A Weekend Bonanza

Dear Will:

When my son Seth turned 12 in February, he was ordained a deacon. His best-friend-for-life, Cameron, was made a deacon around that same time. Since Cameron’s dad Warren and I are also good friends, he and I promised the boys we would take them to Salt Lake City to attend the Church’s semi-annual General Conference—our way of welcoming them into the priesthood. So it was that the four of us flew to Salt Lake last week in a four-seat Bonanza with Warren at the controls. The skies were clear and the weather was beautiful when we arrived—highs in the low 70s.

What a marvelous adventure! We had the sort of father/son bonding time that you would imagine and got to attend two of the five sessions of the conference in person. In the Priesthood session, we sat just a few rows back, directly in front of the Prophet and President of the Church, Thomas S. Monson. Through incredible good fortune, the boys even got to meet six of the twelve Apostles (a thrill as big for the dads as for the boys, I must admit). But the fun was just beginning.

On Sunday morning, we awoke to several inches of snow on the ground—which delighted the boys, of course. Because of the weather, we waited until late in the afternoon to begin the flight home. Although it was still snowing when we took off, we soon found ourselves with a clear, sun-washed view of the Salt Lake valley. I can’t describe to you how beautiful it was, with a fresh blanket of white snow covering the hills and mountains all around. It was truly glorious.

Then as we flew south through the Utah desert, the snow disappeared. Although I have driven through that rocky corridor many times, I had never gotten that bird’s-eye view before. (Commercial airlines fly too high, but in the Bonanza we were at 12,000 feet.) It was the perfect time of day for the flight: early evening, when the sun was casting wonderful shadows off of the red rocks, buttes and mesas of southern Utah. Indescribable.

As I looked out the window that evening, it occurred to me that the flight home provided an apt metaphor for General Conference. The weekend of Conference allowed us to rise above our usual cares and concerns and get a perspective on the things that truly matter. As servants of God, our leaders enabled us to see farther and more clearly as we look off toward a distant horizon. And the view they provided was truly glorious.

In case you’re interested, the Church posts the transcripts and video from the Conference online. You can find the whole proceedings here.

Here are some of my favorite talks from the Conference that I would highly recommend:

I would also encourage you to review any of the messages from President Monson. If you get a chance to do so, you will feel lifted above your present cares, and you too will gain clarity and perspective to help you deal with your day-to-day challenges.

PW

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The Miracle of Taylor’s Life

Dear Will:

A couple of weeks back I attended a funeral for the son of a very close friend. It promised to be a very sad day.

Taylor had been born with just a single chamber (as opposed to the usual four) in his heart. He had his first surgery the day he was born. Doctors told his parents, Mark and Tammy Hyer, that Taylor’s life would be a short one—maybe a few days, at most a few years.

Defying the odds, Taylor’s heart held on for several years more than that. It was hardly a normal childhood inasmuch as he had very little stamina and thus could not play as hard (or do all of the same things) as other kids his age. He also had multiple surgeries and took a bunch of medication. But he was in a great family who enabled him to do as much as he could and who filled his life with laughter and love.

About a year ago, Taylor’s heart finally gave out. Somehow he had wrung 13 years of life out of that tiny, misshapen organ. And in doing so, he had finally grown big enough for a heart transplant. Now if you know anything about transplants you know that you can stay on a list for months waiting for a suitable donor. Well, Taylor waited only a few hours—and it’s a good thing, for his heart literally shut down as the donated heart was rushed into the hospital. The surgeon kept him alive just long enough to give him a new, four-chamber heart.

For Taylor, it was a true miracle. For the first time in his life he could breathe. Instead of watching the other kids play basketball, Taylor could join the game himself. He could climb mountains, ride his bike, act like a kid. His body began to take shape, and Taylor was finally just a normal teenager.

