Monday, April 30, 2007, Observation:
The other day Jo Anne took me to our dermatologist for him to look at a sore on my hand that wasn't healing up. I was happy to go, knowing that whatever he did to me from the neck on down I couldn't feel. When the problem is from the neck on up -- something that occurs far too often according to Jo Anne -- I get nervous knowing that it is going to hurt. He looked at my hand and had the nurse prepare a surgical tray to biopsy the affected area. On the tray was a hypodermic needle with some kind of medication to numb the sore that he was about to remove. Before he began I assured him I didn't need to have my hand numbed because I couldn't feel anything that he could possibly do to me. He asked me if I was sure, and I told him that I definitely was. He still wanted to give me the shot because never having been paralyzed he could not conceive of not being able to experience pain. He agreed not to give me the shot if I would agree not to pretend I was in pain and scream out or use one of my dumb jokes like, "Doc, will I be able to play the piano when you get done with this?"
Well, he took a good sized hunk out of the back of my hand, cauterized it extensively, and all the while I was a good boy and didn't cry out in pretended pain. He had the nurse bandage it up and I could tell he was relieved that he really hadn't hurt me. Jo Anne commented that I either had nerves of steel or that I truly was paralyzed and had not been faking it all these years. Yesterday the lab called and confirmed that it indeed was skin cancer and the doctor through the biopsy had removed it all. I guess I will have to find some other way to exit mortality and enter the spirit world.
I suppose that all of us can have similar experiences and yet perceive them differently. My perception of the biopsy procedure and the doctor's perception of the same event were really very different.
I have read in the past a biography about General Ulysses S. Grant, and am currently reading a book about him and his friend and fellow General, William Tecumseh Sherman. I am a sucker for Civil War books -- I am fascinated with that period of history. The first day of the battle of Shiloh the Confederate Army just annihilated the Union troops. Thousands were killed, wounded, or captured. Had the sun not eventually gone down, Grant's Union Army would undoubtedly have been destroyed that day. During the night General Sherman tried to find General Grant and tell him that they must retreat across the river during the nighttime or they would be destroyed the next morning. He finally found Grant standing under a large tree with his cigar clamped between his teeth and rain dripping off the brim of his hat. As he came upon Grant and saw the look in his eyes, and determination written all over his face, Sherman intuitively knew he must not tell Grant that they should retreat. He walked up to him and simply said, "We really took a licking today didn't we?" Grant replied, "Yes we did, but just wait until tomorrow and we will whip them." Sure enough, instead of retreating, Grant regrouped his troops and won the battle of Shiloh. It was the first bright spot in the Civil War for the Union and some historians say that with the South's defeat at Shiloh the ultimate outcome of the Civil War was already decided, although years of fighting were still ahead.
Both generals had experienced the same Battle of Shiloh that day, but their perceptions of the outcome and projected future strategy based on their perceptions, was very different. Why was it different? I wish I had the ultimate answer but I am not arrogant or foolish enough to think I do. I suspect our perceptions of things however, are profoundly influenced by past experience, our own peculiar psychological makeup, and our faith in Christ and the Plan of Happiness.
After a long and bitter struggle between the Nephites and Lamanites in which countless numbers were killed on both sides, Mormon made the following intriguing comment: "But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility." [Alma 62:41]
All the people had basically experienced the same war but it had affected them differently; many had become hardened while many others were softened by the same experience. Why? I think part of the answer can be found in the incident recorded by Matthew of Jesus asking his apostles whom men were saying he was. They responded that some were saying he was John the Baptist, and others that he was Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. And then Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." [Matthew 16:13-17]
Many people had experienced Jesus, but only those to whom the Holy Spirit had revealed who he really was had the accurate perception of the truth of the matter. It is through revelation from the Holy Ghost that we can ultimately discern the truth and purpose of the experiences of life accurately. "And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come..." [Doctrine & Covenants 93:24]
To make what I am saying more relevant, consider substituting the following experiences in Mormon's summary statement of the effect prolonged war had on the Nephites and Lamanites: "But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of... [ the suffering inflicted on the people from cancer, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, heart problems, cystic fibrosis, arthritis, paralysis, divorce, wayward children, the loss of employment and income, and the unexpected loss of loved ones], many had become hardened... and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility." [Alma 62:41]
It seems to me that the thing that makes the difference in being either hardened or softened by life's experiences shared by so many, is faith in Christ, and the revelation of the truth and comforting assurance that comes to us through the Holy Ghost, as well as a sure knowledge as to where we came from, why we are here on earth, and what our ultimate destiny is as sons and daughters of God.
Hopefully, as life inevitably brings to each one of us challenging events and experiences, we will be able to accurately perceive the truth and respond to them appropriately and with faith -- insomuch that they [we] did humble themselves [ourselves] before God, even in the depth of humility."