quote:Improve the shining moments; Don’t let them pass you by. Work while the sun is radiant; Work, for the night draws nigh. We cannot bid the sunbeams To lengthen out their stay, Nor can we ask the shadow To ever stay away.
Time flies on wings of lightning; We cannot call it back. It comes, then passes forward Along its onward track. And if we are not mindful, The chance will fade away, For life is quick in passing. ’Tis as a single day.
- Robert Baird, Improve the Shining Moments
My best friend came to visit me about four years ago. We were walking in Cambridge, down by the Charles river, in the early Autumn dusk. We walked out onto the Anderson Memorial bridge, and I commented on how great it was, to stand there as the sun went down with skullers on the river and the day's warmth lingering. Alvin paid me an offhand complement then that I've cherished ever since. He said, to effect, "You have a remarkable ability to appreciate moments."
He was right; I believe our lives as we remember them and experience them are less a continuous series of events and more a discrete set of meaningful moments. So for my landmark 1000th post, I've tried to collect some of the happy and sad moments that shine most brightly in my memory. I hope you enjoy reading them; I certainly enjoyed writing them.
My grandpa, my father’s dad, suffered from a degenerative, MS-like condition that caused him to slowly lose sensation and control of his body. It started in his left foot when he was in his mid-thirties, and slowly progressed up his body. By the time I knew him he was unable to even hold his head upright; instead he had a plastic strap attached to his motorized wheelchair which wrapped around his forehead and left a permanent red welt. As a boy I was sometimes asked to feed, shave, bathe, and clothe him, which, because I was a selfish child, caused a dull resentment in me.
He died when I was twelve. The night after the funeral, I left bed for some reason. Maybe I heard something. I wandered downstairs and to my parents’ room. From within I heard wracking sobs and soft sounds of comfort. In twelve years, I don’t remember ever hearing my father cry, but that night through the door I heard him weeping like his world had ended. Standing in the cold dark outside his room, listening to that private grief and my mother’s private consolation, I realized how vulnerable we are, how deeply life can hurt us, and most significantly, that my father was just a man; he felt sorrow and loss, grief and pain; he could cry. Terrified by that knowledge, I crept back upstairs to my bed and shivered myself to sleep.
I was born and raised in the LDS church. I was cocky and assured; I knew all the Sunday School answers. In class I would close my eyes and pretend to sleep or meditate, just waiting for a dramatic moment to pop open my eyes and answer a difficult question the rest of the class didn’t know. I was the first in my class to read the Book of Mormon, to memorize scriptures. If they gave out grades, I would have been a straight A student.
But gospel knowledge is no shield against temptation. By the time I was fifteen I was falling short of gospel standards on several counts. Nothing serious, probably nothing worth mentioning by non-LDS standards, but I knew I was doing things that weren’t in line with the principles I’d been taught. One night, after a particularly stunning exhibit of stupidity, I went to my bedroom. I didn’t want to think about what I’d done, didn’t want to analyze my feelings or what had caused my actions. I wasn’t afraid of finding out that what I’d done was wrong; rather I was afraid that I might find out that I didn’t care. That when I sought out my innermost soul, and looked at what I’d done, I would simply say, “meh, so what, no big deal.” Despite that, and I don’t know how or why, I ended up on my knees praying. And as I prayed I had my first true, individual, genuine spiritual experience. My spirit was communicated to by God’s. In a flash of beauty and terror I knew God lived, that he loved me, and that he was disappointed in the choices I made. The feeling, impression, experience came and stayed for fifteen minutes, like a fire in my heart or like a light in my soul, and then was gone. I went to bed, a new person, a new man.
My dad and I were hobby cyclists. When I was nine we decided to bike from our home in Logan, UT to Jackson, WY. The first day was miserable, trying to pedal my ten-speed against gale winds and slashing rain, up the steep incline of Logan canyon. For lunch, we huddled in the lee of a “Cache National Forest” sign, and ate soggy sandwiches. I cried and wanted to quit, but my dad convinced me that if we pressed on, once we got to the summit, things would be better. He was right. The rain let up, and we made it to Laketown on Bear Lake.
The second day we started out early with the spicy smell of sagebrush on a crisp, cool, pre-dawn summer morning. We rode all day, stopping for lunch at a little diner in Coleville, WY. We rode on Route 30, then Route 89. Dinnertime came, and we were about 15 miles past Geneva, ID. Dad asked if I wanted to stop and go back and stay the night in Geneva (my mom rode support in our Dodge van, allowing us to stop at any point, drive to a motel, and return to the same spot the next morning). The next town was Afton, WY, about 20 miles north, but we had to go over some mountains to get there. I was tired, but the evening wasn’t hot, so we decided to press on. Up and up we went, as the sun went down. It got cooler. At dusk we reached the summit. We stopped and I put on a sweatshirt, because it was getting chilly. As we started down the other side in the early summer night I saw the lights of Afton twinkle on in the valley below. It wasn’t our Journey’s End; we had another 8 hours on the road the next day. But Getting There, to this small town tucked in the hills, in the soft comfort of a summer night with the crickets chirping and the blacktop emanating the heat of the day, with my Dad right next to me felt exactly like coming home.
My senior year in high school was wonderful. After suffering through years of awkward alienation, I found a dozen good friends who were fun and good and kind. We would get together on weekends and play card games, or go to movies, or just hang out. Among them was a wonderful girl named Camille. Camille was on our seminary council; she was a 4.0 student; she was kind and cute and fun; and I really, really wanted to ask her out. But I was too shy.