How we all celebrated that wonderful, life-changing surgery. His family shed many happy tears as they recounted the unlikely sequence of events that led to the transplant. They offered many, many prayers of thanks for the extension and enhancement to Taylor’s fragile life.

Thus I was stunned when I received the phone call telling me that Taylor had died. Barely 14, he had returned from a backpacking trip, had enjoyed a couple of fun but uneventful days with the family. Everything seemed to be going great. Then on Sunday in the middle of the night, he awoke feeling very ill. His parents attended to him and his father gave him a blessing of comfort. As soon as the blessing was over, Taylor’s dad gave him a hug, and in that instant Taylor died in his arms.

As I spoke to Mark and Tammy about this tragedy, their calm perspective astonished me. Thinking that I had come to their side to give them support and comfort, I found them comforting me instead. “We’re just really grateful that God gave him that bonus year of life to find out what it’s like to be a normal kid,” they told me. “What a blessing for him to get the chance to do the things he had been missing out on for so long.” There was no rancor or self-pity, no bitterness or despair. Rather they expressed gratitude to God for the miracle that was Taylor’s life—a life that by all accounts lasted at least 10 years longer than anyone could have reasonably expected.

I anticipated that the day of the funeral would be very sad indeed. Instead, I found my faith renewed and my love expanded. It made me want to hug my kids (of course), but it also made me want to be a better person. And it made me grateful for my faith in God that helps me to see that beyond the transitory sadness of today there is purpose and promise that extends into eternity.

PW

Jet Lag and a Trip to the Zoo

Dear Will:

Last week I found out I have to fly to Korea—one of those glamorous business trips during which you spend as much time going and coming as you do working. Should be awful.

Then I found out it is worse than I thought. The only way to get there in time for the meetings is to leave mid-day on Sunday, September 5. And when I arrive it will be Monday night. Labor Day will have disappeared altogether.

Cheer up, they told me. You get that day back on the return. That’s nice in theory, of course, but the truth is that I will have lost a 3-day weekend that I’m never getting back. And on Tuesday, while I’m schmoozing Koreans in Busan, my five-year-old Seth will be attending his first day of kindergarten. There’s something else I will miss that no crossing of the dateline will ever give me back. Let’s just say I’m not happy.

Seth, to his great credit, will hardly notice. The excitement of his new adventure will surely not have worn off by the time I drag back home on Wednesday night, just in time for . . . Back to School Night at Luke’s high school. I anticipate that the teachers I meet that night will find me charming if but a bit unkempt and maybe catatonic. What is it they say about having only one chance to make a good first impression? Luke’s teachers are sure to be dazzled.

Originally we had planned to spend Labor Day at the San Diego Zoo, but instead we’re going down on the Saturday before. No big deal except it means that I will miss my beloved UCLA Bruins’ opening football game, which I will tape and now watch—what?—a week later. Or probably not at all.

What a rough life I lead.

In contrast, my wife just had her third knee surgery last week. Afterward, the doctor informed her that her cartilage is so badly deteriorated that within a few years she will likely have to have knee replacement surgery. Elsewhere, a dear friend is facing a tragic divorce (is there any other kind?) after nearly 30 years of marriage. And another good friend has seen everything he has lived and worked for taken away from him after a series of bad choices and horrible decisions. His life is a wreck.

And here I’m complaining about jet lag and a trip to the zoo. Makes me so ashamed I’m tempted not to send this letter. But by now you probably know me well enough that my pettiness doesn’t surprise you. So . . . instead I shall take deep, cleansing breaths and try to maintain a little perspective: my kids are happily enrolled in excellent schools; my work is going so well that somebody on the other side of the world wants to pay for a couple of days of my time; and I live so close to one of the world’s great zoos that I can do it in a day trip. And besides, my Bruins are supposed to lose, so maybe I’ll be glad to have missed the game anyway. I’ll still miss that first day of kindergarten, but such is life. Right?

Here’s hoping that my miseries are always this profound—and no more so. And hoping that all is well with you.

PW