Jun 08 2015

Unsleep Thoughts

Published by under General

At my advanced age, there’s nothing I like better than a good night’s sleep. Nothing makes me feel better than a solid eight to nine hours of uninterrupted slumber.

But most nights, one of my pesky organs (usually my bladder) will wake me from my sweet, sweet dreams, for another task that it considers being more urgent — as if there were anything more urgent than my coveted beauty sleep.

When that happens, I try to perform the request task with much speed, scrambling back into bed and back to dreamland as soon as possible. For I have found that the longer I am awake, the more likely it is that my mind will be invaded by those dreaded unsleep thoughts.

It will start with one innocent notion, such as, “You need to remember to pay that bill tomorrow.” If I allow my mind to drift into the unsleep world, this thought will be followed by a second unwanted idea, something like, “It might be a good idea to call Kim tomorrow and see if her sick cat is any better.” Then, perhaps I’ll hear, “You need to send out the invitation for our next Family Home Evening group meeting.”

Hopefully by this time, I am safely under the covers and trying to return to my blessed slumber. If I have not partaken of the cursed unsleep fruit, I can usually do so. But more often than not, an entire avalanche of unsleep ideas is now cascading over my helpless mind.

I often wonder, “Is my brain is getting better, or if am I starting to slide into dementia? Back when ‘Pam’ did her magnets on me she said she cured me of the Alzheimer’s I don’t have yet but was going to get one of these days. What if she didn’t?”

“I need to look at my calendar and see if any birthdays are coming up this week. What in the world can I get Dick? Dick has everything in the world. Maybe I can make him something. What could I make him that any human being would want?”

“It would be fun to have half of a nice fat yam for dinner tomorrow. Do we have any?  If we don’t have yams, maybe Fluffy can run to the store tomorrow.  While he’s at the store, he can get us some artichokes because they are coming into season.  He can get some of that new flavor of ice cream too.  I hope that is a permanent flavor, and not just one that will be around for the summer.”

“I can’t believe that it’s summer already. This year is certainly flying by.  Summer means the usual parade of graduation parties and weddings. I think Kev is getting married this month. I know he asked for my address, but I haven’t seen the invitation yet. I hope it didn’t get lost in the mail. I wonder what we can get him for a present. He’s an artist so I have to be careful that it’s tasteful enough.”

“I can’t believe how weird that doctor was last week. All he had to do was give me a handout about acid reflux or tell me to research it on the internet. He never even said the words. I had to hear them at the temple. I can’t believe he didn’t read the one-page handout about my medical history before he walked into the room. Things like that upset me so much. Why do I go to doctors, anyway?”

You get the idea. It’s like those old cartoons where you see the snowball rolling down the hill, getting bigger and bigger each second. As items get into the path of the unrelenting snowball, you soon see not only snow, but an assortment of hats, skis, gloves, Saint Bernards, arms, legs, and trees. Sleep has fled. I am firmly in the land of unsleep.

At this point the pre-coma Kathy would have quietly sneaked out of bed, turned on the computer, and gotten to work checking off all of those tasks. She might have been distracted by a computer game or two, too. Computer games are always fun, and during the day I don’t have time to play them.

But the new Kathy has no such freedom. Before I get out of bed, eyedrops need to be put in. Arms and legs need to be powdered. Knee-high stockings need to be put on or my legs will be swollen all day. I can’t sit willy-nilly at the computer without those stockings on!

And the shoes have to go on too. Now that I’m paralyzed, those feet have to be shod because I need the traction. If I try to stand up without the shoes, the feet will slide like I’m on ice — even if I’m on carpet. No, I have to get the shoes on as well as the socks. Little Miss Kathy does not go barefoot anymore.

Maybe I could postpone the eye drops and the powder, but the socks and the shoes would have to be put on before I could even get out of bed. And I cannot put those things on by myself.

No, even a four-year-old can put on her own shoes and socks, but Kathy, Queen of the Universe, cannot get out of bed without having her shoes and her socks put on by her husband and full-time Perpetual Employee of the Month, Fluffy. I am as helpless as a two-year-old — except, of course, that when I was a two-year-old I was unlocking the door to our house and going next door and eating breakfast with the neighbors.

Having uncooperative feet is the sort of thing that makes sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night just a little bit iffy. No, it makes any sneaking whatsoever downright impossible. So I am trapped like a rat in the land of unsleep.

I can almost hear the thousands of tiny night spiders spinning their cobwebs, ready for us to admire them in the morning. Those tiny night spiders do not take me unaware, because I am in the land of unsleep.

I cannot grab my Kindle. It is only twenty inches away, and it is taunting me. But Fluffy has his arm firmly around me, and if I reached out to grab my Kindle, I would awaken him. I do not want to do that. My unsleep status is not his fault.

“Should we give Ben and Katt a wedding shower? Would Ben and Katt want a wedding shower? Last time we gave a wedding shower for a couple it was so successful that a stake presidency counselor and a high councilman almost got into fistcuffs during the white elephant exchange over a book about the history of the fart. The only way I talked them down was to buy an extra copy of the book for the high councilman.”

That is how successful our couple’s wedding showers are!”

“Maybe we should do it again.”

“I wonder if Amazon has any more of those books about the history of the fart. What was it called? Blame it on the Dog? That’s it! I’ll order one in the morning. Even if Ben and Katt don’t want a wedding shower, we should always have one on hand, just in case there is a surprise white elephant exchange.”

“I wonder what we’re having for lunch tomorrow. I really do like those yams. I wonder if we have any yams.”

And around and around it goes.

And then, amidst thoughts of yams and night spiders, I remember that God is also here, and I stop to think about what is really important.

Our days are a mishmash of activities and thoughts as we go from one place to another. At night we cease those activities. We still our thoughts. We are left alone.

Sometimes when we awaken in the dead of night, our minds focus back on the mundane. We think of silly things. But if we push away these distractions like cobwebs, we can be left alone with sacred things. We can have precious moments of communion with God, who is the Author of these nighttime moments.

Perhaps it was He, and not my bladder or a cramped muscle, Who awoke me in the first place. Perhaps He wanted to say hello, and this was the only time I could hear Him. It’s sad, isn’t it, that the world He made for us is so noisy that the only time it is quiet enough for Him and me to have a conversation is when everyone else in the world is quietly, soundly asleep.

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Jun 01 2015

Just Like the GPS

Published by under General

When we were between church meetings on Sunday, Fluffy realized that he hadn’t seen one of the ladies in our congregation for a week or two. She is conspicuous because she parks in the handicapped spot next to us, and she hadn’t been there for quite some time. He wondered where she was.

In the process of wondering about her, he looked up the lady’s address and saw that she lived in a townhouse complex only a few blocks away from the church. Then his meeting started, so he put his tablet on his knee and looked up to watch what was happening.

Suddenly a disembodied computerized voice said, “Proceed 400 feet straight ahead. Then turn right.” The noise boomed out in the quiet chapel. Fluffy slammed the tablet shut and put it in his suit coat pocket, no doubt hoping that the men in his high priests group did not know that his tablet was the source of the sound. Doubtless his innocent look fooled no one.

The tablet was quiet and well-behaved for the rest of the lesson.  It was only after Fluffy got me securely tucked into the car after church and we were beginning to drive away that the tablet helpfully chirped, “Proceed 300 feet straight ahead.  Then turn right on state road 1401.”

