Saturday, October 31, 2009

Beware of hippie bands

Being old and retired, I have too much time on my hands to think about the past.  One morning recently I was lying in bed and thinking about some of the experiences I have had as a quadriplegic on life support.  As I did so, for some reason (maybe because it was about this same time of year when it happened), one of my most bizarre episodes came into my mind. 

It went down at Bolsa Chica beach, part of Huntington Beach, California. In the spring of that year I had spoken to the Interfaith Council of Orange County at their yearly breakfast.  Afterwards I was approached by a young high school teacher from San Clemente who asked if I would be interested in speaking at the annual Walk for Hope that he organized each year as a fundraiser for a variety of charities throughout the world. 

He said their goal was to help people in India, Afghanistan, and other countries in the Middle East, as well as the needy in Southern California.  It sounded good to me -- I have always been sort of gullible -- so I said I would be willing to participate. 

He took my e-mail address, we communicated during the ensuing months, and finally the fateful day arrived, as it always does when you commit yourself well in advance to do something.  He assured me that there would be 1000 people at the beach with a stage and a special ramp for me to get onto the stage area.  He said there would be music, a variety of speakers, and would I take 10 minutes?

I felt I should give it my best effort and so I prepared a 10 minute talk around the theme of service.  I went so far as to have Jo Anne read it, which resulted in a major revision -- all for the better I hate to admit.  I have often felt that if Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson could have passed their writings by Jo Anne they would have been so much better.  Seriously though, Jo Anne has the finest sense of what is good and bad in a talk than anyone I have ever met.  I felt good about the final product.

We invited some family members to come with us, which included Jo Anne's 85-year-old mother who was still alive at the time, as well as her Filipino caregiver.

We pulled into the designated parking lot and saw numerous strange looking people milling about.  My contact, the young high school teacher from San Clemente, was nowhere to be seen.  The parking lot was surrounded by wall to wall booths and as we walked and rolled the perimeter we became aware that every liberal, left-wing organization in most of the world was represented.  I went to the ACLU booth to report some quad abuse by Jo Anne, but they didn't seem interested in my case.  The Church of Scientology, Dianetics, the Orange County Weekly -- the most liberal newspaper in Orange County, Animal-rights, and a number of legitimate religions were also represented. There were Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Baha'i, and a sprinkling of Protestant and born-again groups assembled on the beach as well.  I didn't notice any Catholics or Jews (or Mormons).

Grandma Stuart, at age 85, was asleep about 90% of the time in those days, but as she was pushed in her wheelchair around this parking lot her eyes were wide open.  Jo Anne jokingly said to her "Mom, what are you doing here?"  She looked Jo Anne in the eyes and said "What are You doing here?"  Having grown up as a part of an older generation, she was not very ecumenically minded nor accepting of the left-wing liberal element represented at the beach that day.  I did not hold it against her! 

About this time a hippie rock band mounted the flimsy platform that was the stage.  This group was right out of San Francisco and the sixties, except they had a modern state-of-the-art sound system.  They cranked that thing up to the point that it was blowing the waves out to sea.  Our contact was still not to be seen.  We got behind the band in order for Jo Anne to hear me, and I told her that we ought to just get in the van and go home and leave well enough alone.  Jo Anne is tougher than that and encouraged me to stay and see what would happen.  That was the problem- I was afraid of what might happen! 

Just as the band was concluding their half-hour of "music", my contact drove up in a beat up Volkswagen bus and proceeded to pull out the ramp he had just finished building.  It was sagging in the middle and I doubted that it would hold my 400 plus lbs. of wheelchair with me in it, but closing my eyes I shifted my chair into four-wheel-drive and raced up the ramp and onto the platform.  I almost shot off the back end but stopped with three wheels still on the platform.  I was able to do a 180 and faced the crowd of 10 or 15 who had gathered to see the guy in the wheelchair wearing the BYU hat. 

The hippie band agreed to let me use their sound system and with double microphones in front of my face I started to speak and was heard, I am sure, all the way to Malibu.  The hippie band members seemed to be pleased and stayed to hear me speak. 

I determined that I was going to give this group my best effort.  I started out with some paralyzed humor and a few more people walked over to see what was going on.  Finally I launched into the body of my talk and quoted a great religious leader who once said "When we are in the service of our fellow beings we are only in the service of our God."  They perked up upon hearing that and by the end of the talk I felt that I had connected with at least a few in the audience.  I successfully descended from the platform and when I had all four wheels finally on solid ground I breathed a sigh of relief. 

Nobody patted me on the back or told me what a great job I had done and we went to the van and drove home as quickly as we could.

Is there a point to all of this?  Probably not, except you need to be careful what you commit to do, but once committed, do it with all of your heart.  It was also another testimony to the truthfulness of what the Lord has told us in Doctrine & Covenants 38:30 "... but if you are prepared ye shall not fear."  How true that was that day at the beach.

Was anybody touched by my message?  I will never know, but I knew in my heart that the Lord was pleased that I had prepared well and had given it my best effort.  I felt good inside and my loved ones felt that it was well done and meaningful.  Maybe after all, this is all that ever counts. 

I also learned -- beware of hippie bands from the sixties.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

We Was Robbed!

"We was robbed!"

