Sunday, June 28, 2015


I have never enjoyed movies where things jump out at you and make your heart skip a beat. Therefore, it was unusual for me to be sitting in a theater with my oldest son Cevin in 1975 when the movie Jaws came to Reno, Nevada. While we were watching the movie, I am sure I set a personal best for the number of heart beats skipped during a movie and I am pretty sure I may have set an all-time everywhere best for distance popcorn could be tossed in a theater, when that mechanical monster first popped out of the water.

The Webster on my shelf defines surprise as ‘that which comes upon us with suddenness or unexpectedly.’

I think being T boned while going through an intersection with a green light, the moon going out of its orbit and for some of us things jumping suddenly upon the silver screen would qualify as surprises.

However, some of the things which we allow to come upon us suddenly as if they were unexpected shouldn't really be on our lists of surprises. Such as Christmas morning being on the 25th of December or the calendar indicating that the date of the anniversary of our birth had come again or that April 16th means that I am late mailing my tax return.

Yet many of us stand with our mouth agape on these and similar dates uttering silly sounds which may be interpreted as ‘ is it that time of year again?’ or ‘how could it be here already?’ or simply ‘no way!’

Almost since the legalization of a federal income tax, each year we have had to file our tax return prior to midnight of the 15th of April; yet annually, as if it were unexpected, there are cars surrounding the block where the local post office is found, waiting their turn to have the envelope which contains their tax return postmarked prior to the date of doom.

Since the day when Gregory the Thirteenth’s calendar was adopted, the celebration of the birth of the Babe who was born in a manger in Bethlehem of Judea has fallen on the 25th of December, yet yearly we witness the end of wrapping barely preceding the beginning of the ripping of brightly colored paper surrounding gifts. Because Christmas always comes as a surprise to some, lately, we have witnessed the emergence of a cult whose adherents claim they always wait until Christmas eve to do their shopping, because of low prices or because the stores are less frenetic and more peaceful after midnight of the 24th. (I was wondering, if it is more correct to say, the midnight which starts the beginning of the 25th.)

A full 365 days pass each year between the time we blow out the candles on last year’s birthday cake and the frosting is being smoothed on this year’s. Yet as the years accumulate we seem to find it more and more surprising that another year has passed and we are about to start the count down to the day when another candle will be added to magnify the blaze on another cake.

We also observe reactions in mock surprise to events which in no way qualify under the definition of surprise.

Such as, a young girl shockingly gasping with her hand over her mouth when her boyfriend gets down on one knee and asks for her hand in marriage. (After they have gone shopping for the ring together and her father has had ‘that talk’ with her about whether she really wants to marry this clod.)

The sinking of the hearts of the locals when Chicago Cubs fail to win a World Series. (My apologies to the non-baseball fans who might be reading this Thought.)

The shocked expression on parents’ faces when as adults, children reveal to their mothers and fathers acts hidden during their teenage years. (The thing that makes this action so unusual is that each generation has gone through this same ritual with their parents.)

But far and away the most surprising reaction we have to what is an absolute, is the way most of us respond to the passage we all must take to leave mortality. (For those who would rather not have this passage referred to as ‘death,’ I have used a kinder gentler word. Whoops, I think I just used the D word.)

It seems to me that long ago when our first parents asked that lying serpent in the garden, ‘Will we surely die?’ and he responded, ‘You will not surely die.’ that most of us go through life as if we believe that lie. We go through mortality responding to every death as if we expected it never was going to happen. We tear our raiment and darken our faces, sometimes beyond the reaction this passage from mortality and our personal loneliness or loss of a loved one would dictate; as if we had just been surprised by the most unexpected thing we ever thought would happen.

Just like so many absolutes in life, every child born into mortality will one day leave mortality through that gateway called death. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Medical science and blessings may delay it, but it will never be deterred.

Maybe like taxes, Christmases and birthdays, which seem to be brighter and more joyful and easier when we do some anticipatory planning, death might likewise be a more acceptable and pleasanter event if we did some preparation, so that we are not caught by surprise by this absolute eventuality which will befall us all.

When I was much younger I had the thought that the Egyptian Pharaohs were drastically misguided when they spent a major part of their life’s energies in constructing gigantic pyramidal instruments to facilitate the passing from mortality to immortality. As the years have passed I have come to believe they may have been misguided in their instrumentation, but I suspect that their philosophical base may have been right on track.

Alma, an ancient prophet of the Americas, wisely taught that the whole of life should be spent in preparing to meet God and that we should often look forward to the day when we will once again stand in His presence. It is entirely possible that by following Alma’s counsel, by preparing for rather than ignoring this inevitable event, we will be able to react more positively and with less surprise as we all take this necessary step on our eternal path.

Just as it is a wise thing to prepare for tax time by paying a portion of our taxes each time we have income; just as it is a good thing to buy next year’s Christmas wrapping the day after Christmas; just as it is a good thing to begin living in the next year of your life while this year’s candles are still being licked; likewise it is wise, good and correct to spend our whole lives in preparing for the coming day of our progressive passage.

There are some events in life which should never catch us by surprise.

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