I almost jumped through the roof.  I had not realized there was anyone besides Fluffy and me in the car.  It was a real shocker to learn otherwise.  Usually when the cover is closed on the tablet, it behaves itself.  But this woman would not be denied.

As coincidence would have it, the voice instructed us to head in the direction we were going anyway.  So we did as the voice instructed and proceeded 300 feet straight ahead.  Then we turned right.  Once we left the parking lot, the voice continued to instruct us.  “Continue for a quarter of a mile.  Then turn right.”

Once again, the voice’s instructions dovetailed our own route.  We reached the street where the townhouse complex was located where the lady in our ward lived.  Then we turned right.

Our helpful voice then had new instructions for us.  They were instructions that would have taken us to the doorstep of the woman in our ward, but they would not have taken us to our house.  “Turn left at the next intersection,” the voice said.

We reached the next stop sign, and then continued to go straight.  We did not turn left.  We did not pass GO and collect $200.

But our failure to follow the lady’s instructions did not upset the GPS unit in the slightest.  The disembodied voice said, “Go 600 feet straight, and then turn left.”

Actually, we had been planning to do that anyway, so that is what we did.  As soon as we turned left, the disembodied voice said, “Proceed to the next stop sign and then turn left.”  We proceeded to the next stop sign and immediately turned right.

The disembodied voice did not get angry.  She (for she definitely was a “she”) did not exhibit any signs of stress in her voice whatsoever.  It did not scold us.  It did not say “No, you IDIOT, I said LEFT not RIGHT!”  There was no impatience.  She was not rolling her eyes, if she had eyes to roll.  She simply said, “Turn left at the next intersection.”

This was a good thing.  Turning left at the next intersection was exactly what we were planning to do.

If the disembodied voice showed any excitement that we obeyed her this time, she did not betray that excitement.  She simply said, “Proceed straight for 100 feet, and then turn left.”  We did obey the first half of the instructions, but that was where we parted ways.  We turned right, and off we went toward home.

No matter how much farther we got from the home of the woman in our ward, the GPS unit was never deterred.  “Turn left at the next intersection,” were always the instructions that were given.  There was always the same degree of patience.  There was never annoyance.  There was never any sense of judgment.

If we had decided to drive to San Francisco, the GPS system would have continued trying to get us back to that townhouse without ever losing her patience even once.

“Of course,” I hear you saying.  “It’s a stupid GPS system! What do you think it is — your mother-in-law?”

Nevertheless, no matter how far afield we went, the GPS just quietly recalculated what it would take for us to get back “home.”  That was all the GPS cared about — getting us back home.

Finally Fluffy said, “Isn’t this a little bit the way God works?  Although we must regularly disappoint Him, He rarely makes His displeasure known.  He doesn’t sit up there rolling His eyes and getting annoyed.  Whenever we make stupid mistakes and go astray, He just figures out what it will take to get us back onto the right path back to Him.  He’ll put things in our way — lifesavers, so to speak, that we can grab onto, if we want to.

“If we don’t grab onto those lifesavers — if we go in another direction — he recalculates our course and puts other people there who can help us if we choose to take the help.  And if we don’t take that help, he’ll recalculate and start all over.  There’s never judgment.  There’s never a rolled eye.  He just loves us with infinite patience and wants us to get back to Him.”

That made sense to me.  Our God may not always be a God of infinite patience (the people in Noah’s time discovered that first-hand), but He certainly has most of us on a long leash.  He certainly has put up with a lot from me in my sixty-five years.  I have been a royal pain in the neck!

Next time your GPS comes on, telling you to turn right when you want to turn left, think of that other non-judgmental Voice, telling you to come home.  Sometimes it may be more fun to go astray, but the way home will always be more fulfilling in the end.

 

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May 25 2015

The Quality of Quirkiness

Published by under General

I’m writing this column from Williamsburg, Virginia, where we have been spending a relaxing and enjoyable week. We started coming down to Williamsburg shortly after we moved to Virginia, way back in 1987. We usually visit at least once a year and more often if we can.

We no longer visit the amusement parks, historical sites and putt-putt golf courses. Those things are fun, and we have done most of them, but now we come down here to just relax.

For one thing, it is more of a challenge for me to pursue putt-putt golf from a wheelchair than I am ready to undertake — at least, not on vacation. I am too lazy for that. Ever since I have been wheelchair-bound, Fluffy always wins at miniature golf! I do not understand this. I always used to win at least half the time.

We do try to get out of the room at least once a day for shopping or to eat, but often we like to just stay in the room and catch up on reading, movies, email, and sometimes even napping. I am unable to nap when we are home because the bed is upstairs and I am downstairs. Napping is a rare luxury for me, so I nap whenever I can. I have already napped twice this week.

When we first starting coming here, we discovered an interesting store that soon became a “must visit” destination when in Williamsburg. For the sake of this column, we will call this store the Ceramic Company, because they specialized in ceramics and pottery items.

But perhaps before we were born, they branched out to sell as many products as consumers would buy. If there was a bizarre item to be had, the Ceramic Company had it. Usually it came in an assortment of colors.

Not only did the Ceramic Company have a wide variety of unusual items, but the prices were amazingly cheap. In the days before Walmart became a household word, the Ceramic Company was the equivalent of finding a Walmart in a tiny town in southern Virginia. The only difference was that it was bigger. Much bigger. Building after building sprawled out over acre after acre.

By the time we discovered the Ceramic Company, the buildings were half a century old. It did not matter. The parking lot was so full that it was not uncommon to drive around for twenty minutes, looking for a parking space. Then you walked around for another ten or fifteen minutes, looking for a ramshackle shopping cart. When you finally scored one of those, you were ready to rock.

There were whole buildings dedicated to different passions. Some of them included:

  • Pottery — any kind of pottery you could imagine. It was made on site, and it was dirt cheap.
  • International foods — a whole building dedicated to boxes and cans of foods from all over the world. This was long before international food markets, and it was more fun because the international food markets I’ve seen today cater to Oriental and Hispanic tastes. This food was just as likely to come from Denmark, New Zealand, or Nepal.

I can only imagine how well a store like this would do in Salt Lake City today, where returned missionaries are homesick from the foods of their missions. The food shop at the Ceramic Company even had cheeses and other perishables that were designed to tempt the palates of people who were far from home.

  • A kitchen shop where shoppers could buy every kitchen gadget imaginable. This was a huge store — not Walmart-sized, but close to it. There were big things, such as bowls and dishes and glassware, although they were a lot cheaper than the ones at regular stores.

But the things that were real attention-grabbers were the tiny gadgets that Grandma used in her kitchen and that were no longer available anywhere anymore. If you couldn’t find it at the Ceramics Company, you were out of luck.

  • A garden shop that had everything you can think of that was garden-related. Not only did it have fountains that would make your jaw drop, but it also had plastic lawn flamingos that Fluffy and I bought in bulk to use — well, let’s just say we found multiple uses for plastic lawn flamingos.
  • A greenhouse where people could buy gorgeous plants of all varieties for pennies on the dollar.
  • A whole building just for candles.
  • A whole building just for Christmas ornaments.  When you have a whole building just for Christmas ornaments, you can imagine that they run the gamut from gorgeous to gloriously tacky.
  • A whole building just for art prints and framing.
  • A whole building just for artificial flowers and greenery. There were also people on hand to arrange your silk flowers into arrangements for you. You could get arrangements made to your exact specifications, for very little money. Tour buses were full of people carrying elaborate flower arrangements on their laps back to their home states.
  • Other factory outlet buildings for companies such as Black and Decker, Pfaltzgraff, and other things. They were too far away for me to have enough interest to walk to, but I saw them off in the distance so unless they were prop store fronts I know they were there.

