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.