Friday, February 29, 2008

Couldn't have done it without my friends

Well, baseball spring training is beginning once again.  I must admit I am a baseball junkie -- evidence of a misspent youth.  From the time that I was about 10 years old, I loved the Dodgers and hated the Yankees.  I must admit however, that I always admired the Yankee manager, Casey Stengel.  He was cast in the same mold as Yogi Berra, the great Yankee catcher, in terms of their literary acumen.  Neither man would ever have been mistaken for having obtained their Ph.D. degrees in English literature or grammar.

After the Yankees won their first World Series with Stengel at the helm, he modestly admitted to a group of reporters, "I couldn't have done it without my players!"  I feel much like Casey in that I couldn't have come this far in my life without my "players/friends."  A friend is, "one who is attached to another by affection or esteem -- a favored companion."  [Merriam-Webster online dictionary]

Of course my most favored companions over the years have been my family and friends, but there have been other friends to whom I also have been attached by affection and esteem. "In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends paper and leather boxes."  (Ralph Waldo Emerson) (1803-1882)
In 1962 while in the Army, I was stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco which was like an exclusive country club right by the Golden Gate Bridge.  I worked an eight hour shift and after 5 p.m. each day I was free to do whatever I chose.  The San Francisco Giants were playing at Candlestick Park and I would ride the bus system to every home game.  Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marchal, and a number of other great baseball players in their prime were part of that team.  I was almost converted into being a Giants fan but I had too much Dodger blue in me for the conversion to be complete. 

Almost every Saturday however, I would ride the bus system from the Presidio to the San Francisco Public Library where I would spend the entire day.  Each time I entered that impressive structure I experienced a feeling of awe and reverence similar to that which I feel when I enter the temple.  On one of the walls in the large reading room was written these words, "We will be known by the company we keep."  I knew those words were there as a reminder to all who entered therein that the "company" referred to was our "friends," the books we would read that day.

On one occasion, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was asked what books he had read that had influenced him the most.  He 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. 
Thankfully, because of a mother who instilled within me a love for reading good books at a young age, I have kept company with some of the best "friends" a person could ever have over the years.  Those friends, in addition to my flesh and blood friends, have supported, sustained, and enriched me all of my life, but especially since I sustained my injury 19 years ago. I identify with the sentiment expressed in the following: "If the riches of the Indies, or the crowns of all the kingdoms of Europe, were laid at my feet in exchange for my love of reading, I would spurn them all."  (Francois Fenelon (1651 - 1715)

Abraham Lincoln once described a friend as "... someone who gives me a book I haven't read." (Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years, Carl Sandburg.)  In the spirit of friendship let me share with you several books that deserve reading and could become some of your dear "friends."

I think the thing that has triggered this observation is that since September I haven't been able to read the printed page.  I was devastated initially, but good friends have taught me to learn how to download e-books on my computer, and access many other audio books that are available in a number of different formats.  The following books I have listened to recently have been well worth the time expended:

(1) Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick.  Philbrick, besides being an eminent historian, is also an avid sailor and lives on Nantucket Island.  This book is about the sinking of the whaling ship Essex which sailed out of Nantucket Island on a whaling expedition in the 1820s.  It was rammed and sunk by a huge bull, sperm whale off the coast of South America.  His book is based on the journals kept by the three survivors.  Herman Melville based his book, Moby Dick, on the same journals.  It is extremely well written and more exciting than a novel.  (2) Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.  This book is so highly thought of in academic circles that Nathaniel Philbrick was invited to speak to the BYU student body about the Mayflower in a student devotional/forum last fall.  You are probably smarter than me, but this book revealed to me my ignorance regarding the pilgrims and Indians from 1620 through the next 80 years or so.  I had to read it twice to get things straight in my mind, but again it was well worth the time invested.  (3) Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose.  This is the story of Easy Company 101st Airborne Division -- the Screaming Eagles of World War II fame.  He follows them from basic training to D-Day and on to Germany.  A wonderful synopsis of this book is found in Elder Wirthlin's beautiful article in the February, 2008, Ensign entitled "Band of Brothers."  (4) Beyond the Band of Brothers by Major Dick Winters.  When Ambrose died several years ago he left all of his research notes he used to write Band of Brothers to Dick Winters who began the war as a first lieutenant in Easy Company and finished the war as a Major and one of the leaders of the 101st Airborne.  His book is more intimate, and to me, more interesting than Ambrose's book because Winters was in every battle from D-Day to Germany.  His first-hand, eyewitness account, is incredible.  (5) A Team of Rivals by Goodwin.  I can't remember her first name.  If you thought Abraham Lincoln was a great man, your love and appreciation for him will grow leaps and bounds as you read this important book.  Seward, Chase, and Bates all wanted the Republican nomination for president in the 1860 election.  They paid no mind to Lincoln who snatched the nomination from them at the 11th hour.  This is a study of all four men and how Lincoln made each one of them an important part of his cabinet.  None of the three could ever have done what Abraham Lincoln did in keeping the Union together during the Civil War.  Goodwin's research of primary sources reveals Lincoln as a brilliant and astute administrator blessed with great compassion and magnanimity.  When he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in April of 1865, the defeated South lost its greatest friend and advocate.