We always visited the print shop area of the store, where you could have items custom-framed. There was a great variety of frames and mats, and professionals would help you measure your items and choose the correct materials for a custom framing job.

We used to save up our prints all year, and would then get them framed during our week in Williamsburg. They did a great job, and the prices were at least 50% lower than what we would pay at home. We would always come home from Williamsburg with several newly framed pictures in the trunk.

And if you’re wondering, the answer is yes. We do have more pictures than wall in our home. It has been a long-time problem. We have artwork we haven’t seen in years.

The Ceramic Company was uber-popular with tourists, and there were always tour buses there when we visited, especially on Saturdays. In fact, we would try to avoid weekend visits to miss the crowds. But weekdays were bad enough. There was never a good day to go to the Ceramic Company, if you were trying to avoid herds of people.  They came from the entire Eastern Seaboard.  I firmly believe, although I do not have the actual facts to support this, that the Ceramic Company may have been the inspiration behind today’s factory outlet malls.

In addition to the great prices and the variety of unusual items, we really enjoyed visiting the store because it was so unique. In fact, calling it a store would be misleading, because it was more of a compound. As the store grew over the years, it had expanded to fill probably a dozen buildings over several acres. Fluffy and I never even visited all of the buildings.

Despite its size, the store was still run like a Mom-and-Pop general store. Purchased items were wrapped in old newspapers and clear plastic bags. Their shopping carts were old carts that had been purchased from grocery stores, so they were mismatched, rusty, and had wobbly wheels.

Most of the signs in the store were written by hand and held in place with duct tape. It was a quirky place, but that was part of the charm.

Over the years, more and more discount outlets moved into Williamsburg. These malls were never very exciting because they contained the same stores we could find in the factory outlet malls at home. But the tourists seemed to love them, and the buses that used to go to the Ceramic Company started going to the shiny new outlet malls instead.

We would still make our annual visits to get prints framed, but it started getting easier to find a parking place at the Ceramic Company. At first we were happy about it. Then we started to get worried as we realized that as the size of the crowds diminished, the quality and quantity of the merchandise in the rest of the compound seemed to diminish each year.

About five years ago we read with excitement that the Ceramic Company was planning a major remodeling. They were building four new buildings just across the railroad track from their current compound. Along one side of the buildings they would create 15-25 store fronts, so that it would look like an entire mall of little specialty shops instead of a compound of large buildings.

We were excited to go to the new store, but that soon turned to disappointment. We noticed it as soon as we pulled into the parking lot and saw that it was so empty we were just about the only car there. This was not a good sign. We thought the place might not be open, but when Fluffy pulled on the door, it opened right up. Bummer.

The new store didn’t seem to have the same type of merchandise, and the prices were much higher. The mismatched shopping carts, handwritten signs and duct tape were all gone, replaced with a nice pretty store than was sterile and boring.

We did have some prints framed, but the prices were higher and the options were fewer. The cranky old professionals who had done such a great job for us in the past had been replaced by Millennials who just wanted to get rid of us so they could get back to looking pretty. (On a subsequent trip, at least the Millennials had been replaced by older people who knew their job.)

As we walked around the new store, we saw few customers. We heard some of them complaining that they were also disappointed with the new design and that some of their favorite items to buy were no longer available or were too expensive. People had driven long distances — often from several states away — just to visit this store. Now there was no reason to come back, and strangers stopped to tell us so.

How often has a stranger stopped to converse with you in a store?  It doesn’t happen often.  Every time we have gone to the new Ceramic Company building, we have been pulled aside by strangers from distant states have told us what a miserable place the new store is, compared to the old and ugly store it replaced.

The new store was attractive on the outside, but there was no longer anything on the inside to distinguish it from the other malls that dot Williamsburg. It had lost everything that made it what it was.

This was sad. That the owners of the business had spent a lot of time and money to develop something that they thought would be wonderful. But in doing so, they lost the vision of what made the original store so unique and fun. There is now a beautiful facility that has no soul, and almost no customers.

Every time we return to Williamsburg, we check to see if the Ceramic Company has closed its doors. It is only a matter of time.

One miracle of life is that we are each born with a unique personality and set of talents. This variety seems to be celebrated in early childhood. But as children get older, there seems to be more pressure to conform so that we all fit into the same mold.

In some cases this is good, because everyone should be encouraged to follow certain norms of society (such as being polite and obeying the law). But in other cases, this pressure to conform sometimes extinguishes those quirky little sparks that make us who we are.

We had a Mormon bishop once who gave us some interesting advice. He told us to look for unconventional friends.

He said that when he was in school, everyone tried to be the same. They all tried to dress alike, to look alike, and even to think alike. As he got older, he discovered that all of these homogenized friends were boring, because they were cookie-cutter people.

At that point he determined that he should acquire quirky friends, because they made life much more interesting. He even used the word “weird.”  We thought that was good advice, and we have tried to follow it.

So if you are one of our eccentric friends, thank you. We have sought you out. You make the world much more interesting for all of us. You are diamonds in rare and exotic colors.  Do not ever forget your worth.

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May 19 2015

Condiment City

Published by under General

My parents were not untalented people. My mother was a mathematical genius, for one thing, and I do not use the word lightly. I once saw her glance at a chalkboard that had been filled with numbers and announce the sum of those numbers — a split second before the mathematical genius on television gave the same answer. I never forgot that.

But despite her ability with numbers, neither she nor my father ever learned how to balance a checkbook — or if they knew how to do it, they chose not to. They entered the checks in the check register, but they never subtracted them. And if you don’t subtract the check amounts, the check register is pretty much useless.

Because of this, my childhood was financially unstable. The electricity in our house might be turned on, or it might not. The same was true for the telephone, and that was back in the dark ages when everyone’s phone was attached to the wall of the house and nobody had a backup cell phone.

I remember a particularly bleak Thanksgiving when we planned to go to my Aunt Vee’s for dinner, but she canceled because her family was sick. It was just as well because I had double pneumonia at the time, and as luck would have it, our power had been turned off.

Mother was able to cook dinner because we had a gas range and oven, but we did not have a way to heat the house and it was a rare freezing day in Louisiana. I remember lying on the sofa in front of the fireplace while the rest of the family went to some friends’ house to get out of the cold.

I awoke to a fire that had died out in a frigid and dark house. Happy Thanksgiving, Kathy! Unable to get up and stagger to the nearest telephone to summon help, I lay there for what seemed like generations until the rest of the family finally returned home and rescued me from freezing to death.

But it wasn’t enough that my parents were fiscally inept. When she was two, my younger sister Sandee got polio, and that took a whole lot of surgery. In addition to the surgery, she was constantly being fitted with braces and orthopedic shoes and other devices of torture, all of which cost a whole boatload of money, and all of which she grew out of almost as soon as she was fitted for them.

Probably because of Sandee’s medical bills, Mother was a working mother in the 1960s — during a time when nobody’s mother worked. Daddy was a salesman — sometimes a traveling salesman. I suspect he didn’t make a whole lot of money. I also suspect my parents didn’t subtract their checkbook because they knew that no matter how hard they worked, there was not going to be any money in the checkbook.

Why balance a checkbook that they knew full well was only going to be overdrawn?