I think I first heard it as a young boy when I became a dyed in the wool, true blue, through and through, Dodgers fan.  They were then the Brooklyn Dodgers and had the uncanny habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on a regular basis.  However, they never owned up to the fact that it was their own fault and ineptitude that the Yankees always beat them in the World Series, or the Giants, coming from 13 games behind, snatched the pennant from them on a sad September afternoon many years ago.  Oh why couldn't I have been a Yankee fan?  Life would have been so much more pleasant over the years, but I got stuck with the Dodgers.

Especially in those Brooklyn days after blowing yet another game or series, the Dodgers inevitably would excuse themselves by saying, "We was robbed!"  In other words, the umpires were against us, there were too many bad hops, the baseballs were doctored up, the Yankees have all the money, or the pitcher was throwing up spitballs, etc.

One of the most blatant scriptural examples of the "we was robbed" mentality is found in Mosiah 10.  Mormon quotes Zeniff in describing why the hatred the Lamanites had for the Nephites was so intense and never ending.
"They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers, which is this—Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged ["we was robbed"] in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged ["we was robbed"] while crossing the sea; And again, that they were wronged ["we was robbed"] while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea..." [Mosiah 10:12-13] [emphasis added]
And so, generations of Lamanites had bought into the "we was robbed" way of looking at life, which resulted in hatred, war, misery and suffering.  They simply would not admit the truth of the matter which was "... that Nephi was more faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord—therefore he was favored of the Lord..." [Mosiah 10:14]

The "we was robbed" mentality weakens us and keeps us from achieving our true potential.  Sometimes as parents, without realizing it, we promote this kind of thinking in our children.  It's the coach's fault that my athletically gifted child is not starting and sits on the bench.  It is the teacher's fault that my intelligent child is not getting straight A's.  It is the piano teacher's fault that my child prodigy is having difficulty playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children and ourselves is to completely eliminate from our approach to life the "we was robbed" mentality and take ownership for what we are doing or not doing with our lives.

My son, Rich, is an avid Dodgers, Lakers, and UCLA basketball fan.  I couldn't have had any influence on him in that regard when he was just a little kid could I?  John R. Wooden, the great former UCLA basketball coach, and arguably the greatest basketball coach of all time, is one of our all-time favorite heroes.  Rich sent me an e-mail that contained a quote made by John Wooden that he thought was very important and that I would enjoy.  The quote is found in a book Coach Wooden wrote entitled, "Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court."

In the book, he shared some advise his father gave to him as a young boy that influenced his life forever, both as a basketball coach and as a human being.  It was simply this: "Don't whine, don't complain, and don't make excuses."

Of course, this philosophy is the antithesis of "we was robbed!"  I can't help but think Coach Wooden's philosophy of not complaining, whining, or making excuses will take us a lot further in life than thinking "we was robbed."

Many years ago, in fact it was in the late 60s, I taught seminary at the Utah State Industrial School in Ogden, Utah for three years.  This school was actually a coed prison/Reform School for juvenile delinquents.  They were incarcerated for a variety of reasons -- none of them good!  They were some of the unhappiest and depressed young people I had ever encountered.  They had totally brought in to the "we was robbed" way of looking at life. It is true that, for the most part, they had less than wonderful parents and came from very dysfunctional homes.  Using this, and many other negative things in their lives as excuses for their lawless and dangerous behavior, and the inevitable misery that followed, very few of them would ever take ownership for their unhappy lives. They all had the same goal, which was to get out of the Utah State Industrial School so they could be free and happy!  The facility was not very high-security and these kids were extremely creative in escaping, and running to "freedom and joy."  Within a week, or at most a month or so, they would be returned to the school, worse off and more miserable than when they ran.  They constantly whined, complained, and made excuses for their bad behavior and resulting misery, because they felt, "they was robbed."

We tried desperately to teach them the following significant truth about life: "The Way out Is the Way through!  They wanted out of misery, and out of the reform school, so they could have freedom and joy.  Hardly any of them ever got the message that they couldn't run from their problems but had to face them head on, deal with them, and that the only way to the freedom they desired was to internalize and implement the truth that ultimately, "The Way out Is the Way through!"

It is so much easier to teach a great truth than to live it.  After I had my accident many years ago, I found myself slipping into the "we was robbed" mentality.  I felt I had been robbed of my body, my vocation as a teacher, my service as a stake president, and how could I ever be an effective husband, father, or grandfather again given my physical limitations.

Eventually, the principle I had taught my juvenile delinquents so many years before came into my mind and heart -- "Jack, the only way out is the way through!" 

Immediately after the accident the neurosurgeons had told me I had suffered a "complete" injury to my spinal cord.  That means it had been severed and there was absolutely no possibility that I would ever get anything back.  It took months and even years to accept this truth.  I tried to run and escape from the prison that had become my body even as my reform school kids had done from theirs.  I eventually was able to empathize more fully with their challenge. 

Finally, the day came that I could say to myself, "Jack, you are paralyzed from the neck down and are on life support and that is the way you will be the rest of this day, tomorrow, next week, next month, and for as long as you live."  When I was able in my heart to make that admission I began to work my way out of misery and unhappiness to the freedom and joy I longed to have. 

The "we was robbed" way of looking at life, coupled with whining, complaining, and finding excuses for our inadequacies, failures and unhappiness is a one way street to nowhere.

To face life head on with no whining, complaining, or making excuses, and working through our problems, will enable us to truly be free, productive, and fulfilled.