Months went by. Graduation came and that night there was a class party at the local armory. It was terrible. The music, the snacks, the caricature-artist; it all seemed so petty to me. We were celebrating the most significant event in our lives with Cokes and The Cranberries on CD. I wanted perspective; I wanted bewildered standing on life’s great shore, looking out at the vast expanse of potential. When the hypnotist convinced one of my classmates he was in love with a post, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Despite the cold rain, I walked out the back door, to be alone and play my harmonica. Standing in the rain, playing, I closed my eyes and tried to feel the moment. When I opened them, there was Camille, hair soaked and plastered to her face, beatific. We didn’t say anything to each other; we just stood there. Then she turned with a half smile and went inside. I stayed out awhile longer and played.
My first girlfriend was named M___y. It was my freshman year at BYU, and she was exactly what I needed. Where I was romantically shy, she was not. Where I was cerebral, she was sentimental. And after mid-September, where I was she was too. We spent more time together than apart. We were the reigning king and queen of campus PDA. We made out all over. Snow, rain, freezing temperatures; nothing could stop us.
But by second semester the shine had worn off; we nearly broke up in January, and after that it wasn’t really the same. She was busy and I was busy. We still spent an inordinate amount of time together, but the coming Spring felt more like the Winter of our relationship. For me, it culminated in late March. Our housing complex (Helaman Halls, for BYU alums) held an annual talent competition. I had marginal success with a couple of guys from my floor recreating the iocaine powder scene from the Princess Bride (I was Vizzini). After I was done, I went to sit with M___y in the audience. Her hand on mine and all I could feel was indifference. The night wore on, and the last act was some girl, I’ll never know her name. She got up, wearing faded jeans and boots, and her hair was long and straight brown. She sang “February” by Dar Williams (lyrics linked to from Dar’s personal site. Also, here’s a sample, again from Dar’s personal site). I wish I could quote all the lyrics here, because they’re important, but to keep it to just two lines (alright, four):
quote:You stopped and pointed and you said, "That's a crocus," And I said, "What's a crocus?" and you said, "Its a flower," I tried to remember, but I said, "What's a flower?" You said, “I still love you.”
My mission was to the Netherlands and northern Belgium. My first area was a very small town called Turnhout. It was a difficult area, because it was small, and the local branch only had a few members, and the Catholic church held great sway over the people’s hearts. We had one woman who invited us over every week for lunch, but who wouldn’t acknowledge us in front of anyone, for fear that the parish would ostracize her for speaking to representatives of another faith. My companion was in love (unreciprocated) with one of the sisters in a neighboring area. It was so cold the ink would freeze in our pens when we took tracting records.
We had some little success, though. We found, taught and baptized a wonderful man named M____l. He had a three-year old son and was going through a painful divorce. We also reactivated a wonderful young, single mother named C___y. The primary of the branch doubled when they both started coming and bringing their children. Three days after M____l’s baptism, on a Tuesday night, we organized a special showing of “Mountain of the Lord” for the two of them, to help each of them set the goal of going to the temple as soon as they were able. The night went great; I was on top of the world.
A few days passed; transfers came and I got a new companion. Then it was Saturday. I don’t know how we got the news, whether M____l called or C___y or the branch President, but somehow we found out that M____l and C___y had entered into an inappropriate relationship. I was crushed. My soul hurt. I felt like the part of my heart I had given them when I taught them, died. Sitting in our apartment, my new companion (who was a wonderful companion and who I think highly of to this day), who didn’t know either of them, didn’t know how we’d prayed with them, studied with them, taught them, served them, poured out our souls every night asking the Lord to help us know how best to help them, tried to console me. But the dams burst. I was throwing darts, and each throw got harder and harder, and further and further from the target, because I was blinded by tears. I went to my room and shut the door and poured out all my hurt and pain in prayer, until all I could feel was emptiness. I carried that emptiness with me for the next few weeks, and I carry part of it still.
As a coda to this moment is another, less vivid, from a few years back. I got an unexpected email from C___y. She told me that after years away from the church and each other, she and M____l had reconnected, gotten married and returned to full fellowship in the church. As great as my anguish was the night I lost them, my joy was perhaps greater the day I found out they’d come back.
I started dating the girl whom I would marry in the Summer of 1999. I was living at home, working on an experimental rollercoaster construction project. The first joke I heard her tell was on a group hiking trip: “Descartes was sitting in a bar. The bartender asks him, “Rene, would you like another?” Descartes responds, “No, I think not.” And poof...he disappears.” I don’t remember anyone else in our hiking group laughing, but I just about died.
So we started dating on those warm summer nights. It was incredible to find someone so perfectly fitted to me. Everything about her was (is) wonderful. We could be playing volleyball, or sitting in church, or watching a movie, but all I could think was “wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, most wonderful and yet again, wonderful.” One day in early August, at work we’d just capped the big arch (around 200 ft. high) on the coaster. I asked my boss permission to bring my girlfriend out that evening and climb to the top. We got there around 7:30, put on climbing harnesses, strapped into the safety system, and hand-over-handed our way to the top. It took about 10 minutes to climb, and we sat down just as the sun was setting in the West over the Wellsville Mountains. Sitting there, not saying anything, not feeling the need to say anything, just watching the sun go down and feeling the loving comfort of finding someone who understood how important these moments are, these shining moments that give life meaning, was enough. It was more than enough; it was perfect.
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I really, really, enjoyed reading this, SenojRetep. It gives off lots of good vibes (even though not all the stories are happy). You have a wonderful way with words. I especially liked the bicycle trip description.
That was really well told, Peter. Kind of Bradburyesq in parts. I'll join you and twinky in the appreciater or moments club. I find that even when I'm sad or depressed I can be utterly blown away by the beauty of a moment.
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