With this background, you can see that sending me to Brigham Young University was a financial catastrophe for my family. No, it was a whole lot worse than that. My parents had already built their dream home and lost it after only a couple of years. To say my parents had no money to send three daughters to college was a gross understatement.

So when it came time for me to go to college, this could not have been a happy time for my parents, especially considering that my mother secretly had leukemia and had no idea how long her health was going to hold out. (She died when Sandee and I were in college, and Susie was still in high school. None of us, including my father, had even known she was sick.)

So my parents did the best they could. They paid for my tuition and for the roof over my head. After that, they gave me five dollars per week to pay for absolutely everything else — food, clothing, medical, transportation, you name it. Pantyhose alone could cost that much, leaving me no money left over for food. A run in my pantyhose was a major disaster in my college years.

A five-dollar budget meant that I had to make my food allotment stretch until it screamed. I got creative at making cheap soups (chicken necks, garlic, and celery) that would last through the week. Chicken necks were five cents per pound, but the garlic that gave it any flavor did not exactly make me a boy magnet on the BYU campus.

Despite my best efforts, I would always be broke before the end of the week. That was when the Wilkinson Center cafeteria became a Godsend. They had a condiment station with stacks of tiny paper cups and push dispensers for ketchup, blue cheese dressing, and other goodies.

Some hot water and a few squirts of ketchup made an acceptable (but somewhat thin) tomato soup. I did not discover this on my own, mind you. I was told this by strangers. There were so many people in my situation that we recognized one another. We passed information along to one another the way that hoboes in the Depression used to mark houses with a secret code where handouts were to be had.

I tried the fake tomato soup once or twice, but I never got a taste for it. For one thing, in order to be enjoyed it had to be eaten with crackers. Even though crackers were also free, I never got to the point that I was able to take crackers with a clear conscience if I had not bought something else.

Crackers, you see, are food. I know there’s a fine line between ketchup and crackers, but I couldn’t eat the soup without crackers, and taking crackers would have been stealing.

It doesn’t make sense, but who says Planet Kathy is a rational place?

But my favorite treat was the blue cheese dressing. I would sit down and eat it with one finger, savoring each lick and making one little cup last for thirty minutes.

Even today I can take a chocolate candy and make it last for an hour. I eat just a nibble at a time and savor each atom of goodness. Unfortunately, I usually don’t have that luxury, because Fluffy devours his candy in 15 seconds and then eyes mine longingly. But this is a trick I learned in those blue cheese dressing days.

I never ate at Condiment City alone. I always had friends who were paying customers. They would eat their hamburgers or other meals as I ate my blue cheese dressing. On extremely rare occasions, one of them would buy something for me, but this almost never happened. I didn’t expect it, and they didn’t offer. I ate my blue cheese dressing, and they ate what they ate. That’s the way things were.

Back in Old Testament times, poor people like Ruth were allowed to glean from the fields. But the Wilkinson Center Cafeteria (known now as the Cougareat) was not a charitable institution, and gleaners were frowned upon even when they were in the company of paying customers.

Apparently other poor students had discovered the free blue cheese dressing, and that was not something the bean counters at the cafeteria could overlook. One day a sign appeared — “Blue Cheese Dressing: 5 ¢.”

You may think that charging a nickel for a tiny carton of blue cheese dressing is chickenfeed. Back in those days, it was highway robbery. Let me give you a little comparison of what a person could get for those prices, thanks to a handy website, 1970’s Food and Grocery Prices:

  • A four-pack of toilet paper, 13 ¢
  • A pound of bananas, 12 ¢
  • A can of Campbell’s tomato soup, 10 ¢
  • A whole jar of grape jelly, 25 ¢
  • A whole bottle of Heinz ketchup, 19 ¢
  • A dozen eggs, 25 ¢
  • A TV dinner (Morton brand, which was top of the line), 33 ¢
  • Sliced bread, 16 ¢ per loaf

Let’s just say that the day they started charging for blue cheese dressing was the day I stopped going to the cafeteria for lunch. It was not a protest or a religious fast, but an act of necessity. I just started going without food.

Eating my daily lunch at Condiment City was not that bad. It made me a better cook, a better financial planner, and more appreciative of the good times when I could buy and eat whatever I wanted.

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May 11 2015

A Study in Paranoia

Published by under General

A most curious thing has happened in church lately, and I — who normally like curious things — do not like this one at all.

The curious thing is that our stake president has been quietly sitting in our congregation next to our bishop lately — not once this year, but perhaps a half dozen times in the 16 Sundays from January through April.

For those of you who are not Mormons, this is somewhat the equivalent of sitting quietly in your Catholic congregation and seeing a bishop or a cardinal saunter in and sit down next to the parish priest. The first time it happens, you don’t think twice. After all, you think to yourself, “He has to go to church somewhere.”

The second time he appears, your eyebrows go up. The third time you start feeling a little nervous. The fourth time, the hairs on your neck start tingling. The fifth time, that saintly, cherubic face starts taking on vulture-like characteristics. Then he shows up yet again.

Why is he here? He has his own congregation, not twenty minutes away.

I have no ill feelings toward him, mind you. He is a kind and gentle man. He greets Fluffy and me by name every time he sees us. He makes a point to find me whenever he sees me in the temple, and I think he would do so even if I didn’t always have candy to pass out to everyone who shook my hand.

But statistically, for him to spend six out of sixteen weeks in our ward when he presides over twelve congregations makes me think he has his eye on us, and when the stake president has his eye on a ward, I cannot think of many happy outcomes of that attention.

Friends from outside the ward who are also friends of our stake president say he likes to visit wards and look out over the congregation when it is time to choose a new bishop. When he sees the person who is supposed to be the new bishop, he knows.

They have told me, helpfully, that he must be having trouble laying his eyes on the right man in our ward.

There is only one problem with this scenario, and that is that we still have a new bishop. Mark has only been serving for eighteen months or so. He’s still wet behind the ears, but he’s doing a good job. Unless he’s moving and I don’t know about it, that can’t be the issue.

Now, the only other reasons are equivalent to major surgery. When a stake president pays this much attention to a ward, he may be thinking of realigning the boundaries or giving our ward to a different stake altogether.

I’m a realist. I know these things must happen. Mormons move into some areas and out of some areas, leaving some congregations weaker than others. When that happens, realignments must occur, and they do occur. I know of some people who have lived in half a dozen different wards without ever moving from the same house.

Occasionally there has to be a shake-up, with strong wards lending members to weak wards or strong stakes lending whole wards to weak ones. Our ward is the strongest of wards. It is past time for our ward to give some of its strength away.

Oh, doesn’t that sound civilized! And maybe it would be if we went to one of those mega-churches where nobody knows anybody else.

But to cut a Mormon ward in half is like attacking the Sunday dinner table with a chainsaw. Imagine saying, “From now on, Grandpa and Mom and Elizabeth can live here at home, but Grandma will be living over here in the next county and Sally will be living in this town and little Charlie in his spiritual high chair will be sent over to that town and Dad will be living over in that direction. Won’t that be fun?”

You can see how church members act as though a ward division is the end of Life as We Know It.

When we have a ward division, or when our ward gets farmed out to another stake, all we can do is stare at each other and blink. Is this the last time we’ll ever see one another again? And all too often, the answer is yes. Because Mormons are a busy people. If we don’t see one another during our regular ward activities, we tend to form ties with our new family members and let the old ones fall by the wayside.

