under your breath that are hard evidence that the "natural man" is still alive and well?

And then my voice recognition software began giving me problems.  For no reason at all a little sign would pop up and say, "You are having a memory problem."  Well, lots of my older friends and I do have memory problems so this was not exactly a revelation.  However, Dragon Naturally Speaking 7.3, my voice recognition software program, wasn't working the way it normally did.  I had Jo Anne call John Klabius, the owner and operator of a little company called "Voice Solutions".  I have been working with John for over 10 years now and he has always proven to be honest and straightforward regarding the selling and installation of Dragon Naturally Speaking products.  He told me that the 9.0 version of Dragon Naturally Speaking was incredibly good, and that if I upgraded it would solve all my problems.  The next day John came over to install the new version and was surprised at how slowly the installation program was operating.  He asked me how much memory I had in my computer.  I proudly told him I believed it had 512 megs of RAM memory (whatever that means), which I thought was a lot of memory.  John informed me that I needed at least one gig of RAM memory for the new Naturally Speaking software to run well, as well as all of the other programs on my computer.  I foolishly stared at him for a moment and then said, "The only Gig I ever knew was a Griffith" (son of Ed & Bunkie Griffith).

Well, I knew I was pushing my luck with Jo Anne.  The new upgrade for Dragon Naturally Speaking had set us back several hundred dollars and to upgrade to a gig of memory, whatever that was, wasn't going to be really cheap according to John, depending on how my computer was configured for memory.  Thankfully, Jo Anne has lots of faith and trust in John Klabius, so nonchalantly I revealed to her that John said we needed to upgrade the memory in my computer to a gig in order for Dragon Naturally Speaking to work well.  Jo Anne got a dazed look on her face and muttered, "The only Gig I know is a Griffith!"

To her credit she loaded me in the van the next day and we paid a visit to Micro Center, a computer store located just several blocks from where we live.  We took my Hewlett-Packard laptop with us and told the salesman that we wanted to double the amount of RAM memory in the computer for a total of a gig.  As we were in the store I began thinking what an incredible thing it is to be able to go to a store and buy "memory".  Wouldn't it be wonderful if when our thought processes slow down that we could go to a Micro Center and have several gigs of memory implanted in our brains.  I guess we would be willing to pay almost anything to get just one gig of memory installed in our brain as we get older.

As generally happens, Micro Center sold us and installed only half the memory we needed and had requested.  It took us several days to iron out all the problems but now I am the happy owner of a gig of RAM memory and the 9.0 version of Dragon Naturally Speaking.  Nothing is ever easy and the "natural man" in us wants to cry out "Life just isn't fair!"

I know we can't go to a "memory store" to upgrade our memory as it goes on the decline.  However, thankfully, there is a form of a "memory store" available to all of us at really no cost.  The "memory store" I refer to is the Scriptures.  In the Scriptures, if we search them each day, we are reminded of the most important things in life, and especially the most important thing -- the mission and atonement of Christ. Incredibly, there are 275 references in the Scriptures that use the word "remember" or a form thereof.  There are an additional 73 references in the Scriptures that use the word "remembrance" and if that were not enough, 39 references where the word "memory" is used.

President Kimball once said: "Scriptures are man's spiritual memory. In a very real sense special records, such as the holy scriptures, are the spiritual memory of mankind." (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 125)

And so, as wonderful as it would be, sadly, we can't go to a "memory store" and buy a gig of memory and have it implanted in our brains.  However, if we are wise we will be renewing our spiritual memory through the searching of the Scriptures every day of our lives.  Ultimately, our spiritual memory will prove to have been a greater blessing to us than our deteriorating physical memory.