Watch, Now, How I Start the Day

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Dear Will:

For Christmas, my daughter Bryn gave me a homemade coupon for a hike and a burger. Now I love a good hike and a burger (especially with one of my kids), so I couldn’t imagine a better present. But there was a catch. The hike was to the top of Mount Timpanogos. In Utah.

If only that had been the ONLY catch. In order to collect my free meal, I first had to fly myself to Salt Lake City, then BEGIN our hike at 1 a.m. “so that we can be at the summit at sunrise.” Then, of course, I had to cover 7.5 miles to the 11,749-foot summit, with an elevation gain of 4,580 feet. Which is fine if you live at altitude, but not-so-much if you live, like I do, at 190 feet. Not good. Oh, and I’m an old guy with the fitness of a console television. So there’s that also.

Well, the day unfolded about as you would expect. The higher we climbed, the harder it was to breathe. I wobbled and wheezed, stumbled and stammered, shuffled and puffed all along the trail. Although I threatened several times to fall off of the mountain, I didn’t, and somehow I crumpled onto the summit around 5:30 a.m., a good half-hour ahead of schedule. Bryn was delighted.

On the summit itself, the vista was spectacular. Facing west, we looked out across Utah Lake and the vast Salt Lake valley; to the east, the view stretched past Sundance and Deer Creek, out and over the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. As the sun appeared in the far distance, the eastern sky became awash with the reds and oranges of early morning.

On any other Friday, daybreak would have arrived and I’d have missed it altogether. But on this Friday morning, exhausted though I was, I got the full benefit of the rising sun. The moment brought to mind the words of Thoreau: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” But there on the summit, Bryn (and poet Mary Oliver) said it even better—a fitting invocation to start this or any day:

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light—
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

PW

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That’s It?

Dear Will:

A little over a week ago my firstborn, Luke, graduated cum laude from UCLA with a degree in Communications (Mass Communications, to be precise, with a specialization in Computing and a minor in Human Complex Systems—whatever that is). He had originally planned to go to law school after graduating, but in December it occurred to him that he was much more interested in studying law than in practicing it. So in January he began to look for his first real job.

So far, he has had a few nibbles but no job offers. Because he is bright and inquisitive, well-read and articulate (and highly motivated), I’m confident that he will find work in due course. But now that he has moved back home, he and I are both feeling anxious for him to find work, settle into a place of his own, and get on with life.

When I picked him up from Westwood last week, he told me that he was feeling more than a bit disappointed with the experience of graduating from college—like the whole thing was a bit anti-climactic. “I’ve been pointing to this moment my entire life,” he told me. “Before UCLA, it was all about taking the right classes and getting the grades necessary to get into a good school so that I could get a degree from a respected university. Now that that has happened, I find myself thinking: ‘That’s it? I went through all of that trouble just so that I could move back home and be unemployed?’”

In his current state of mind, Luke is having trouble seeing the bigger picture. He can’t see far enough down the road to appreciate what he has learned or what he has become as a consequence of his 16 years of education. He is not yet old enough or wise enough to recognize his good fortune or his exceptional preparation, to see how the last four years have helped position him to become a meaningful contributor to society. Having traveled that road before him, and knowing as I do many who have been neither so fortunate nor so bright, I know much better than he could that the road ahead for him will be brightly lit and lined with promising opportunities. Luke is disappointed primarily because he still has no real sense of what happens next.

Do you ever wonder if, when you reach the end of your life on earth, you’ll find yourself thinking: “That’s it?” Do you imagine that all of the hard work and trial you may pass through between birth and death will prove to be little more than that—a long slog culminating in a huge disappointment? Do you wonder if the difficulties of mortality will prove to be worth it?

It’s easy to get so caught up in what makes life hard that we don’t fully appreciate the ways in which our mortal existence prepares us for something much greater. Like Luke, we have trouble seeing far enough down the road that we can put this life into its proper eternal perspective. But as Thoreau said: “There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a Morningstar.” It was Isaiah who first penned these words made more familiar by the apostle Paul: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The trick, of course, is to move forward with faith, knowing that God’s promises are always—always—sure.

In the short term, my task is to keep Luke believing in the near future, to help him believe in himself and in his preparation sufficiently to convince an employer to believe in him as well. In a few short months, I’m sure his outlook will be brighter. But until then, he still needs a job. Which reminds me: You don’t happen to know anyone who would like to hire a recent college grad who is bright and inquisitive, well-read and articulate, do you?

PW

Only That Day Dawns to Which We Are Awake

Dear Will:

I woke up this morning to a wet patio. Some time near dawn, it had rained.

There are few things as refreshing to body and soul as a summer rain (around here anyway). It cleans our smoggy air, washes dust from the street and sidewalks, brings welcome nourishment to our parched earth. I suppose in some way it does the same thing for each of us, providing clarity and renewal of spirit.

Happy though I was to see that some rain had fallen, I stood with a degree of disappointment as I looked out on my soggy backyard. It had rained and I had missed it—and who knows when it might rain again around here. I looked up, saw blue skies, and knew that the “shower” had already come and gone. If only I had gotten up a little earlier, I thought. If only.

Near the end of Walden (one of my all-time favorites), Henry David Thoreau says: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” If you want to benefit from new ideas, new thinking, altered perspectives, you have to be open and watching for the possibility, in other words. I think we’ve seen evidence of that in “the Arab Spring,” haven’t we? Thousands of people throughout the Arab world have witnessed and participated in a shift in thinking—the dawning of democracy—because when the moment arrived they were, as it were, awake.

It has caused me to ask myself how I would respond given a similar opportunity. Am I truly open to fresh perspective? If it’s true, as Thoreau says, that “there is more day to dawn,” that the sun is truly “a Morningstar,” am I sufficiently awake to perceive the light? You might even ask it this way: If God wanted to talk to me, would I hear or sleep right through it?

As I ponder all of this, I can’t help but think of something said in our last General Conference by Elder David A. Bednar. He was talking about the way that God communicates directly to his children—the patterns of personal revelation:

A light turned on in a dark room is like receiving a message from God quickly, completely, and all at once. Many of us have experienced this pattern of revelation as we have been given answers to sincere prayers or been provided with needed direction or protection, according to God’s will and timing. Descriptions of such immediate and intense manifestations are found in the scriptures, recounted in Church history, and evidenced in our own lives. Indeed, these mighty miracles do occur. However, this pattern of revelation tends to be more rare than common.

The gradual increase of light radiating from the rising sun is like receiving a message from God “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30). Most frequently, revelation comes in small increments over time and is granted according to our desire, worthiness, and preparation. Such communications from Heavenly Father gradually and gently “distil upon [our souls] as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45). This pattern of revelation tends to be more common than rare.*

Like a sudden summer shower, light from God can come upon us unawares, and if we are not truly awake we’ll miss it altogether.

As I finish this note, I look outside to see that the clouds have gathered once again and drops have begun to fall. I’m heading outside to see and feel and celebrate the summer rain.

PW

* You can watch or read the entire talk here. I highly recommend it.