“Goodbye, little Charlie in your virtual spiritual high chair! We hope someone else feeds you that spiritual food you need! You’re on your own!”

So no, I do not want to see that cherubic face looking benignly out over my congregation on that many early Sunday mornings. I do not want to be a pioneer.

I do not want to see our ward carved in half with surgical precision. I don’t want to see our ward given to the covetous talons of the eager adjacent stake.

These are not just the piteous cries of an old person. Wait. Maybe they are the piteous cries of an old person. They are the piteous cries of a person who has finally gotten a group of comfortable friends who actually seem to care about her, and she would prefer to keep those friends, and not form a bunch of new relationships. Old people don’t like those kinds of changes!

They are the piteous cries of a person whose best friends are on the other end of the ward, and who knows from a previous ward split that when they’re gone, they’re gone.

They are the piteous cries of a person who has been home teaching the same person since 1987, and who needs to continue to be that person’s home teacher, but she lives on the other end of the ward.

Okay. I have gotten it out of my system. I have realized that I have to cling to the words of good old Apostle Paul, who told us in Philippians 4:11, “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Does “state” equate to “ward” and “stake”? Oh, I hope it does!

Whew. Doesn’t spiritual maturity feel so much better? Everything is going to turn out just fine. No matter what happens, it will all turn out for the best in the end, just the way the Bible says it will. I feel better already, even if I bleed to death.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like it if it’s going to happen.

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May 04 2015

The Beam in My Eye

Published by under General

Editor’s note: This column is not for the squeamish. If you are easily put off by images of razor blades near the eyeball, be warned.

I was not able to write a column this week. The reason for that is because we had some pesky, if not downright painful, medical appointments that consumed our entire Tuesday and occupied our thoughts for days on end.

Fluffy started the morning with a dental extraction. That is never a pleasant thing to contemplate. When you’re our age, each tooth is precious, and is not something to be given up easily. The dentist assured him that it was not nearly as formidable as the dental extraction that I had three weeks ago, but what did the dentist know?

Fluffy had been hanging onto this tooth for his entire life (well, most of his life because it probably came in when he was about five). You might say he was more than a little attached to it. Maybe the molar had only taken the dentist an hour to extract, compared to the three hours my tooth had taken, but she certainly could have told him to go home and eat lots of ice cream the way she told me.

On the contrary, she specifically told both him and me that his extraction was no big deal, and that my extraction was more important because they “had to preserve the bone” for my eventual implant. What? Fluffy’s jawbone could just be allowed to rot? I think not. So I took him home and stuffed him with ice cream, just the same way he had stuffed me with ice cream three weeks earlier.

Or I would have stuffed him with ice cream, if we had not had to go right over to the ophthalmologist’s office to find out what in the world was wrong with my right eye.

My right eye is slightly important to me, you see. Because I am a writer, you might say that my eyes are my moneymakers. My eyes are my Most Important Organs. My feet are negotiable. I can be quite sanguine about being in a pesky wheelchair as I wait and wait AND WAIT for them to awaken for what is now a two year and five month nap. They are waking up, mind you, but on their own time schedule.

You see, I do not use my feet to make my living.

But for the past two weeks, my right eye has felt as though there was a sliver of something embedded in it. I have wondered what it was. A dandelion puffball filament, perhaps? I knew it had to be something tiny, or blinking would dislodge it. But whatever it was, my eye felt the same way a finger feels when a tiny, invisible shard of glass is in it. It hurt.

When Fluffy got an appointment with the ophthalmologist and that appointment was a whole week away rather than the exact same day he called, I thought I was going to curl up and die. And I am a person who tolerates pain extremely well.

By the time we were finally driving to the doctor, I had nightmares of eye surgery. I envisioned the ophthalmologist digging into my eyeball with giant tweezers, the same way we dig into our toes, looking for splinters of glass. To say I was full of trepidation is an understatement. And there was poor Fluffy, driving me there with blood still on the corner of his mouth from the dentist. What a hero he was!

We sat in the waiting room for a full hour, and the examining room for another fifteen minutes. Then I got the dilating drops put in my eyes, and we waited for another fifteen minutes for my eyes to dilate (which it was a good thing they didn’t need to do, because they didn’t).

Finally the ophthalmologist appeared. It was apparent that she had just fought her own losing battle with an oral surgeon, because her lower jaw was purple to the extreme. Then the guilt set in. What’s the polite thing to do in a circumstance like this? Do you pretend you do not notice this, or do you make a comment? If you pretend you do not notice, are you sending a message that you do not care?

After choosing not to comment on the ophthalmologist’s purple features, which could have been caused by battered wife syndrome rather than dental surgery, and which could have made for an awkward conversation rather than just a friendly “Ha-ha, Fluffy just had a tooth pulled and I had one pulled three weeks ago, so we know your pain,” moment, we got down to the business at hand.

The ophthalmologist turned my upper eyelid inside out (now there’s a little bit of discomfort for you!) and announced that I have calcium deposits on the inside of my upper eyelid. She said these are little rocks of calcium that some people have (and I have lots of them), but in my case this one is starting to poke through the eyelid and scratch my eye.

So she took a wet Q-tip and wiped the inside of my eyelid until she couldn’t see the calcium deposit anymore and then asked me if it felt okay. I said it did, but that didn’t mean anything because I only felt the rock intermittently anyway. I gave her a dubious yes. It was the best I could do.

(Two hours later, when I was back home and far away from the doctor’s care, the pain came back. Apparently the calcium deposit had not gone away at all. It had just popped back under the skin, ready to pop itself back out when I was away from the doctor’s help.)

Then I asked what I could do to keep this from happening in the future.

She answered with what I’ve come to expect from doctors: “Nothing. You just have to learn to live with it.”

She said that when this happens in the future, I should come to her and have the calcium deposits scraped off with a Q-tip. This is the equivalent of having a dermatologist tell a pimply teenager that every time he gets a zit, he should make an appointment, wait two weeks for the appointment day, then sit in the waiting room for an hour and in the examining room for another half hour to get the zit popped.

In the words of the all-wise teenager: Yeah. Right.

So Fluffy and I went home and looked up “calcium deposits inside eyelid” on Google. It took us less than ten minutes to figure out what the well-paid ophthalmologist couldn’t, but before we found our answer we learned that other people who have been told they just have to “learn to live with” what amounts to glass shards shredding their eyeballs have come up with pretty extreme measures to treat it.

I was reassured that it’s “pretty easy” to take a razor blade and just pull out those little suckers on your own. Sorry, but the words “razor blade” and “right next to your eyeball” do not occupy the same universe on Planet Kathy. I may be suffering from Coma Brain, but even I have more brain cells than that.

No, eventually we learned that an ophthalmologist in Japan dissolves calcium deposits with a solution of 500 milligrams of EDTA in distilled water. I’ve already ordered the EDTA, and we have distilled water on hand. From what we have read, these calcium deposits can be dissolved for good in four to five days.

What beats me — not just in this instance, but in many other occurrences in my medical journey — is the total lack of curiosity I have experienced in the highly paid doctors we have encountered. We will have a medical issue. The doctors will tell us, “Nothing can be done. You’ll just have to live with it.” (And excuse, me, Dr. So-and-So, you try living with some of the painful conditions you’ve tried telling me to live with.)

We’ll go home and look on the internet. We’ll find the solution in five minutes flat. We don’t even look in any medical journals. It’s just there for the layman to find, written in plain English instead of doctorese. Usually I can order the remedy from Amazon or from my vitamin place, once I know what to order. And golly gee, invariably the insolvable “you’ll have to live with it” problem is solved.