There are others I could suggest, but enough is enough.  I hope you still consider me your "friend" after wading through all of this.  All of these books can be checked out of a public library by the way.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

He Was What He Seemed To Be

Like many of you, although saddened by the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley, I have been inspired by his life through the years, and was happy that he could leave mortality still vigorous and in sound mind.  I know some of you may have had much contact with him; I haven't, but he had the rare quality of making all of us feel that we were his friend, and that he was speaking just to us individually in his public discourses.  Shortly after my accident, he did write a sweet letter to Jo Anne inquiring about how things were going with us and expressing his love for us both.  It is a treasured keepsake.

The many wonderful tributes that were paid to him at his memorial service were appropriate and true.  Elder LeGrand Richards once said, "There is nothing like a good life that makes for a good funeral."  That certainly was the case with President Gordon B. Hinckley.

I love to read about the Civil War and am intrigued and impressed with many men and women of that era. Among these are Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, but also Robert E. Lee.  At his funeral, one of the tributes reportedly paid to him was, "He was what he seemed to be!"

I can think of no more impressive tribute.  President Hinckley was what he seemed to be; there was no gap between his talk and his walk.

I believe the same thing could have been said about Joseph Smith.  As a very young man in his 20's, he met Newel K. Whitney in Kirtland, Ohio for the first time.   Elizabeth Ann Whitney recorded what transpired at this first meeting with young Joseph Smith: “Joseph Smith, with his wife, Emma, … drove up in front of my husband’s store; Joseph jumped out and went in; he reached his hand across the counter to my husband, and called him by name. My husband, not thinking it was any one in whom he was interested, spoke, saying: ‘I could not call you by name as you have me.’ He answered, ‘I am Joseph the Prophet; you have prayed me here, now what do you want of me?’ (Woman’s Exponent, Sept. 1, 1878, 51)

The thing that impresses me so much in Elizabeth's account of her and her husband's first encounter with Joseph Smith is that he, without pretense or dissimulation of any kind, simply announced himself as "Joseph the Prophet."  At this young age of his life he absolutely knew who he was, and his life, until he was martyred at age 38, was a testament that he was indeed "what he seemed to be!"

Those who know us best, the members of our own families with whom we live day in and day out, are undoubtedly the best judges of whether we are what we seem to be to others.
Many years ago, Elder L. Tom Perry, came to town to reorganize the old Santa Ana Stake presidency. As Jo Anne and I were ushered into the stake president's office, Elder Perry kind of glanced at me and then proceeded to interview Jo Anne: "How does he treat you and the children?" "Does he make sure you have family prayer and family home evening regularly?"  He fired other similar kinds of questions at Jo Anne and then thanked us for spending a few minutes with him.  Jo Anne covered for me pretty well, and I was absolutely amazed when I was called to be the first counselor in the new stake presidency.

A number of years ago I was feeling pretty good about my life and that maybe I was about prepared to be translated.  I was in my office working on my computer using my voice recognition software.  It is usually very obedient and responds immediately to every command I give it.  This day however, it just would not do what it was supposed to do.  I was working on a very "important" document that I needed to complete and just could not make any progress with it.  As time went by I became more frustrated and upset and finally -- and I don't know where it came from -- in a very loud voice I addressed my computer with the D.... word.  Jo Anne had left me in the care of my youngest daughter Jackie that afternoon.  There is a baby monitor in my office and that day the receiver was in Jackie's bedroom upstairs.  Several seconds after I had uttered the D.... word, the door to my office burst open and in marched Jackie.  She said "Dad, did I hear from you what I thought I heard just now?"  Shamefacedly, I muttered under my breath that, yes indeed, she had heard what she thought she had heard.  She said, "I thought so, and you a patriarch!"  With that she turned on her heel and marched back upstairs.  It is so hard for me to be bad.  This experience, and several others like it, keep me humble and make me realize that the "natural man" is still very much alive and well inside me and that thankfully repentance is an eternal principle.

A statement by President Joseph F. Smith has always helped me to keep things in proper perspective. In 1905, President Joseph F. Smith made the following profound statement about true greatness: “Those things which we call extraordinary, remarkable, or unusual may make history, but they do not make real life.... After all, to do well those things which God ordained to be the common lot of all mankind, is the truest greatness. To be a successful father or a successful mother is greater than to be a successful general or a successful statesman” (Juvenile Instructor, 15 Dec. 1905, p. 752)

Hopefully when we eventually pass on into the spirit world it can be said of us by those who knew us the best, "He was what he seemed to be!"