Friday, November 13, 2009
The Precious Present
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven..." [Ecclesiastes 3:1].
Several years after my accident, I was sitting in our dining room waiting for Jo Anne to go somewhere in our van. Sometime before, she had prepared a collage of pictures of me interacting with members of our family on different occasions before my accident. It was in a nice frame and hanging on the dining room wall. For some reason I rolled my chair over to the collage so I could see it better. There was a picture of me with my arm around my oldest son at his high school graduation; another with me sitting at the side of my oldest daughter at her wedding reception. There was a picture of me with my arm around my daughter Rachel just prior to baptizing her and another with me holding my oldest grandson in my arms shortly after his birth. There were a number of other similar kinds of pictures.
As I sat there looking at those photographs a very strong feeling came over me. I wouldn't describe it as a feeling of sorrow, unhappiness or depression; nonetheless it was a very sobering kind of feeling. It was as though a voice was saying to me, "Jack, you really didn't fully realize how good your life was during all those years. You took so many things for granted. What an absolute joy it was for example, to carry your little children upstairs, pray with them, and sing to them and put them to bed. Think of all the basketball games out in the driveway with your sons and the neighborhood kids. What a blessing to be able to sit down at the piano and play and sing the hymns and to use those same fingers to work at the computer." On and on came memories of experiences flooding into my mind that maybe I did not value as I could have at the time.
As I sat there I realized how important it is to enjoy the moment -- "the precious present" -- and to not live so much in the past or in the future. We need to be grateful for the particular season we are experiencing in our lives and not be in such a hurry to just get through it.
A while back we had "Dumpster Day" in our little community of Tustin Meadows. Large dumpsters are brought in and on the designated day we can take all our junk and deposit it in one of the dumpsters. Jo Anne looks forward to "Dumpster Day" like most people look forward to Christmas. As the great day approaches she can be seen searching through the house, with a gleam in her eye, looking for anything of no value that is just sitting there gathering dust. Any possession not carrying its weight by serving some utilitarian purpose is going to end up in the dumpster. I became very nervous as it seemed to me she was spending an inordinate amount of time in my office. Each time she would look longingly at me I tried to say something somewhat intelligent which is difficult, blink my eyes, and give her my most endearing smile. I did not want to end up in the dumpster with the rest of the dust gathering stuff!
The morning of "Dumpster Day" she was in my office and I saw her eying the shelf where my journals are kept and finally, in a panic, I convinced her that they don't eat anything and I would pay rent on the space they occupied if she wouldn't throw them out. At length I convinced her, and in the process we read some interesting journal entries I had made just before I had my accident.
The following are my last two journal entries before being injured.
June 30, 1989, just one month and one day before my accident I wrote: "... being stake president is a wonderful privilege. I value this calling and try not to take myself too seriously while taking the calling very seriously. The Lord has blessed me tremendously and my heart is filled with gratitude when I think of the many blessings we enjoy as a family. The new grandchildren, Mike soon to be in law school, Rich on a mission, John (age 16) having a full-time job and learning some things about life and work. The little girls are so precious to me that I can't even express myself regarding them. Life would be so empty without these special people. What can I say about Jo Anne? Life would be no good without her. I love her more now than I did 25 years ago."
My last journal entry was recorded July 26, 1989, just five days before the fateful trip to Laguna Beach. "Jo Anne and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last week. We went to the Los Angeles Temple to do a session. As we walked into the hallway that leads to the ordinance rooms, one of the workers asked Jo Anne and me if we would be the witness couple. It made this session so special for us... to be the witness couple on our anniversary. Anyway, it was just very special to be in the Temple with Jo Anne and to contemplate the things that have happened in 25 years of marriage. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't want to change a thing."
And then suddenly, we began a new season of our lives. Truthfully, there was a long period of adjustment, but with the Lord's help the adjustment was made, and this new season of our lives has been remarkably wonderful and fulfilling. I believe I have learned a great lesson and I try hard to no longer live so much in the past or in the future, but strive to enjoy the "precious present." Each day is a gift to be valued. I am afraid that one of the most frequently committed sins -- at least in my life -- has been the sin of ingratitude. We just take so much for granted so much of the time. I think we must be very careful to always express our appreciation to a loving and kind Heavenly Father through our prayers and our actions. He is the source -- the fount -- of all of our blessings, both spiritual and material. To recognize this fact daily is perhaps the wisest and most important thing we can do to keep life in proper perspective.
"And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments." [D&C 59:18]