So why aren’t the doctors aware of these cures? Don’t tell me they’re overworked. They’re paid commensurately for how much work they do. Instead, they’re under-curious. Somewhere along the way, they lose the desire to find the answers to their patients’ questions. It’s easier to say, “Nothing can be done. You’ll just have to live with it.” So that’s what they do.

And their patients go home and start popping out calcium deposits from their eyelids with razor blades because they are so desperate from the pain.

But that’s a story for another day. Meanwhile, I am learning first-hand about part of the Sermon on the Mount. It is found in Matthew 7:3-5:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

I can tell you from sad experience that I am susceptible to having that beam in my eye. It is a painful thing physically. You can only imagine how it feels to have a sliver (or even a small boulder) of something that should not be there between your eyelid and your eye.

But that physical pain is nothing compared to the spiritual pain we suffer when we unjustly condemn the people around us. It is too bad we cannot feel a physical pain to accompany it. If we felt a physical pain, the way I am feeling it now, we would never criticize others.

But no, we are expected to have the maturity to refrain from criticizing others just because it’s the right thing to do. It is our job to lift the people around us, to love them, and to hold them up. The beam in our eye is figurative. It will be washed away by tears of compassion for those whom we have been asked by the Savior to love as He has first loved us.

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Apr 27 2015

Hitting Below the Seatbelt

Published by under General

I think that the seatbelt in our car has a mind of its own, or that it has been possessed by a cantankerous spirit. I do not think the seatbelt likes me, although I have no idea what I ever did to make it upset.

The reason I do not think the seatbelt likes me is that it almost never allows me to use it the way I should use a seatbelt. Instead of giving of itself generously, it doles out little seatbelt segments inch by inch, as though tiny elves inside had to hand-weave the material each time it was needed.

Sometimes the belt is so tight that it barely buckles. When I can manage to make the clasp pieces fit together, the belt bisects body, pulling tight across my neck and making it hard to breathe.

Sometimes I wonder which would be more dangerous — to get in an accident with a seatbelt tightly around my neck or to get in an accident with no seatbelt at all.

Other times, when I pull out the seatbelt, the seatbelt has no intention of letting me fasten it. There is no way the mechanism is going to let me have enough of that precious webbing to fasten around my body, so after one try or even four or five I just give up.

And then there are days like today. Today, the first time I pulled it out, the seatbelt just pulled and pulled and pulled. It gave me all the slack I needed, and more. I could have wrapped that belt around Cleveland with room to spare. The locking mechanism locked easily. The belt did not lie over my windpipe. Everything worked the way it should have worked.

The thing is, the mechanism of the seatbelt has nothing whatsoever to do with me. This morning as I pulled out the seatbelt, I knew before I ever tried to fasten it that there was going to be a lot of slack, and that it was going to fasten easily, solely because the mechanism had released a lot of belt on this particular occasion.

But none of that mattered. It never matters to me that I am completely aware that the length of the seatbelt has nothing to do with my size, and if I fasten the seatbelt three or four times in a single day I will more than likely have three or four completely different experiences.

Intellectually, I have a rock-solid understanding that my seatbelt experience is going to have nothing to do with my size, and that Heidi Klum might have the same experience with this particular seatbelt as I do. But when I try to fasten that seatbelt, and when it refuses to fasten, my brain says to me, “It’s because you are fat, Fat, FAT! You are a disgusting waste of air that everyone hates. You have no business being on the planet.”

These are the messages that girls and women send to ourselves. We tell ourselves we are worthwhile if our clothes are loose or if we look pretty in the mirror or if the picture somebody just took does not show us with a double chin.

If someone says, “You look beautiful today,” we may stress for weeks over the word “today.” Did that mean we usually look ugly? What did we do on that particular day that helped? We need to know, so we can do the same thing in the future.

People who love us can tell us a thousand million times that we are beautiful and we love to hear it every time but we never believe it, because we know their words are colored by love. We are only beautiful to them because they love us. If there were not love, there would be no beauty.

Men do not listen to the same scripts as women do. If the seatbelt is tight today, it is the fault of the seatbelt mechanism. There is no drama here.

If the pants are too tight, they must have shrunk in the wash. If all the clothes are too tight, there must have been an inconvenient laundry mishap.

Men do no lie awake at night agonizing over this. If the clothes no longer fit, they just have their wives buy them looser clothes.

Make no mistake about it; men are haunted by other things. They worry about whether they will stay alive long enough to raise their children. They worry about whether the boys who pay attention to their daughters have their daughters’ best interests at heart. They worry about whether their sons will grow up to be strong and healthy and smart. They worry about whether their wives are fulfilled and happy.

But they don’t worry about how they look. This is a curse that, for the most part, has passed them by. They don’t care about the spare tires around their waists. They don’t care about the wrinkles. They don’t care about the gray hair.

Meanwhile, women are a lot more fragile than that. It’s bad enough to base your opinions on what others think, but it’s pathetic to base your self-worth around an inanimate object. But this does not matter. Today, when my seatbelt gave me a lot of slack, I knew it was going to be a great day. My seatbelt told me I was going to be able to conquer the world.

My seatbelt, an inanimate object made of woven nylon and a buckle of stainless steel, was able to influence how I felt about myself for the rest of the day.

I am only glad there will be no seatbelts in Heaven. After all, why would we need them? Of course, if we did, they would be 24-carat gold seatbelts that would work flawlessly. But more importantly, in the next life we will all know that the word “ugly” has no meaning.

After all, how do you suppose God thinks of us when He looks at us? I can’t imagine that He thinks, “That’s the ugly fat one I can’t stand to look at,” or, “That’s the one with the crippled feet,” or, “That’s the one with the world-class wart on her nose.”

On the contrary, I believe God looks at us and sees the one who makes him laugh whenever she tells jokes in her prayers, or the one who has the wonderful sense of compassion for animals, or the one who just yesterday sent a letter to her mother that made her mother cry with happiness.

I think that is the way God sees His children, and we need to see one another — and ourselves — the same way.

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Apr 20 2015

A Shower of Cherry Blossoms

Published by under General

Fluffy and I took a little field trip last Wednesday. We drove across the river into the District (what the locals call Washington, D.C.) to look at the cherry blossoms because they were there. It didn’t seem sporting to ignore them because we live a formidable 29.5 miles from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, which is Ground Zero for the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., each April.

This is the poster for the 2015 Cherry Blossom festival. Later on I will post a picture of Fluffy. If you are observant you will see the same poster on his t-shirt.

Going into the nation’s capital isn’t something we do every day. In fact, the last time we did it was, coincidentally, when we went to see the cherry blossoms last year — which was the first time we ever saw the cherry blossoms, even though we have lived here since 1987.

You might say that if you were coming to this area to be tourists, Fluffy and I would not be the people you would pick to be your tour guides.

On the other hand, if you were looking for weird places to go, perhaps you might want Fluffy and me as your tour guides. Because Fluffy and I did not immediately head for the Tidal Basin, which is where most of the tourists went to see trees and where most of the branches were bare. No, we went to a secret place that most people do not know about.

Well, only some of the locals and about a hundred thousand Japanese tourists know about this spot.

Although most of the locals do not even know about this secret cherry blossom subdivision, people from Japan fly here to look at it, and people from Japanese rest homes take tours to look at it.

