The Lord and His Lady Give Fanks

Dear Will:

Anon, the Lord and Lady of the Manor return to their castle. (Editor’s note: Anon? Castle?) Noting well the declining state of his family fortune, once again this year the Lord has chosen—alack!—to postpone the digging of a moat until more prosperous times. And tho’ a drawbridge would indeed annoy the Homeowners’ Association, he knows that it would likewise be the envy of the neighborhood—especially should the Huns perchance lay siege to Orange County.

They steer their coach toward the garage, and yet they cannot park, for their path is impeded by the personal effects of the fair maiden Bryn, to wit: a scooter, rollerblades, a copy of Little House on the Prairie, a ballet bag, and a pair of all-purpose, playground-style balls which for some reason she chooses to call Dorothy and Shirley. Ere they are aware, she charges forth on her five-speed.

“Felicitations, my beloved,” says the Lady of the Manor, exiting the half-parked vehicle with flourish both regal and stately. “Prithee, fair one, place these items as before in yon toy box lest my regal and stately demeanor turn unbecomingly common.”

“As you wish, Mother,” the child proclaims reassuringly, skipping off. Alas, the lass lacks both short-term memory and follow-through, and thus the Lord and his Lady remain somewhat less than reassured. Yet tho’ they are vexed, even so are they perplexed and fascinated, unable to comprehend the ways of an eight-year-old girl.

As the nobleman parts the castle doors, the servants scatter—which is to say they scatter socks, books, papers, and markers about the Study as if to conceal the carpet therewith; and therein ‘midst the sundry oddments, Sir Luke sits majestically at the computer. Indeed, since Luke decided to become a writer, he has often been found in this very position, composing his latest text. Tonight’s folio bears the name “Detective Rat and the Curious Case.”

As his master enters, Luke neither genuflects nor kneels to kiss his master’s signet ring. Indeed, it might be noted that he does not acknowledge the presence of the Lord of the Manor in any way. “Beloved son,” his lordship cries, “knowest thou what hath befallen these quarters?” The lad responds not, as is his wont. Indeed, from his mother Luke has inherited an ability to focus on any chosen task without distraction—a gift turned weapon when wielded by a teenager-but-for-the-birthday 12-year-old.

Of a sudden, the Lord of the Manor recognizes that the debris is the product of Master Seth, who, though only three, has decided that nothing brings greater joy than doing homework—doubtless because his older siblings complete their schoolwork with such unabashed enthusiasm.  (Editor’s note: That business about unabashed enthusiasm? A total crock.)

Nearby in the Ballroom (Editor’s note: OK, so it’s a dining room with no furniture), the Lady of the Manor finds more evidence of Master Seth’s handiwork: a bizarre structure that rises and sprawls from the cut-pile carpeting like a mutating organism. It is a veritable mishmash of wooden blocks and cardboard bricks, some jutting skyward with Babel-like determination, others lined end-to-end like a Chinese wall for Weebles. Within the courtyard of said monolith, stoic as sentries, one beholds an assortment of plastic animals, including a zebra, a giraffe, a gazelle and several other favorites. They are assisted in their vigil by various plastic dinosaurs: triceratops, pachycephalosaurus, perhaps half a dozen stegosaurs or more. These are the chosen few, the “guarders” of the diorama; for meat-eaters, “mean guys” in the common parlance, are clearly a threat and are left outside looking in.

There, in the midst of this menagerie, sits Master Seth, the architect himself, who looks up with a grin. “I’m building Baby Elephant’s Cage,” says the boy, as if such an explanation were needed. Although his fortress-like creation has often been razed and raised again, never with the same design, it has always been known simply, consistently, and somewhat inexplicably, as Baby Elephant’s Cage. Somewhere within, Baby Elephant (a plastic piece perhaps 1½ inches long) stands ensconced, consistently and inexplicably accompanied by a small plastic dolphin which has never once had any kind of structure named for it.

Anon (Editor’s note: There’s that word again) the dinner hour approaches. From within, the alarum is sounded, beckoning all to sit and eat with the Lord and his Lady. And yet the children come not. Again the alarum is sounded, and again the children come not. The Lady of the Manor remains unperturbed. Demurely she importunes her husband. “My lord,” says she, “prithee beckon the children that they hie to the table, that we might sup together.” At once the Lord rises from the table and. . . . (Editor’s note: The manuscript at this point becomes garbled, with dubious references to tantrums and indifference and insubordination and threats.)

Once gathered, the family bows in reverence. “Let us pray,” says his lordship. “It’s my turn,” says Seth. “Fodder in Headen: Fank you for da food. Pwease bwess it. Fank you for Mommy and Daddy and Wuke and Bwyn and Seth. Fank you for my famwee. In the name of Jesus Chwist. Amen.”

Fank you indeed.


Let’s Do It Again Next Year

Dear Will:

A long time ago I promised my son Luke that when he turned 12 I would take him to Salt Lake City to attend General Conference in person. Not exactly the bar mitzvah he was maybe hoping for, but to my delight, he called my bluff. So a few weeks back he and I piled into the ol’ Camry and headed north.

Maybe it’s a guy thing, but there was something liberating about heading off, just the two of us, knowing we didn’t really have to answer to anyone for about 72 hours. If we wanted to drive too fast or make a pit stop or skip lunch so that we could gorge ourselves on a big steak dinner (and let’s be clear: we wanted to) we could do it (and did). As we drove, it was just me and my son—the two dudes—telling stories, playing games, or just sitting in silence. We weren’t exactly Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, but it was fun.

