What You Really Should Do

Dear Will:

The guidebook said to follow the deeply-rutted, Old Quarry Road down to the tide-pools. It was a longer walk than we anticipated, and there were at least three rusted-out, abandoned old jalopies along the way to persuade us that it was a good thing that we decided to hike rather than attempt to navigate the “road” in our rented Grand Marquis.

About halfway down the road we met one of the locals coming up the other way. He asked us where we were from and what led us to Old Quarry Road on the northeast edge of Kauai. After giving us some great advice about the tide-pools, he smiled and changed the subject. “What you really should do,” he said, “is follow that road for about a half-hour. It will take you to the most amazing waterfall you’ve ever seen. Just climb through the gate and follow the path. Can’t miss it.” He gestured to an apparently private, grass-covered road. He assured us that the owners didn’t mind, and the way he described the pool at the base of the falls sounded glorious.

We stuck to the plan instead and had a marvelous time at the tide-pools. But when we returned to the car, we got out the guidebook to see what it might tell us about the secret falls. There was hardly a mention, just a passing reference to something that might have been the place. It gave us pause that our guidebook, which made a big point of trying to get us to discover Kauai’s hidden treasures, made no attempt to encourage us to discover this one.

Still, we were so intrigued we decided to go back the next day and follow the guy’s advice. We arrived at the gate at the same time as another pair of apprehensive out-of-towners. We climbed through the gate together.

Just a few minutes into our hike, the road forked: to the left the road extended maybe 20 or 30 feet before becoming completely overgrown with grass; to the right, the road veered sharply uphill in what felt like the wrong direction. We all paused to consider our options. My wife and kids and I decided to venture onward while the other couple lost their nerve and decided to turn back.

It’s a good thing we persevered. The road continued to undulate up and down and around, but eventually we could hear the sound of rushing water. When at last we came around the final bend in the path, this is what we found:

(That’s my daughter there in the middle.) Since visiting this slice of paradise, we can’t stop talking about the secret falls.  We talk about it to anyone who will listen (witness this letter). For me, it was the highlight of our ten days on the island.

Subsequently, it has occurred to me that my experience was somewhat akin to the scene described as Lehi’s dream in the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon (see 1 Nephi 8). You may recall that in that dream, Lehi follows a path that eventually leads to a tree whose fruit “filled [his] soul with exceedingly great joy,” to which he adds: “I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also.” With some trepidation (“they knew not whither they should go”) some of his family members made their way along the path to the tree, while others were lured away by their peers who encouraged them to go a different way instead.

Later, we are told that the tree in the allegory represents “the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore it is the most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11:22). For those who find their way to the path and stay on it even when they are fearful or uncertain, the reward is “the most joyous to the soul.” But for those who choose a different route, no such reward is forthcoming.

We commented that very day in Kauai that the couple who turned back had missed a great opportunity they might never get again. If only we had known, we could have encouraged them to keep going, sharing with them our knowledge of the delightful, glorious reward that awaited. Perhaps we could have strengthened their resolve to carry on even in spite of their doubts.

Which is, I suppose, one of the reasons I write these letters. . . .


I Wish You Could See Her Dance

Dear Will:

I wish you could see her dance.

My daughter is a supremely gifted ballerina. Not that I know the first thing about dancing, you understand. But people who know the first and second and fifty-seventh things about dancing have told us repeatedly that she’s got “it” (whatever “it” is). And at this point, I’ve sat through enough dance performances that I’m starting to see what they’re talking about. In a room full of talented ballerinas, Bryn still manages to stand out—not in a flashy, hey-look-at-me sort of way, but rather with an understated elegance. Your eye is drawn to her—even if you’re not the dad.

I would not have chosen this path for my daughter, believe me. For starters, ballet is extremely expensive (who knew?). And since she is at the studio six days a week (20 to 30 hours!), it is a major burden on the family. In fact, as I’m writing this I’m sitting in the conference room at the Maple Conservatory of Dance waiting (yet again) to take my daughter home. If she had chosen instead to pursue, say, biochemistry, I would just have to see that she got to and from school and got her homework done. And maybe if she joined the Chemistry Club (or whatever it is that aspiring biochemists join in high school) it might have cost me 25 bucks. Piece o’ cake.

But here’s the thing: She loves it. LOVES it. She gladly endures the sweat and the pain and the hard work because she isn’t fully herself until she puts on her pointe shoes and starts to move. That’s when she becomes centered, sentient, pulsing with life. In fact, she has been dancing for so long now (since she was four or five?) that her identity is inextricably linked to ballet. When I introduce myself to someone at 15, I might have said, “I’m Peter, and I like to play basketball.” Bryn never says it that way. It’s not “I like to dance,” but rather, “I’m Bryn, and I’m a dancer.”

It bears repeating, however: Bryn is 15. Her journey of life is underway, but relatively speaking she’s barely left the driveway. So much of her future remains to be determined, so many choices of great significance remain to be made. But because of her avocation, she’s already feeling the pressure to know for sure what she should do. I’m told it’s not uncommon for dancers to join professional companies at 16 or 17 years of age. (“Over my dead body,” says the dad.) And since she’s talented, she feels that she should start moving in that direction—or at least that her colleagues in the dance world expect her to. That pressure doesn’t come from her parents, I assure you, nor from her teachers; but maybe from well-meaning strangers and interested friends who ask her, repeatedly, what her future plans are. And that pressure is intense. Of course I’ve told her not to worry about it, told her that at 15 the biggest decision you should have to make is whether to order the burrito or the fish tacos. But giving her that good advice does not come close to making it so.

Later tonight, after her 9:30 dinner (imagine!) and an hour or more of homework, she will curl around her scriptures as she does each night. I can only hope that she turns then to the fourth chapter of Mark where she will read of the time when Jesus’ disciples were troubled themselves by a raging storm. They did as she might, and called to Him who calmed the wind and waves with simple words: “Peace, be still.” May He likewise bring peace to her troubled soul.

As I wait here for her to come off pointe, to return to earth and settle—exhausted—beside me in the car, I tilt my head to see her through the window slats. I look at her there, floating weightless across the floor, light as a distant melody, absorbed in the flow and emotion of the moment. One small strand of hair has freed itself from her tight, tight bun. It dances gently across her brow, moving effortlessly to music one can only imagine.