Sunday, July 25, 2010


Sitting upon father’s knee, feeling the warmth, recognizing the familiar scents, even the bristle on his face brought comfort as it gently touched my cheek. In a strange, mystical way I was never able to enter into the fullness of his world. It was a world, however, which would come into clearer focus as I aged and the cycle of life brought me into that wondrous laboratory called fatherhood.

Walking behind grandpa down the rows of his weedless garden, I eagerly shelled and ate fresh peas, wondered at the savor of the carrots which vanished while bits of the fertile earth still clung and climbed the cherry trees relishing in the delights of ruby fruit. In a strange, mystical way I was never able to fully enter into the entirety of his world. Now, in the days of my grandfatherhood I sometimes catch dazzling eyes of grandchildren looking at me with puzzled glances.

Mr. Hill stood with a whistle wreathed about his neck. I tried to imitate his talk, placed my hands on the laces of the ball as he had instructed, insisted the barber cut my hair in the same style which crowned his head. But in a strange, mystical way I was never fully able to entirely enter into his world. Little did I realize in those sometimes innocent days that I would one day imitate his daily walk with expectant students surrounding.

Heroes are stars admired from afar. Models are examples of materials skillfully formed.
Harvest is a reward for planting well done.
Life is following where others have led.

Little son of mine, as you sit on my knee are you warmed by my love? What fond memories are filling your head today? Do you desire to know more fully the strange, mystical world which you now view with quizzical eyes? A world which I promise will come into clearer focus as you age and the cycle of life brings you into the wondrous laboratory of fatherhood.

Come to the garden sweet grandchild of mine. Taste of the fruits, dirty your clothes, learn and love the wonders of growth. Life will soon demand that you leave the safe world of wonders and embrace the realities of that strange, mystical world you now view from afar.

Bright and enlightened students who have walked so long with me, how much of what you have heard and seen will help you to understand even a little bit better this strange, mystical world you live in? Do you not see the many that encircle your life who are attempting to traverse the mystical world imitating what they see you do?

Heroes are stars admired from afar.
Models are examples of materials skillfully formed.
Harvest is a reward for planting well done.
Life is following where others have led.

With a child perched on a knee, with a finger grasped in a small hand, with apprentice duplicating skilled strokes we go forth entwining our days of learning about the strange mystical world into the lives of those of the oncoming generation.

Therefore, away from the desk, out to the yard, you’ve observed and studied these long years, ‘tis time to show others the way of this strange, mystical world they now view from afar.

As the stars rotate in the heaven, heroes fall from their stand.
As skilled hands wrinkle, cherished objects rust and lie broken.
As the moon cycles, the stubble is plowed.
As we learn to follow, forever we will lead.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Prince of Egypt – Shepherd in the camp of Jethro – Prophet of Israel. The Torah neatly separates these passages of Moses’ life into three segments of four decades each. Whether his life’s chronology was so cleanly designed or whether literary license was used, we must not be distracted by literary examination from the lessons of his life nor the teachings. We learn that the luxuries and powers which are held by one in mortality are fleeting and can be removed at any moment by seemingly insignificant emotional decisions. We learn that during seemingly insignificant periods of our lives foundations may be being laid which will prepare us for the true purposes of our mortal passages. We learn that once we are enlightened with the real purpose of our existence we become dependent upon forces outside of ourselves to bring fruition to our efforts. We learn that the life of one person can have lasting and significant effect upon the lives of billions.
Most of us will never have the history of our lives chronicled in such a way that most of the world’s inhabitants will be affected in one way or another by its existence. Our trials and adversities may or may not be as traumatic. We may not have 120 years to build a legacy. Historians may not be able to neatly divide our passages into such tightly bound segments. Our names may not be whispered and spoken by countless generations, but we must not underestimate the effect our existence will have on generations yet unborn.
Jimmy Stewart in the movie ‘Its a Wonderful Life' reminds us of the difference each person’s seemingly insignificant existence makes in the world. What he thought was a wasted life in a small town was revealed to be a Moses-like figure for many in that community.
I suspect if each of us had an angel come to us and reveal the continuing results of our mortal sojourn we would all be humbled at the mark we are leaving on humanity.
I only have to look back a couple of generations to be struck with the realization of how different my life would have been if grandparents hadn’t made the decision to leave generations of traditions and teachings and consequently immigrate to the United States in order to enjoy the freedom to worship according to the tenets of their newly acquired faith. What would have been the affect upon my life if my parents had chosen to remain in the religious comforts of Utah and Idaho instead of moving to Southern California? What changes would have been put in place if my mission call as a young man would have taken me to West Virginia instead of Northern Mexico? How different would my life have been if Kathleen had said ‘no’ when I asked her to marry me as we sat in the car in the shadow of the Los Angeles Temple? What would life have been like if I had made a career in the construction business rather than as an employee of our church’s education system?
It takes little imagination for each of us to realize that our lives would be dramatically changed if our ancestors or ourselves had altered our decisions even in small ways during mortality. In the case of my immediate grandparents the lives of 24 children and their posterity have been tremendously changed because of the decisions they made during their lives. If I were to go back one more generation, polygamist marriages multiply the numbers exponentially. It doesn’t take long going back and then connecting the generations coming forward to realize it would be very difficult to throw a handful of rice in the air in any crowd and not hit a cousin of some sort. The surnames of cousins cover the alphabet and would make up a pretty large collection of white pages in a telephone directory. Besides the Rileys and the Laws I am hereditarily connected to Tolmans, Sessions, Briggs, Tolhursts, Tonks, Cushings, Holbrooks and countless others without even looking into the relatives by marriage. I wonder what some Moses in my line back in the year 1650 would think about the impact his decisions had made on the thousands or tens of thousands who have been affected because he decided to take a road to the left rather than the right during his earthly wanderings.
The next time we are about to take lightly a decision we are about to make it might be well to hesitate just a moment and consider the Moses-affect which might result from whether we choose to go to the left, to the right or just continue circling our well-worn path.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Last week I wrote about the propensity I have had to being impressed by varying influences throughout my life. I mentioned the impact President James Hobbs had on me as a mentor during my teen years and how his teachings many times moved into the ‘spiritual guide’ category occupied by those who I have freely chosen to lead and guide my thoughts and actions.