I’ve been looking for internet confirmation of this tale without success, but what I’ve heard is that the man who was behind getting the cherry trees planted around the Tidal Basin managed to get a few thousand of them also planted in his own neighborhood in Maryland. Fortunately, Fluffy and I (and the entire country of Japan) have directions to that neighborhood.

As soon as rush hour was over on Wednesday morning, off we went to the secret location. The residents of the community welcomed us with open arms, many of them displaying “Do Not Park” signs in front of their houses to enhance our enjoyment of beauty of their neighborhood.

Residents of the cherry blossom neighborhood were as welcoming to tourists as they are to local pets.

Fluffy did find a picturesque place to park. He wandered off with his camera, leaving me with my beloved purple point-and-shoot. Although I never left the car, I was able to find plenty of places to take pictures from the comfort of the car seat while he roamed the neighborhood with his Nikon. Both of us were happy.

Although it was not the sunny day we hoped for, Fluffy was able to walk through trees that were laden with cherry blossoms. It was spectacular. The trees were full of flowers, and there were also tulip trees, dogwoods, and forsythia for him to enjoy.

The trees lined each side of the road, with their branches almost meeting in the middle. They were lovely.

After all the white cherry blossoms, the tulip trees and forsythia provided welcome shots of color.

As for me, I was able to look at the moss on the bark of the nearest tree, and the roots of that tree. I am not saying this sarcastically. I like to look at things like that. I never get tired of nature. I also enjoyed looking at the rain of petals, which were caused by tiny gusts of breeze.

If you look between the trees, you can see the photographers snapping pictures of the cherry blossoms. I contented myself snapping pictures of the photographers from the car.

I like the colors of the moss and the grass and the bark and the petals.

Fluffy returns to the car. Note the shower of petals around him, and the petals on the ground, and the design on his t-shirt. It’s an almost perfect picture, except that he’s looking down at the ground. You can’t have everything!

We finally left our secret location, after being blocked by only about a half dozen vans like this one — vans that reminded us that although not many people we know are aware of this secret location of cherry blossoms, people across the world are all too aware of the cherry blossoms we had come to see.

A half dozen vans like this one were in the process of disgorging their passengers and taking them up again. Cameras (no doubt of Japanese manufacture) were snapping pictures like crazy.

Fluffy and I then decided to take a trip to the Tidal Basin, just to see if there was a single cherry blossom left. Those cherry blossoms bloom before the ones at the little community in Maryland, and we had heard they were on their last legs (or petals?) that previous Saturday, for the annual cherry blossom parade.

But as long as we were out we decided, what the heck? We might as well make a day of it, so we did.

Just as we had heard, the blossoms were about gone. If you looked at the trees up close, the branches were just about bare. But if you took the pictures from far away, everything looked pink and pretty. So that’s exactly what we did.

You can see the carpet of cherry blossoms on the ground, but it’s hard to see from the picture that the branches here are almost bare.

The Jefferson Memorial is always a majestic sight in Washington.

This was my view of the Jefferson Memorial from the car.

The Arlington Memorial Bridge, which is just called the Memorial Bridge around here. This is the bridge that goes between Washington, D.C., and the Pentagon.

When I was sitting in the car on Wednesday morning, it was so peaceful and beautiful. Artists set up easels to paint. Mothers walked the streets with babies in strollers. Gentle breezes blew petals in the wind. There were women in saris. There were people in jogging suits. There were women in dresses. There were people in jeans.

People come all the way from Japan to wander down the streets of this subdivision every year, but it took Fluffy and me 27 years and 29.5 miles to see this natural wonder. What other opportunities am I missing? What opportunities are you missing? What doors are right in front of us that we only need to reach out and turn the knobs to open?

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Apr 13 2015

Happy to be a Follower

Published by under General

The Relief Society presidency came recently for a visit, and I happened to remark how happy I was that I was the one being visited rather than ones who were tasked with visiting every woman in the ward.

I acknowledged how hard it must be to have stewardship over all the women in the congregation. There are so many needs — births and deaths, people moving in and people moving out, catastrophic illnesses, unemployment, problems with rebellious children, marriages that are struggling, and problems that I cannot even fathom.

I don’t even know a fraction of these problems. All I know is that, based on my observation, most of the families in the ward are dealing with some issue or another. Some are big; some are small. Mine may be more conspicuous because I come with a wheelchair or a walker, but make no mistake — many people are suffering and need help of one kind or another.

I am only glad the buck does not stop with me.

For some reason I went on to say how glad I was that the buck of church leadership has never stopped with me. When I was in high school was Little Miss Pep and Energy. If there was a club in the school, I was president (unless it met at the same time as another club in the school over which I was president).

I was the editor of the school newspaper. I was the world’s worst yearbook editor. I was the varsity boys’ basketball scorekeeper. I wasn’t pretty enough to be a cheerleader so I was captain of the pep club. I was secretary of the student council. You get the picture. I was positively sickening.

So when I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and learned that people take turns leading the various organizations, the first thought I had was that this was right up my alley. I could do this in my sleep!

Then the second thought came. It was a thought that did not come from me, and I can still remember it word for word. It said: “You already know how to lead. You will spend the rest of your life learning how to follow.”

I was stunned. What? I already had the best ideas. I already knew exactly what to do. Didn’t the Church need me?

Actually, the Church did need me, and it does need me. It needs the thousands of people just like me. The reason is simple. Only one person can be at the top of any organization. That person cannot succeed unless the rest of us hold that person up.

One of my favorite pieces of artwork probably isn’t a very good piece of art, but it is a constant reminder to me of what my job is as a member of the Church. The painting “Victory, O Lord” depicts the scene from Exodus 17:10-12.

In that scene, God had told Moses that as long as he held up his hands, the Israelites would prevail in battle. As soon as he lowered his arms, the Israelites would fail. Moses held up his arms as long as he could, but eventually his strength was spent. He could hold up his arms no longer. The Israelites were doomed.

So Moses’ brother Aaron and a follower, Hur, took Moses to a rock and had him sit down. Then they held up his arms for him so the Israelites would win. I love this painting because it shows the terror in Hur’s eyes. He knew exactly how important it was that he held up his leader. If he failed to support, or sustain, Moses, all of Israel would be doomed.

"Victory, O Lord" is by John Everett Millais

In a sense, we who follow are all Aarons and Hurs. The success of our leaders rests upon our shoulders. I do not consider it any small thing that I have been assigned to be a lifelong cheerleader. In fact, it is an honor that I take seriously.

Some people are hurt that they are never asked to be the leaders of an organization. They feel sorry for themselves, possibly with some justification, because it is the “same ten people” who rotate from one leadership position to another in every ward, or in every stake.

I know I am always happy when I see a bishop or a stake president who is wise enough to choose a Relief Society president or another ward leader who is a dark horse. Sometimes I am just a little annoyed to see a Primary president released to be called as Relief Society president, who is then released to be the president of the Young Women. But then, we don’t know what goes in to choosing those ward leaders, either.

I was recently visiting with one of my favorite dark horses, and I was stunned when she told me she had been asked to be a Relief Society president not once, but twice, and had turned the calling down on both occasions. She told me why, and I could see why she had done it.

But the bishops who had asked her to serve as Relief Society president had then gone on and chosen one of the “same ten people” had been criticized for it on both occasions. The criticisms had been unjust, because one of the same ten people had not been those bishops’ first choice.