It took us 10 hours to reach our destination—11 if you count the grubfest at Outback. The next morning we took our seats in the nosebleed section of the new Conference Center just off of Temple Square. It was a magnificent facility and we were delighted to be a part of the scene. But the excitement of that morning didn’t prepare us for the thrill of that evening, when we found ourselves—I’m not making this up—on the fourth row of that 20,000+ seat auditorium, directly in front of the prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley.

It was very cool. Directly before us sat the President of the Church, his two Counselors, and several of the Twelve Apostles. People speak of “sitting at the feet of the Prophet,” and there we were, living the metaphor. Unforgettable.

The real test came the next day, however, when we piled back into the Camry for the return trip. Maybe we talked less—I’m not sure—but certainly we felt a bit less giddy. Still I felt an easiness as we traveled together that I often don’t feel when we’re living together. As a dad, it felt good and right. Nonetheless, as we headed down Cajon Pass, back into the L.A. Basin, chasing the weekend warriors and desert rats toward home, I nervously asked the Big Question: “Well Luke, was it worth it? Now that you know what’s involved, would you do it over again if you had the choice?” He didn’t even hesitate. “Absolutely. Let’s do it again next year.”

That ain’t gonna happen, unfortunately, but it was a good reminder—I hope to both of us—that it never hurts to step out of the usual routine and spend some time together—just because. Would that I could find a way to pull that off without having to drive 1400 miles in the process.

I’m reminded of a children’s book in our study called The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz. It tells the story of a poor man named Isaac who has a recurring dream in which a voice tells him to go to the capital city and look for treasure under the bridge by the Royal Palace. Finally, he takes the long, arduous journey through forests and over mountains, walking most of the way until he arrives in the capital city. To his disappointment, he finds that the bridge is guarded day and night. When at last he tells the captain of the guard of his dream, the captain laughs at him. “If I believed a dream I once had,” the soldier tells him, “I would travel to your town and look for a treasure under the stove in the house of a man named Isaac.” Bowing respectfully, Isaac embarks immediately on the long walk back, journeying over mountains and through forests until he comes to his humble home—wherein he finds the treasure he sought. The moral: Sometimes we must travel far to discover what is near.

I hope that this hits “close to home” for you as it did for me.


A Truly Remarkable Person

Dear Will:

I have this friend named Mark who (here comes a semi-intentional pun) is a remarkable person. I will do an inadequate job of describing what makes him remarkable, but I’ll try:

Mark is a geologist with an MBA. He spends much of his professional life trying to help clean up environmental messes. His politics are unambiguous, but he does not foist his opinions on others; rather he goes about very carefully trying to make a difference in whatever way he can and lets his actions speak for him. Thus, rather than telling me to start recycling, Mark simply started doing it—about a decade before curbside service made it practical.

Mark is an organizer. Whereas my wife and I are the sorts of people who simply slip off together to catch a movie, Mark always has a larger vision. I am one of many people who often get e-mails from him which go something like this: “This weekend, the East Valley Players will be performing a series of plays by Chekhov.  We’re going to have dinner beforehand at the bistro across the street. I’m hoping a bunch of you will show up. It will make it more fun.” Likewise, from time to time, Mark invites people to his home for Shakespeare readings, carefully selecting an eclectic smattering of singles and marrieds, professionals and artists, conservatives and misfits. Invariably I meet someone new when Mark is involved, and invariably that person is interesting.

Mark also likes to climb mountains, but he isn’t satisfied just ascending with the same bunch of outdoorsmen every time. Instead, he’ll notify all of his office-dwelling, sedentary friends, challenging them to get in shape for the big assault on Mt. Whitney in April. He will take it upon himself to schedule, motivate, train the novices, organize the equipment, and even write the post-climb report for those too lazy to show up. And all of this with two bad knees. Why does he do it? Because he loves the outdoors and doesn’t want the rest of us to miss out.

The reason I bring all of this up is because last month when I took my family on vacation, our friend Mark kept popping into my mind. Whether I was driving up through South Pass in Wyoming, floating down the Shoshone River, getting blown away by Yellowstone, riding horses up to 9,000 feet or so in Jackson Hole, stopping to gasp at Cedar Breaks in Southern Utah, there was Mark, dancing in and out of my thoughts. See a geyser, think of Mark. Soak in the natural hot springs, think of Mark. Climb a hill, see some elk—see a sign for the cut off to Great Basin, for crying out loud!—and think of Mark. For good measure we even took the kids to the Shakespeare Festival and thought of Mark Mark Mark. And about the time I was driving south on I-15 through that short stretch of Arizona with the funky rocks on either side of the highway and I’m—you guessed it—thinking of Mark, it occurred to me that he could go on vacation dozens of times and not once feel compelled to think of ME. I would thrill to have my name come to mind when others gaze upon God’s most beautiful creations. Alas, such is an honor one must earn.

Henry David Thoreau said that the reason he went off to Walden Pond for a couple of years was so that he could “live deliberately.” Living deliberately is exactly what Mark does, only he doesn’t have to live like a hermit to pull it off. To the contrary, he is in here among us, raising our sights and improving our lots. Remarkable.

I have vowed to begin living more deliberately myself. We’ll see if I pull that off.


The photo above is of Mark in his heyday, just prior to what he has always described as “the best climbing trip of my life.” (It did not go well. If you ever have the good fortune of meeting him, be sure to ask about the soup.) Mark is the one on the right.