In the spring of 1962, I was in the Army and stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco. My Saturdays were free and one beautiful spring Saturday afternoon I was walking down a busy street in San Francisco. As I passed a large movie theater I noticed on the marquee the words: "Westside Story" by Leonard Bernstein. I had no idea what it was about; I thought maybe it was a Western. I have always been a sucker for cowboys and Indians. Having nothing better to do I bought a ticket and went in. It was an unexpected and delightful experience, and "Westside Story" has been one of my favorite Broadway musicals from 1962 to the present.
In a "rumble" (gang fight) between rival gangs, the "Jets" (whites) and the "Sharks," (Puerto Ricans) the leader of the Sharks was inadvertently stabbed to death by the leader of the Jets. The police came, the gang members all scattered, and later that night two of the Jets met up with one another. They were visibly shaken by what had happened, and in the ensuing conversation one of the boys said "I wish it was yesterday!"
I have seen the movie and listened to the music more times than I would care to admit. However, it is that haunting phrase, "I wish it was yesterday," that always captures my attention.
August 1, 1989 at about 3 p.m. while body surfing at Laguna Beach, California, in one split second I was paralyzed from the neck down and would live on life support the remainder of my life, however long that would be. Around midnight the head neurosurgeon sent all of my friends
and family home so he could perform additional tests to determine the extent of my injury. I have never felt more alone than I did when my loved ones departed that night. I was strapped to a board, still in my swimming suit -- an ugly looking thing, a sick yellow color I had purchased because it was on sale -- still covered with sand, with several big hoses shoved down my mouth and throat to enable me to have the oxygen I needed to stay alive. No, the last thing I was thinking of was "West Side Story," and the phrase "I wish it was yesterday!" However, those words described my state of mind at that moment perfectly.
Yesterday had been such a beautiful day as we acted the part of tourists in Laguna Beach. Our little girls, Rachel, age nine, and Jackie, age four, were having a great time as were Jo Anne and I. life just didn't seem to be able to be any better. I was serving as stake president, loving my assignment with CES; we had just had our first two grandsons born several months before, and our second son Richard was on a mission in Columbia. There was not a cloud on the horizon of our lives, and it looked like we were going to live "happily ever after."
As I was alone in the regional Trauma center that night I absolutely could not believe what had happened to me and to my family. How would we ever come through this tragedy? How would we survive financially? How would I be able to be an effective husband and father? If I were permanently paralyzed how on earth could I ever endure living this way? Those kinds of questions continued to run through my mind at warp speed all through that tortured night. Truthfully, what was happening was that I was crying out from the depths of my soul, "I wish it was yesterday!" I am sorry to report that "I wish it was yesterday," was my cry for much longer than I ever would like to admit.
The day finally came however that I came to understand that in order to have peace and for life to be productive, meaningful, and of the highest quality possible, the phrase "I wish it was yesterday," had to be eliminated from my mind, my heart, and my vocabulary.
That kind of thinking leads our lives into a cul-de-sac or a dead end that will take us nowhere. I suppose most of us have done something we have regretted, or had something done to us, or to a beloved family member that has erupted from the depths of our souls the sentiment, if not the exact words, "I wish it was yesterday!" Oh, how we would like to go back to the "good old days" when a seemingly tragic event is perpetrated by us, or inflicted upon us by others, or by life itself. I believe it is human nature -- "the natural man" -- to have that knee-jerk reaction to the challenges life can bring our way. It has been so since the beginning of time. As Eve was giving birth to her first child I wonder if she ever had a fleeting thought, "I wish it was yesterday" back in that beautiful garden?
One of the problems Moses had leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, was to get Egypt out of them. Those folks always wanted to go back to the "good old days" which really weren't that wonderful in reality, but only in their minds now that the going was tough: [Numbers 11:5] "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:"
The "I wish it was yesterday" way of thinking eventually cost them dearly as none of that older generation was permitted to enter the "Promised Land" but wandered in the wilderness 40 years until their carcasses rotted in the desert wilderness with the "Promised Land" visible on the horizon, but was unapproachable by them because of their false way of looking at life and rejecting Jehovah and his desires to bless them.
Lot's wife had a similar challenge as she looked back at "Sodom" with longing eyes and was turned into a pillar of salt -- an inanimate object that could not act, but could only be acted upon. She was unable to move forward; her progress came to an abrupt end which is the same thing that happens to all of us who live in the past and can't let go of it and move forward to the "Promised Land."
I would imagine as Joseph was sold by his brothers as a slave that as he trudged behind that camel train with a rope around his neck that he couldn't help but thinking "I wish it was yesterday!" Things were so good in Jacob's tent for him as the favored son. "How on earth could this have ever happened to me" he must have thought a few times. Thankfully, our worthy and magnificent progenitor, refusing to live in the past and finally, as a 30-year-old, having been a slave and prisoner in Egypt for almost half his life could have this written about him, "... the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to aprosper." [Genesis 39:23]
The same can happen to each one of us as we "... press forward with a steadfastness in Christ... and endure to the end..." [2 Nephi 31:20]. Regardless of what may happen to us we simply must press forward, never looking back, refusing to say or entertain in our hearts the thought, "I wish it was yesterday!" If we do so the Lord will be with us as he was with Joseph and cause us to "prosper."