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

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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.

The Hopi Are Onto Me

Dear Will:

I look up, and justlikethat, June has disappeared. That’s what happens when you cram two separate family vacations into a single month. In case you’re wondering, I don’t recommend it.

We spent a week in Virginia, visiting the old historical sites of Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. Then for good measure, we spent three days in Washington D.C. I felt like those pioneer children we sang about as kids: We walked and walked and walked and walked. For much of our visit the temperature was in the 90s with humidity to match. You won’t be surprised to hear that after 10 days of historical ruminations, Seth (my nine-year-old) declared that his favorite part of the trip was the day we spent at the water park.  Since it was over 100 that day, I can’t say that I’m surprised.

As for me, I especially enjoyed Yorktown and visiting the monuments and Arlington National  Cemetery. I found myself feeling very quiet on that hallowed ground. It’s nice to be reminded of what is possible when good people live up to high ideals. It made me want to be a better person. This was also my first chance to see the new World War II Memorial. All I can say is it was awesome.

After just one week at home, we loaded up the minivan and drove to Antimony, Utah. In case you’re wondering how to get there, you can reach Antimony by driving to the middle of nowhere and turning right. We gathered at a horse ranch there with 35 members of my wife’s family, including all six of her siblings and a pretty good sampling of nephews, nieces, and sundry in-laws. Much to my surprise I really liked the place. The staff was charming, the accommodations appropriately cozy, and (best of all) there was no cell phone reception. I rewarded myself by leaving my laptop at home as well. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered a porch swing, hidden out back in the shade, removed from the bustle of humanity. Each afternoon I would sneak off to my secret swing and (get this) read a book. No, really. I actually did. It was the highlight of my month.

It’s sad, but not at all surprising, that I had to drive to Antimony in order to slow down. It says a lot about my crazy existence. Several years ago (maybe 25?) there was a movie out called Koyaanisqatsi.  (If you never saw it in a theater I feel sorry for you. It was amazing cinema. Rent it if you can, but in the home theater you cannot approximate the full effect of the film. I can say without equivocation that it is unlike anything you have ever seen before. If you do watch it, let me know what you think.) Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word which apparently means “crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living.” Let me put it this way: It doesn’t take very long in the porch swing to start thinking that the Hopi know all about your way of life.

Unfortunately, some other way of life is not really an option at this point. I lack the nerve to ditch it all and move out to the country. And I’m pretty certain that I would be miserable there anyway. But it’s nice, from time to time, to get off of the thoroughfare and wander down an unpaved path. Usually when I’m feeling like this it does my soul good to pull out my tattered copy of Walden and read again about Thoreau’s attempt “to live deliberately.” Thus I do vicariously what I would never otherwise do, and along the way I am reminded that there is more to life than the daily have-to’s of modern life.

Enough of my musing. I’ll end here and put this rambling missive in the mail to you (long overdue, I must confess—sorry). Then I’m going to go read my book (Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides). If anyone’s looking for me, tell them I’m out back, swinging in the shade.

PW