Monday, July 2, 2007

Live Today, Learn Forever

Several weeks ago our oldest grandson, Michael Rushton, graduated from Murietta Valley high school.  The graduation ceremony took place at the football stadium and it was a blistering hot day.  Fortunately, Jo Anne and I were able to find a shady spot under the bleachers where we could sit, me in my wheelchair -- I always have some place to sit -- and she in a folding chair.  We could see and hear the proceedings extremely well from our vantage point. One of the student speakers, a young lady, said something that attracted my attention, which is a remarkable achievement on her part given the heat of the day and the setting -- a football field overflowing with a mass of sweating moms and dads and grandparents. 

She quoted Gandhi as follows: "Live as though you are going to die tomorrow; learn as though you are going to live forever!"  I thought at the time what an important truth to incorporate into your life as a young high school graduate embarking on life's adventure.  Of course, it is that kind of true principle that really ought to govern the lives of each one of us regardless of our age or station in life.

I guess the reason the Gandhi statement attracted my attention is because of my own life's experience.  Since living on life support for 19 years, and having had several near-death experiences because of it, I am very aware of how fragile my own life is.  Many of you have heard me describe my lifestyle as "Living on the Edge!"  However, as I have thought about it over the years, I truly do believe that all of us are "living on the edge" and have no guarantee of what tomorrow is going to bring. I know how profoundly true James' statement is: "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."  [James 4:14] [Emphasis added]

If what James says is true, and I know it is, Gandhi's advice about living as though we are going to die tomorrow, if taken seriously, could have a profound impact upon the way we live our daily lives.  Does living our lives "as though we are going to die tomorrow" mean that we should strive to pack every waking hour with more fun, golf, exciting experiences, world travel, cruises, and etc.?  I really don't think so.  Don't get me wrong, I certainly do believe there is a place for all of the things that can bring us pleasure and enjoyment, but I have learned that at the end of the day the only thing that will really matter is the quality of our relationships with our family, friends, and especially with the Lord.  This I learned as I was stretched out on a hospital bed in a trauma unit being told I would never move my body again, breathe on my own again, speak again, eat regular food again, or live outside a care facility.  In that moment, having lost the use of my physical body, I realized that nothing I had done in my life really mattered for much except the relationships I had forged with my loved ones and with my Heavenly Father over the years.

I suppose with life being as fragile as it is that in living our lives as though we were going to die tomorrow, I would think that every day we would want to strive to be kinder, less judgmental, more loving to all we know, and striving to follow the Lord's admonition, "As I have loved you, love one another!"

Last Thursday a funeral service was held for Jo Anne's 88-year-old mother who had passed away Sunday evening.  At her death, her posterity included her 10 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren numbering 141. All of her children and grandchildren who spoke on the program spoke with great tenderness of her love, nonjudgmental attitude, kindness, and intense dislike for any kind of contention or loud and angry words.  One of her sons-in-law said to me after the service that this was one funeral in which the absolute truth was told about the deceased, without any need to embellish any aspect of her character.  I knew her for 43 years and can honestly say that I never heard her say a mean or derogatory thing to, or about, any other person.  It simply was not in her nature to do so, and therefore the love her children and grandchildren had for her was just absolutely immense.  She had no degrees, was not rich or famous, but because of her life and the relationships she had with her loved ones she "... did not taste of death, for it was sweet unto her." To be loved as she was by those who matter the most -- family and friends -- is to have lived a successful life.  I am sure I will never achieve it, but each day, not knowing whether it will be my last or not, I want to try to emulate this wonderful character trait possessed in such rich abundance by Jo Anne's mother.

I also have strong feelings about the second part of the Gandhi statement, "... learn as though you are going to live forever!"  I have a little feeling for what it might be like to enter a world where we no longer have a physical body.  For over 18 years now my life has basically been a life of the mind and spirit.  I cannot adequately express how important is the knowledge, especially gospel knowledge and a love for the scriptures and other good books, I stored up in my mind and heart before my accident.  And because of my situation I am now privileged to spend hours each day learning and discovering new truths.  I suspect I have read more great books and learned more, especially during the last 10 years, than in any other 10 year period of my life.  The truth be known, we are going to live forever, and: "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come."  [Doctrine & Covenants 130:18-19]

In my own mind, to quit learning is to quit living! "... How dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use! /As tho' to breathe were life! /Life piled on life Were all too little, and of one to me Little remains:/ but every hour is saved From that eternal silence, something more, /A bringer of new things..." [Ulysses, Alfred Lord Tennyson]