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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Neither Strangers Nor Foreigners

Dear Will:

When my wife Dana and I were first married, we lived in a two-bedroom duplex apartment in Westwood. We attended church in the building just north of the Los Angeles Temple, with an interesting cross-section of Angelenos: from young, poor married couples (mostly UCLA students like us) to wealthy, established families of Bel Air and Beverly Hills; we had Frenchmen and Persians and Iraqis and Nigerians mixed throughout the congregation along with the usual collection of expatriates from Utah and Arizona. And of course, there were lots of Californians. It was an interesting crowd, full of both ideas and faith. We loved them and loved attending church with them.

Eventually work (and children) made it necessary to move to Orange County, and the initial transition was difficult for us. It took us a few years, but eventually we found our way to Orange where we settled—quickly—to establish a permanent base-camp for raising our children.

One of the things that made it so easy to set down roots here was that the people we met at church—members of the Orange 2nd Ward—were so quick to take us in and treat us like family. We’re not necessarily an easy bunch to warm up to (too many idiosyncrasies, I’m afraid), but the locals were undeterred. They welcomed us, befriended us, cared about us and our children, loved us into submission. Even on the first Sunday we attended our church services, I can remember saying to my wife that it felt as though we had come home.

That was over 12 years ago. A lot has changed around these parts since then, as you know. Especially in the last four or five years, economic and demographic shifts have begun to take their toll on the area. Many of the people we love the most have cashed in their real estate and moved away; others have been driven out by the soaring cost of living and the battered job market. The spirit of the place hasn’t changed for us, but many of the faces have.

Such population trends have consequences, of course—which is why it was not altogether surprising to us when last week the Orange Stake Presidency announced a redrawing of the various boundaries to turn seven wards into six. So today we attended the first-ever meeting of the Santiago Creek Ward, which now meets at 1 p.m. in the Stake Center down on Yorba. Our friends who live east of Cannon are now members of the adjacent Peters Canyon Ward, and we in turn welcomed many new friends from the east side of the city. It was a strange day, meeting in a new place, greeting new faces, making a fresh start, as it were, even without having moved to a new place.

That’s one of the things that makes our church unique, I suppose: We don’t attend meetings based on convenience or preference; rather we are assigned to a place and time based on where we live and nothing else. That’s a hard practice when it means that you’ll no longer see good friends on a regular basis. But it’s a comforting practice as well, because it means that when people like us move to a place like this, we already have a family waiting for us—a group of instant friends who we can count on to help us settle in and feel at home.

I guess I look at it this way: Rather than losing old friends, we now have an opportunity to make new ones. Thus we will strive to emulate the teachings of Paul, congregating neither as strangers nor as foreigners, but as “fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19)—regardless of where we live or how we speak or what we look like. Our common bond—our faith in Jesus Christ—will provide us with instant unity, enabling us to call each other brother and sister even when meeting for the first time. Just how Christ would have wanted it, don’t you think?

PW

Surrounded by Wild Roses

Dear Will:

If you’re anything like me (and I pray that you are not, in this case), you may have a tendency to allow everyday things to sort of blend together to the point that you hardly notice what’s always there. For instance, when I set a book at the top of the stairs with the intention of taking it down to the study later on, if I don’t follow through that same day the book becomes a fixture in the upstairs hallway. It’s as if it were part of the carpeting. I can become accustomed to things which are out-of-place to such a degree that they seem no longer out-of-place.

That bad habit is mostly just annoying, particularly if you’re married to me. Worse than that, however, is another side of that same phenomenon: the tendency to take for granted something remarkable because you see it everyday. When was the last time you paused to consider the amazing dexterity of your right thumb, the miracle of a flushing toilet, the sublime wonder of buttered toast. Hmmmm?

OK, I admit that even that is not really a big deal. What has me musing this evening is how easy it is for us to become unaware of the people who share our lives with us. The clerk at the store. The guy who delivers the morning paper. The 15-year-old kid who refuses to go to bed on time (that would be Luke). This weekend I realized, to my shame, that I devote much more energy to nagging/lecturing/chastising my kids about what they’re not doing than I do to reminding them how terrific they are for all that they do do. What kind of a loser dad am I?

I have a favorite poem by Wendell Berry. He wrote it about his wife, but I wish I had written it about my mine, because it speaks so well of the opportunity to rediscover something familiar:

The Wild Rose

Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart

Suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose blooming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,

And once again I am blessed, choosing
again what I chose before.

How many wild roses do you have blooming around you? Do yourself—and your loved ones—a favor and tell them today how much they mean to you. I tried it myself, and it was wonderful.

PW