Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Showing Up

President Hinckley, on the occasion of speaking at a BYU student body devotional said that he was going to share some memories from the past with them.  Then he said, "Old men speak of the past because they have no future, and young men speak of the future because they have no past."

I hate to admit it but I am beginning to become kind of an old man so let me share some memories from the past that have impacted my life in a significant way.

  A few years ago I had the great opportunity of speaking at Chapman University in the city of Orange, California.  Once each semester the Interfaith Council at the University invites someone to come and speak to the students regarding some faith promoting topic.  I was feeling the pressure of wanting to do the best I possibly could in that special setting.

As I was sitting on the stand waiting for the meeting to begin, I noticed coming in the door five people who looked a little bit older than the average student.  They were members from my ward.  I was astonished because I didn't think anyone but me knew about this gathering.  One of the men quietly approached the stand and simply said "We're here to support you."  I must admit my heart was touched and comforted by this simple expression of love and support.

It reminded me of the time when my Dad died in April, 1970.  Jo Anne and I had been married six years, had three little children, and were living in Ogden, Utah.  I had served as Elder's Quorum President in the Washington Terrace Sixth Ward for about three years.  My Dad's death was just devastating to me. We were very close and I could not imagine how life would be without him.  He passed away in a hospital in Salt Lake City and the next day Jo Anne and I and other family members drove immediately to Ely, Nevada to make arrangements for the funeral.  I really didn't know if anyone in Ogden or our ward knew that he had passed away.  The morning of the funeral I happened to turn around and saw coming in the door, Bob Ellis, and Jack Pugmire.  Bob Ellis was one of the elders in our ward and the editor and printer of the ward newspaper.  Jack Pugmire, was a counselor in the bishopric and a good friend. 

I was caught totally off guard when I saw them.  Ogden is over 300 miles from Ely and that made Ely hard to get to.  They had to have arisen extremely early that morning to have made it to the funeral on time.  I had been in pretty good control of my emotions up to that time, but when I saw these two friends come into the Stake Center I could not hold back the tears.  I don't know that we ever even got to talk.  I believe they both embraced me as they left the building and got back into their car for the long drive back to Ogden.  Many years later, their unexpected visit is still a vivid and wonderful memory from the past.

There are events in life that are never repeated.  A wedding, a wedding reception, a funeral, a graduation, a sealing in the temple, and etc. only happen once in a person's life.  We may be tempted to not acknowledge an invitation because, let's face it, life is busy and hectic.  However, in that family's life this event will only happen once and if we withhold our support by our absence it is something that can never be reclaimed.  Conflicts are unavoidable at times but even the worst of us can write a special letter of congratulation and apology for not attending.  We really don't have to do anything special -- just show up; that in and of its self speaks volumes.

I spent the first two weeks after my accident in the ICU of our regional trauma center.  It is impossible to express how I felt, having been told by the neurosurgeons that I would never be able to move any part of my body ever again, breathe on my own again, speak again, eat or drink again, and never be able to live outside of a care facility.  I felt very vulnerable and somehow very much alone, and could not stand the thought of being left alone without family and friends around.  I was able to communicate this thought, and family members stayed with me during the day.  About 6 p.m. in the evening members of our High Council and High Priest group would take turns sitting with me all through the night until morning.  Through an ingenious chart invented and produced by a good friend, by blinking my eyes, once for "yes," and twice for "no," I was able to communicate my needs and even the chapters and verses of the Scriptures I wanted read to me.  They would sit by my bedside and read, and if I dozed off into a fitful sleep, when I woke up it was so comforting to see them there and feel of their love and concern.  One young brother would sing to me the hymns I loved, which brought great peace into my heart at a most difficult time.  Their presence, without them saying anything, spoke volumes of love, friendship, and caring.

Since then, I have often thought of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane asking his beloved friends and apostles to simply wait at a short distance while he went to suffer the greatest agony anyone has ever suffered on this earth.  Yes, he had to do this alone, but even he, the greatest of all, I believe wanted to have the comforting presence of his closest friends about him in this, his greatest hour of need.  "And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one ahour? And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him. And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come..." [Mark 14: 37 -41]

I believe those apostles always felt badly that they couldn't stay awake while their beloved Master experienced what he did.  They couldn't do anything to assist him really, but how he must have longed for their support.  Nobody could do anything to change my circumstances after my accident, but what strength and comfort it was to just have so many friends show up at my bedside.
I don't know that we ever need to do more than just show up, but we really ought to work at doing that.

A blind, and almost completely deaf elderly gentlemen, moved into a new ward.  Every Sunday he was there sitting on the front row during sacrament meeting.  One Sunday after the meeting was over,  one of the ward members took him aside and shouting into his ear so that the old man could hear he said "Why do you keep coming when you can't see or hear anything?"  The old man responded, "I come just to show whose side I'm on!"  Not a bad philosophy of life.


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