I still remember the time he spoke to the youth group of our Stake in Orange County. I don’t believe he would have titled his talk in the words I have chosen, but in the files of my memory it is always recalled with the attending words of ‘squishy ground.’

There was a particle of land that bordered his father’s property with that of the neighboring farm. Because this part of the farms lay in marshy lowland, the water table was very high. When the rains came during the wet season the turf actually floated on the water rather than resting on the soil.

President Hobbs reported that the discovery of this jiggling phenomenon was accidental and innocent, but all subsequent adventuring was purposeful and deliberate. Even though concerned parents threatened the loss of life and limb for their sons if they continued to explore the marsh during its squishy state, the last drops of rain would have scarcely have found themselves earthward before the boys were once again frolicking on the floating turf. With all good intentions they would vow to one another to keep their play in tow so as not to break through the sod and soil their clothing. Inevitably the excitement of the moment would overcome their good intentions and they would once again have to return to face the wrath of their mothers as they added to the pile of laundry which was already a burdensome, muscle aching duty without being augmented by dripping and muddy clothing which were meant to be worn for several days.

After giving a very animated and humorous accounting of this adventurous story from his youth, President Hobbs then turned very serious as he admonished each of the attentive youth to carefully assess what short and long term circumstances would come as a result of their decisions. He cautioned that we should be leery of activities, even though they might be fun or full of wonder and excitement, which might hold hidden potential harm for ourselves or which might add to the burdens and bring grief to others.

Many times during my life the vision of that marshy lowland meadow, with boys bouncing in the bog and the inevitable unintended results has come vividly to mind. It has been as if I had an internal red flag waving as I was about to venture into an activity where I hadn’t weighed the long term effects of what I was about to do on my own future and possibly on the future of loved ones.

There have been many times when I have stumbled into activities which thrilled the flesh and then acted as a magnet drawing me back to that stimulating activity where I had muddied my clothing. When I have heeded Heaven sent warning signs, looking back I can see where I have been able to avoid some disastrous pitfalls. There have been other times, in spite having a foreknowledge of the danger which awaited a wrongful decision, I have gone ahead and muddied my clothes as I lustfully returned to frolic on the ‘squishy ground.’ Sometimes, even after making a resolute decision to keep my clothing clean, I have fallen victim to a game of dare from those whom I wished to please and then going contrary to my previous resolution I fell victim to the thrill of dancing on the jiggling ground.

Some types of ‘squishy ground’ bring danger to our temporal lives where with some effort repair and cleaning can take place. Other types of ‘squishy ground’ ply upon our spiritual growth and can only be cleaned by changing the type of clothing we wear. I would hope that somehow we would heed the waving flags and blaring horns which scream at us to avoid those types of ‘squishy ground’ where our entering thereon may have eternal consequences and can only be rectified by our robes being cleansed by Heavenly intervention.

