Who’s the Moron?

Dear Will:

From where I sit in my upstairs office, I look out of a large window onto our backyard. I get a fairly clear view of the overgrown trees and the patch of now-bare turf Seth uses for home plate when he plays his imaginary baseball games. And on a day such as this one, which started out chilly but has since turned sunny, I can also see Barnum, The Moron Dog, relaxing in the midday sun.

Although he normally lives as if to embrace his Moron Dog moniker, today he looks up at me as if to say: “Who’s the moron?” He knows—because he hangs around here—that I am not likely to move from this chair for several hours as I pound furiously on my laptop, alternately working, emailing, and writing a letter to you. Barnum, meanwhile, will spend the time until the kids return from school moving from one patch of sun to the other, carefully shifting his nap in order to follow the warmth.

If you have stayed up too late working (as I did last night) and have too much to do (as I do today), it’s easy to think that the dog’s life is a good one. Let’s review Barnum’s daily routine:

  • 6:20 a.m. – Take a walk with Bryn. Relieve yourself with enthusiasm.
  • 6:40 a.m. – Hang out briefly near the kitchen hoping for a handout while the humans eat breakfast and make lunches.
  • 6:50 a.m. – Give up on the snack and go back to bed.
  • 6:52 a.m. – Nap until bedtime.

There may be a little more to it than that—including an occasional growling, come-play-fetch-with-me frenzy—but that is the essence of it. As the saying goes, it’s nice work if you can get it.

In truth, I wouldn’t last a day on Barnum’s schedule. There is just too much to do. As an alternative, however, I have come to revel in the divine mandate to set aside one day a week as the Lord’s Sabbath. In Exodus 20 we read:

8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

I admit that when I was younger, I found the practice of “keeping the Sabbath day holy” both annoying and restrictive. However, when I started college I decided that if it qualified as one of the Ten Commandments it might be worth a try. The short version of this story is that I discovered, even as a UCLA freshman, the sweet, restorative benefits of giving myself permission to take it easy on Sundays. Now these many years later, I look forward to Sundays because I have come to rely on the chance to not do, and I find that as a direct consequence I am actually much more effective at the doing during the other six days of the week.

In our increasingly hectic existence, it has become somewhat uncommon for people to indulge in a day of rest. No doubt the practice seems somewhat decadent, not too different from a dog lolling in the sun on a glorious afternoon. Which, when you think of it, sounds pretty good indeed.


A Gratitude List

Dear Will:

Two or three weeks ago, my wife and I invited the kids to help us make a list of the things we’re thankful for. After writing down 100 or so, we left the pad of paper out and invited everyone in the family to add to the list as we counted down the days until Thanksgiving. I thought it might be fun to share with you some of the items on the final list we came up with:

Luke, Bryn, and Seth (our kids)
Dana (my wife)
Barnum (the dog)
Gordon B. Hinckley (the Prophet)
Saturday soccer games
Cookies—especially warm ones
Gaynor Mindens (ballet shoes)
A good bed
Chip & Pounce (stuffed animals)
Books and stories
The Book of Mormon
The beach
Electric lights
The Temple
Good music
Mountain lakes
The Olympics
Good theater
Sunrises & sunsets
Hot showers
Thomas Jefferson
The UCLA Bruins
The rumba (don’t ask)
The Armed Forces
Family time
The stars & moon
Good food in abundance
Swimming pools
Flush toilets
Abraham Lincoln
Taking walks with Bryn
Good movies
A peaceful neighborhood
Down comforters
Hot chocolate
Puffy clouds
Grateful kids
Playing ball with Seth
Best friends
Really cool rocks

As you might guess, the full list also includes a lot of our favorite people, including neighbors, teachers, and friends.

Isn’t it great to be reminded each November to take time to notice the things we are most grateful for? Hope you enjoyed a terrific Thanksgiving.


Another Blown Opportunity

Dear Will:

When I sat down at the dinner table tonight I announced: “After dinner I want to write a letter to Will.” Big mistake.

I had this notion that I could tell you about hiking over Piute Pass in the High Sierras, about the precarious climb over granite boulders and cascading waters that we later named Almost Falls, about rising in the middle of the night and standing transfixed, unable to stop staring at stars so numerous the moon need not have bothered coming to work. I knew I would be searching for a more articulate way to say “Wow!”

But my wife had other plans. Had to go to Home Depot, she said. Had to order new front doors. Had to, just had to do it tonight lest some dignitary show up in a couple of weeks and see our home the way it has appeared since we moved into it six years ago. Had to.

And so we did. Upon our return a couple of hours later, I tucked kids into bed and sat down to read scriptures with my son Luke. It’s a nightly ritual which we have maintained for around a year now. Generally I look forward to it. But tonight I was anxious. I had a letter to write.

While we were reading, Barnum, the psychodog, was jumping up and down against the door, his nightly signal that he would appreciate it if someone (me) would take him out for one last romp before putting him to bed. I was reminded that my daughter had not ever taken him for a walk today. So next thing I knew I was wandering the cul-de-sac while Barnum dashed about in search of rabbits. And mischief. And, as it turned out, an abandoned chunk of the neighbor’s garbage. Which he deposited in my garage.

It was about then that I remembered that my niece is arriving later this evening. To accommodate her, we had to turn the study into a “guest room.” Books were scattered everywhere and needed to be put away. The bed (a blow-up mattress—pretty classy, huh?) had to be set up. Had to pull out some towels and put the mints on the pillow (to maintain a high-end atmosphere to go with our new front doors).

It was about the time that I was wrestling around on the floor with the inflate-a-bed and a contour sheet that I remembered one of the passages Luke and I had read just a few minutes earlier:

Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. (Mark 10:43-44)

And right about then it occurred to me that the things that had filled my evening—small things, every one—were the kinds of things I should be doing. These little acts of unremarkable service should flow from me naturally, in part as a consequence of my basic Christianity. And of course, as the thought entered my mind, it also occurred to me that I done every bit of it (even reading the scriptures, I’m ashamed to say) with the wrong attitude. Which isn’t what Jesus had in mind at all.

Oops. Another blown opportunity to do the right things for the right reasons. I suppose that doing the right things still counts for something, but it’s clear that I still have a long way to go. I really wanted to tell you about the High Sierras, but I figured that tonight this story was more important.