This Might Make You Smile

Dear Will:

About a week-and-a-half ago we got an email from a friend with the link to an online video. Her note said simply: “This might make you two smile.”

She was so right. The video shows her son-in-law and granddaughter (his four-year-old daughter) singing “Tonight You Belong to Me,” while he plays along on a pink toy guitar or ukulele. Dana and I watched it again and again, then shared it with some friends.

We weren’t alone. In that quintessentially Internetty way that some things catch on, “Tonight You Belong to Me” exploded into the collective consciousness. Since the video was first posted on September 17, it has been viewed over 3 million times (and counting). They even showed a clip on Good Morning America. It seems that pretty much everyone who has seen it has had a similar reaction. The question is: Why?

There is no doubt—no debate whatsoever—that the four-year-old is irresistibly cute. But the world is full of cute four-year-olds. YouTube, for that matter, is full of cute four-year-olds. That she can carry a tune helps too, of course, but that’s not it either. The true magic of the video (and if you haven’t stopped to watch it you should go do so right now) is in the interaction between the dad and daughter. The video isn’t about music—it’s about the clear and unmistakable love that sparkles in the eyes of a father completely smitten with his little girl.

Now maybe that’s the bias of another father who is himself completely smitten with his little girl. But there is a moment about a minute-and-a-half in when he looks at her and you just know. Just know. It’s love, unspoken but undeniable, clear, genuine, eternal. Read the comments of the strangers who confess to watching “Tonight You Belong to Me” over and over and over and you know that they see it too. “Every day when I get up I am going to watch this as it puts me in such a good mood!!” “Can’t stop watching this adorable video!” “The greatest thing I’ve ever seen.” “It’s impossible to watch this and not smile.” “This brings me so much joy.” “I cry every time that I watch this! Happy tears of course! The love is such a gift.”

The comments come from all over the country. From Japan, Malaysia. the Middle East. Comments in languages I don’t even recognize. People all over the world seeing and hearing and feeling something familiar and supernal in this three-minute duet, recognizing in it an element of truth and goodness and virtue in their purest sense.

I know a thing or two about that kind of love. I felt it surge within me when I held Luke in my arms for the first time some 23 years ago. I have never felt closer, more connected with God than I did in that moment, knowing that in some way Dana and I had helped Him bring another soul to Earth. And I still feel it today when I talk to Bryn on the phone or watch the ballgame with Seth.

I do not have science to back me up on this, but I believe that the love we feel for our kids is just about as close to godliness as we can get in this life. No wonder one prophet said that pure love is “the greatest of all” (Moroni 7: 46). And no wonder I find myself watching—for the 27th time—as another dad turns to his little girl and sings: “You belong to me.”

PW

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One of the Truly Lucky Ones

Dear Will:

My 50th birthday is fast approaching. Yuck. It’s not that 50 is old, per se, but the milestone has caused me to pause, consider, and recoil: What do I have to show for myself at this point?

My first thought is: Not much. I have a decent career in which I get paid more than most but not enough that anyone would consider me wealthy by any stretch. And I’ve bounced from job to job so much that anyone who really knows would likely smirk at the notion that such peregrinations could ever be considered a “career.” Even so, the kids are fed and clothed, the mortgage is current, and at least for now I’m still getting paid twice a month.

But still. . . .

I can’t exactly say that I’m as secure as I might have imagined when I set off on adulthood 30-some years ago. Isn’t this that point in life in which I’m supposed to be overpaid and playing a lot of golf? When the house is paid for and I’m taking annual trips to Bermuda or the British Isles? When the nest egg is building toward early retirement in just a few more years? Well, that isn’t exactly how it has worked out.

And this. . . .

My bald-headed body is starting to show significant wear-and-tear. I have the chronic lower back pain often associated with middle age. My eyesight isn’t what it once was. Last week I learned that I have a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder. I’ll spare you the results of the mid-century physical, but let’s just say that the results were inconclusive. And I don’t even want to think about what’s going on in my right knee.

But still. . . .

My heart is strong and I weigh only slightly more than I’m supposed to. I have an amazing wife (my first and only) and three terrific kids. We live in a nice house in a free land with all of the modern conveniences you could hope for. My wife and children all are interesting, engaging people full of talent and potential. We have all been blessed with excellent health (the bald head and rotator cuff notwithstanding). And we live near the people we love the most, surrounded by good friends and neighbors.

And this. . . .

We have, at the center of our lives, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which provides for us an anchor when times are rough and a guide as we face an uncertain future. And it is through an understanding of that gospel that I know of a surety that in that which matters most I am one of the truly lucky ones.

There is certainly no glamor in turning 50. But I take great solace in knowing that the purpose of my existence is in part fulfilled by my earthly challenges and successes. And Christ has given this assurance: That if I seek His kingdom first and foremost, all other needful things will be added unto me (see, for example, Matthew 6:24-34, or Jacob 2:18-19). That is not a promise of worldly goods or riches so much as it is the promise of perspective and eternal happiness. In that sense, I aspire to be like Paul, who said: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

Have I fallen short of the dreams of my youth? In several unimportant ways, perhaps. But have I been blessed far beyond measure or merit? No question. And I thank God for that.

PW

Utterly Unthinkable

Dear Will:

I suspect that you have read with me the recent news of atrocities perpetrated by religious men against innocent children. My heart breaks as I consider the irreparable harm done by these evil men. I am saddened that those in a position to protect the children did little or nothing, sometimes even knowingly placing new, unsuspecting victims in harm’s way.

It is troubling indeed that for some there apparently remains some ambiguity on how to deal with those who harm God’s children—troubling in particular because I see no such ambiguity either in holy writ or in the instructions of our own religious leaders. I share with you, for example, the words of Elder Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoken last month in the Semi-Annual General Conference of our church:

There is nothing in the scriptures, there is nothing in what we publish, there is nothing in what we believe or teach that gives license to parents or anyone else to neglect or abuse or molest our own or anyone else’s children.

There is in the scriptures, there is in what we publish, there is in what we believe, there is in what we teach, counsel, commandments, even warnings that we are to protect, to love, to care for, and to “teach [children] to walk in the ways of truth” (Mosiah 4:15). To betray them is utterly unthinkable.

Among the strongest warnings and the severest penalties in the revelations are those relating to little children. Jesus said, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).

(By the way, if you are interested in reading or viewing Elder Packer’s entire address, you can find it here.)

I apologize for hitting you with such an awful subject in this month’s letter. But I felt inclined to reaffirm what the Gospel teaches us about our obligation to care for and nurture little children. It is a responsibility I feel most keenly since I have three such little ones in my care—and I feel so inadequate most of the time. My faith is that God will help me succeed—perhaps, at times, in spite of myself—provided I am making a genuine effort to get it right.

I pray that you may remain insulated from the evil that has touched the lives of so many innocent people, and that your children, and their children, may likewise be blessed and protected.

PW