It might be well to frequently ask ourselves, “How long can I ignore the admonitions of a loving Heavenly Father and expect to remain unsoiled and keep from bringing deep sorrow to those I love?” It might be well if we were to use a two-pronged standard before we move our thoughts into actions, assessing both the problems we might be about to inflict upon ourselves, and likewise what discomfort and sorrow I might be about to bring into the lives of others.

I am certain if we were to more carefully consider the end results of entering upon ‘squishy ground’ we would live lives freer of regret and remorse and abounding more abundantly with happiness and joy.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


In Tooele, Utah, the coming of the 4th of July was always heralded by the high school marching band practicing on the streets of town early and often during the month of June. We always watched the parade with little surprise at what songs were going to be played as they marched down Main Street with the other entrants trooping along. Even though the parade went the length of town from the starting point at the park and then to the edge of town, in order to make it worthwhile to get out and watch the parade the entire parade would then turn around and make its way back down the street to the park. Since we lived near the edge of town the turnaround at our viewing spot followed quickly on the heels of the first review.
We only lived there a few years, but after the second year I pretty much had the sequence of the parade participants memorized. The police would come down the street first (that is a singular word), followed by the town fire truck (another singular). Next the mayor and his family would come in a classic car with other dignitaries who could fit in the car. Other persons of prominence followed in various makes of convertibles. There would be a few crepe paper decorated hay haulers loaded with the members and staff of whatever sponsor had paid for the colorful paper and the queen and her court. Everyone secretly prayed for a little rain so that they could see the floats drip all over themselves and briefly paint the street. The high school marching band would follow and then after some floats from the local church units the junior high band would come by. My personal favorite part of the parade was the children who dressed in a variety of patriotic costumes with bikes and wagons and each escorting one of their pets. I still maintain I saw a young boy leading a duck and another carrying a gold fish in a small bowl.
After the parade there was a pancake breakfast at the park followed by fun visiting the game booths and participating in the activities which required extra room. At the booths one could break balloons with darts, win a gold fish with a ping pong ball, dunk a prominent citizen in a pool, knock down bottles with a ball, toss a ring over a peg, and take a swing at junker car with a sledge hammer, along with many other intoxicating games, accumulating tickets which could be exchanged for food or prizes. In the field one could participate in such exhilarating events as the three legged race, egg tossing, balloon blowing up and breaking by sitting on them race, changing clothes race, pie eating contest, and every other type of race imaginable. Ribbons were given to those who finished 1st, 2nd, and third, but no tickets for prizes or food.
In the evening everyone gathered at the rodeo grounds to witness the locals break themselves up bull riding, bareback riding, calf roping, barrel racing and wagon racing followed by a spectacular fireworks display.
I remember hearing and expressing that the activities of the day had left us all ‘bone weary’ and looking forward to settling into bed with a heart filled with gratefulness for all I had and did enjoy.
As I look back on the 4th of July celebrations we enjoyed in Tooele, Utah, from a perspective of an additional 40 years of trying to pay tribute to those who paid varying prices to bring about the freedom and privileges we continue to enjoy, I can easily say that there have been few celebrations which stirred the emotions of patriotism in my bosom like those days of simple and humble celebration with friends and neighbors in that small community just south of the Great Salt Lake.
It would be an easy transition to blame the big city clamor in which I found myself encapsulated during those subsequent 40 years for the loss of stimulation in my heart on this day we celebrate the founding of our nation, but the reality is that I fear I have allowed my heart to be hardened to the point where it is difficult for fireworks and music to palpitate that organ as they once did. I fear that years of partisan political bickering have made the patriotic strains sound out of harmony. I fear that the gulf between our love of freedom and the wanton disregard we display for the rights of others seems to daily expand to where it is becoming impossible to span. I fear that the professed patriotism of the populous is somehow overshadowing and confusing the need to find a means of demonstrating compassion in the universal brotherhood of mankind. Lest I allow melancholy to overcome me and I sink deeper into becoming a cantankerous old salt, I want to exclaim my resolve for this year’s 4th of July.
This year:
I am going to do all I can to return to the feelings of those celebratory days in Tooele, Utah.
I am going to listen to the music with the same sensitivity which once caused my eyes to pool as I stood at attention outside of a barrack at Fort Ord, California.
With every bursting blaze in the evening sky I am going to remember all who have given so much that I might enjoy the wonderful and spoiled life I have.
I am going to remember that I have never gone to bed hungry nor slept cold and that all my needs have been satisfied.
I have a suspicion that if I put away the thoughts which have caused my celebrations to become caustic and fill my mind with all the fruits of freedom which have flowered my paths, I will again be able to end the 4th of July ‘bone weary’ and settle into my bed with a heart filled with gratefulness for all that I have and do enjoy because I live in a land where we continue to struggle to remain free.