Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Well, I hate to admit it, but I am not nearly as wise today as I was a couple of days ago. I had to go to an oral surgeon to have a bottom wisdom tooth and the one next to it extracted.
When I was a young married man I let a dentist in Ogden, Utah talk me into pulling all my wisdom teeth. As it turned out it was not a very wise decision on my part. He started in the afternoon and by 8 p.m. I was still in the chair with only the two wisdom teeth on the right side of my mouth having been pulled. As he was working on me he would say things like, "Oops, I think maybe I shouldn't have done it that way," and etc. He wanted to make an appointment to pull out the wisdom teeth on the left side but for some reason I did not feel inclined to take him up on his offer. He said that at some point in time those remaining wisdom teeth would be a problem to me. I never wanted to see the fulfillment of his prophecy and ever since that time one of my life's goals was to die before the wisdom teeth went bad on me. No such luck!
In all honesty it was a brutal experience. Several times during the procedure I wanted to cry, but old men are supposed to be tough and so I stifled the desire to scream, moan and groan, and just suffered in silence.
The longer the tooth extraction took, the oral surgeon began to look, in my mind's eye anyway, like a hairy, muscle bound, 800 pound gorilla, who was trying to pull my head off.
I must admit that as the procedure continued on and seemed that it would never end I was only thinking of one thing and that was me -- Jack Rushton and the pain and misery I was experiencing at that moment. With the oral surgeon's hands in my mouth, along with his various instruments of torture, I was not very concerned about those troops who had been recently killed at Fort Hood, Texas, and their surviving families and loved ones, or the thousands that have been killed in recent earthquakes and tsunamis, or the poor starving children in Africa, or even some dear friends that are suffering from severe health problems much worse than mine -- I was only thinking about one thing -- me!
I had the same feeling when I suffered my injury many years ago. I was consumed with "me." I was totally self-absorbed in my pain and in that condition could not reach out to help others or to even be concerned with their unique and individual challenges.
I take comfort in the fact that I think all of us, because of our humanness, are much the same way. Victor Frankl, the author of the important book, "Man's Search for Meaning", drew the following analogy regarding the relativity of human suffering: "... a man's suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the "size" of human suffering is absolutely relative." [Man's Search for Meaning, Pages 61-62.]
I believe what he is saying is that if I am having wisdom teeth pulled out in California while people in Fort Hood, Texas are being slaughtered by a maniacal killer, or the good folks in Samoa or Peru are losing their lives because of earthquakes and tsunamis, I am going to be much more concerned with my pain than theirs. I believe like Victor Frankl that each individual's suffering -- regardless of the kind or "size" -- can completely fill his soul and conscious mind leaving little room to be concerned about the miseries of others. Because of this I also believe one of the challenges we all face is to rise above our own self-absorbing pain and misery and be able to reach out emotionally and spiritually to help others in need.
I took a life altering course at BYU as a junior. It was called "Major British Authors." My teacher, absolutely the best one I ever had from kindergarten through graduate school, Nan Grass, had written her doctoral dissertation on the great English writer, John Donne (1573-1631).
Because of her love for the writings of John Donne, we as her students began to love them as well. She felt his prose was the most sublime ever written in the English language. I do not doubt that statement was just hyperbole on her part.
One of her favorite passages from his writings, and one of my favorites as well, comes from his "Meditation 17, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions." (1624) "...No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee..."
I have pondered for years about what John Donne wrote so long ago, and believe he described beautifully an eternal principle. Truly, "No man is an island" and any man's death (or suffering) diminishes us because, hopefully as he stated "... [we are] involved in mankind...."
As I think about Donne's words I cannot help but think of the suffering experienced by all of God's children during their Telestial tour of duty upon this earth. As we struggle with our own pain and observe the pain and suffering of others we have several options available to us. We can, for example, ignore and pretend we don't see the suffering of others. At our worst we could take advantage of the sick and weak and take from them what little resources they may have, or on the other hand, be willing to give of our means and time to bless the unfortunate about us.
One thing I know for sure, based on my own personal experience, none of us will ever successfully traverse this Telestial terrain alone without the love and support of others.
We need one another! That is the genius of the organization of the Church. We simply cannot go it alone. Eugene England, many years ago, wrote a profound essay entitled "The Church Is As True As the Gospel!" This was no clever play on words but a profound statement regarding how a divinely inspired Church organization would bless us with the love, support, and strength of others to carry us through, because truly, "No man is an island." Without my family, friends, and the love and support that has been constant from members of the Church since the day of my injury I would certainly have perished long ago.
When the hairy, 800 pound gorilla comes into our lives and is trying to pull our heads off hopefully we will be able to see beyond our own pain and misery and reach out to bless others, and in so doing bless ourselves as well.
"It's Good to Be Alive!"