I have heard bishops say we have no idea how many people have turned down a particular calling before someone finally accepts it. We all expect it is hard to fill a calling in the nursery, but we don’t expect that people are turning down callings to be Young Women president or high priests group leader. Nevertheless, it happens.

When people keep turning down the bishop or the stake president, it comes as no surprise when he turns to the “same ten people” — people they know are not going to turn down a calling, but who are going to do a great job in any position.

Another reason that one of the same ten people are called may just be that a ward needs a particular person in place at a particular time, even if it is a person who has been used time and time again. Our current Relief Society president is one of those people.

Our ward has really been hammered in the past couple of years, with catastrophic illnesses, personal crises, and even deaths. Right now we don’t need just any Relief Society president. We need a five-star, cream of the crop Relief Society president.

Fortunately, we have one. I do not covet her job. The things I know about would weigh anyone down like an anvil, and I barely know anything. I only see the waves on top of the ocean. The sharks and the jagged coral reefs below the surface are invisible to me, but Rosie sees all of them. She knows where all of them are. It is her job to know, and to care, and to keep these things in her confidence.

I would not want that responsibility.

There are some, however, who do. There are some people who agonize because they have never been chosen to lead the Young Women or the Relief Society or to shepherd the Primary children. There are many men who are raised from boyhood with the idea that they will be failures if they are not called to be bishops.

Fluffy and I will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary this year. In that time, we have had twelve — count ‘em! — bishops. When you consider that a ward generally has about 400 persons in it, for us to go through only a dozen bishops in that amount of time tells you that there are few men who are called to be bishop. If the rest of the men in the ward are failures, there are a lot of failures in the Church.

Not everybody who would be a good leader can be a leader, just because of the logistics of the thing. But those leaders can never succeed unless they are held up, Hur-like, by an army of good followers.

Here are some of the things I try to do as a cheerleader for those who lead us:

  • I try not to gossip about the people who lead. If I see something they could be doing a little better, I try to keep my mouth shut about it. This is not easy for she who knows everything, but everybody has a different way of doing things. But if I see something a leader is doing that is dangerously wrong, I try to go to that leader, rather than going to other people and making it a matter of gossip.
  • I try to help leaders out when I have an area of expertise. For example, I can do funeral dinners in my sleep. Our current ward does not have a lot of experience in funeral dinners. If we have need of a funeral dinner, and if someone asks my advice, I will give it. However, it is then my job not to notice if they do not take my advice. Sometimes they may even do it better than I would.
  • I try to be available if ward leaders want to confide in me. Be advised that when ward leaders confide in you, they will do it in the most general of terms. Names are never mentioned, circumstances are changed to protect the innocent, and (above all) your absolute confidentiality is expected.
  • If people were in my social circle before they were called to a position, I make sure to keep them there afterwards. Most of my friends tell me that as soon as they’re called to a responsible position, most of their friends drop them like hot rocks. News flash to the rest of you: They still need friends, just as they did before they got their callings. In fact, they are probably more in need of friendship.
  • I look for things ward leaders are doing right, and try to remember to compliment them on it. Sometimes I compliment them to their faces. Other times — and these may be the more important times — I point out the good things they are doing to other people.
  • If I am asked to do something, I try to do it. Yes, visiting teaching is a pain in the neck. Try being a good visiting teacher when you don’t have working feet, and when you have a person who does not want to be contacted. But otherwise, I’m uber-reliable. I’ll try to be a better visiting teacher. Maybe.

Only one grain of sand can be at the top of the pyramid. Maybe there are a few more that are near the top, holding up that uttermost top grain of sand. They have a pretty good view, too. The rest of us are destined to be down below, holding up the people on top. The ones at the top may have the view, but they pay for it with the responsibility.

As for me, I’ll be down below. There have to be a lot of cheerleaders in this world. Being a cheerleader is good enough for me. Besides, we get to wear the cute little skirts.

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Apr 06 2015

The Peaks and Valleys of Life

Published by under General

Recently I had the most stellar of weeks. My birthday was on the horizon, and strange and extravagant birthday gifts had started arriving out of the blue.

Every time Fluffy was up and walking around, I would ask him, “Why don’t you go to the front porch and see what new packages have arrived?” Much to my pleasure (and his dismay), there were usually new packages — sometimes enough of them that it was difficult to open the front door.

Oddly, though, gifts started arriving for other reasons — or no reason whatsoever. One day, we got two surprise gifts from two different people, and they weren’t just for me. They were for Fluffy too.

That same day, we had visits from two groups of people. Boy, did we feel loved! We felt as warm and fuzzy as the lint trap in an industrial dryer. You don’t feel any warmer and fuzzier than that.

But later in the week, I learned that while I was having the best week ever, other people were having what was possibly the worst week of their entire lives. Some of them were people I loved.

When we got to the temple for our weekly work assignment, for example, I heard about a family who had planned to come to the temple with their daughter that day, and it was the first time the daughter would attend. This is usually a big deal for active Mormons, similar to getting married or being baptized. The mother and two other daughters had planned to accompany her, and all the preparations had been made.

The night before the appointment, the woman — a mother with two young children — had died. Nobody had expected it. It was a complete surprise to one and all. Doctors had found cancer in her only the week before, but they didn’t expect her to die that quickly.

I saw the mother and the sisters when they came to the temple office. They had decided to attend anyway on her behalf, even if the guest of honor could not be there, and they got ecclesiastical permission to have the dead woman’s work done so she could be buried in her temple clothing.

As I watched the sorrowing family, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of guilt. How could I have been so happy that week when other people in the world were so ravaged? How could I be oblivious to the pain of others around me? How could I be brimming in joy when others were drowning in sorrow?

But then I thought of the obvious answer. We can’t all be in pain together. If we were, who would be there to administer to our needs? Part of the reason for pain in our lives is to provide others with the opportunity to serve. If we were all grieving at the same time, this would never happen.

There has to be a system of checks and balances. Some of us have to have full wells, so that when the wells of others are empty we can help.

If all of us were empty at once, how parched we would be! There would be nobody to help any of us, because all of us would be exhausted from tending to our own needs.

But when some of us are feeling so loved and cherished that the world is a warm and happy place, we are the very ones who have the strength to provide comfort to those whose lives are torn apart through illness or pain or bereavement.

The next time you are having a particularly wonderful day, consider that the same day may be the most terrible day for someone else. Spread some of your cheer to them, and both of you will feel more loved.

Waves of joy may deposit us on higher ground. When it does, we can reach out into those troughs of sorrow, holding out our hands and clasping onto those of our friends and loved ones who grieve. Perhaps through our love, our concern, and our service, we can bring them to firmer ground with us.

I’ve mixed so many metaphors here that I’ve worn myself out, but you get the picture. Just as He always does, God knew exactly what He was doing this past week. We have all been put here to take care of one another, and the best way we can do that is if at least half of us have the mental and emotional stamina we need to help the other half out.

I was so emotionally and even spiritually giddy last week that I had the reservoirs to reach out and help others who were suffering. Fluffy and I were able to do everything we were called upon to do, and still have some strength left in reserve in case more is needed — which indeed it still may be. We have it covered, just as others have covered us when we were the ones in need.

I like the way it works. I like the way we learn to take and then to give. It’s like breathing. We inhale, and we exhale. In and out — it’s the way of life. We can’t always take; that makes us selfish and needy. We can’t always give; that makes us feel too indispensable — too important.

We’re all in this together. We hold each other up. Sometimes we’re the flower. Sometimes we’re the stem. That’s the way life is supposed to be.

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