I’m Pretty Sure I’m Psychic. Or At Least I Hope So.

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Dear Will:

Years ago, in the midst of a long, mind-numbing road trip with the family, I introduced my kids to a game that had not existed five minutes prior. Making it up as I went, I outlined the rules: I announce a category of my own choosing—let’s say “Animals.” Then I silently select a specific item from that category and try to tell you what I’m thinking without saying a thing—no gestures, no other clues of any kind. “I must communicate to you solely through the sheer force of my prodigious, telepathic powers,” I told them. “Even now I am sending forth psychic emanations! I am devoting all available synapses to this one thing! Divine it, and we shall have achieved . . . PSYCHIC WONDER!”

In case you didn’t recognize it, this is fun. Or as my wife, Dana, might put it: insufferable. (Which, just between you and me, is what actually makes it fun. Don’t tell her I said so.) Nevertheless, in spite of its manifest stupidity, it was the ridiculousness of Psychic Wonder that made it for me somewhat irresistible in moments when I was feeling silly or when I saw an opportunity to embarrass my children (also fun). Thus I frequently subjected a backseat full of carpoolers to Psychic Wonder on the way to school. Alas, the game never really lasted very long—for some reason I never found anyone as good at it as I was.

Over the years, I introduced my children to a number of these not-quite-games, invented on the fly and precisely honed in the carpool laboratory. Sometimes we “played” Factoids or Poetry Hour or a thing I called Life Is Like, in which one person would begin a simile and everyone else would have to try to Forrest-Gump a suitable ending. (Go ahead. Give it a try: “Life is like a box of Hamburger Helper. . . .” FUN!) Or here’s another one that Dana “loves”: Shamu or Celery. I choose a random something-or-other (nose hairs!) and then we debate whether that something-or-other is more like Shamu or more like celery. (The correct answer, in this case, is celery. Obviously.) That game just might be Dana’s all-time favorite, as you can imagine.

I ask you: What’s a better way to fill the 15 minutes between home and La Veta Elementary? Throw into the background some not-so-classic rock from decades prior and you’ll be pulling up into the drop-off zone in no time. Not only will you have amused and delighted approximately one person in the car, but the kids will be pushing and shoving, climbing over each other to get out the door and onto the curb, looking at your son as if to say, “Luke: What’s with your dad?”

I miss those mornings, winding through the streets of Orange with a Mazda full of braces and nervous energy. Sadly, my carpool days long ago receded into my rearview mirror. Luke, now all grown up, married and established, drives himself to work each day; Bryn, committed to doing what she can to save the planet, prefers a bike or public transit as she completes her degree; and Seth, working as a missionary in Salto de Guairá, Paraguay, has little choice but to walk everyplace he goes. I now find myself commuting in an empty car, inching along the 405 freeway, alone with my thoughts, hoping that somehow, way back when, somewhere between the garage and the crossing-guard, my kids got the message embedded within that early-morning nonsense, conveyed to them by something more heartfelt than psychic emanations. Conveyed to them even now, as I write this and hope that in this moment they can divine what I’m thinking, no matter how far away they may be.

So that maybe the next time someone asks “What’s with your dad?,” they’ll immediately know the answer, and they’ll feel it—deep down. PSYCHIC WONDER!

PW

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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

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