Monday, February 25, 2008

Living and Surviving

I know it seems like every other blog post these days is about my great grandma and the ones that aren't are about whatever crisis I'm currently going through with some clever anecdote about my nieces but I must slip into the routine again. Each time I visit Grandma I have something to say and today I'm going to say it again-

Grandma was doing very well when I went by today. She seemed very chipper and I loved our conversation just like always. After telling me once again that Hillary was "a wicked wicked woman" and that "she says that she has 35 years of experience and I agree; 35 years experience of doing bad bad things!" we talked a bit about her health. She told me that her children have told her not to go walking in the mornings anymore because they don't want her to fall so she's worked out some kind of exercise routine in her house where she gets on the floor and does "all kinds of maneuvers with the door open for fresh air." I'm sure that part of the reason she has lived such a quality life for more than a century is because of how determined she is to stay active. Several months ago my mom was helping her get her seat belt on in the car and Grandma took it from her and said quite bluntly "I can do things for myself. If I give up, it's over for me." I'm sure she wasn't talking about any kind of fear of death because anyone who meets this woman gets a genuine sense that few in this world are as prepared to "make the big trip" as my grandpa puts it. No, she certainly isn't afraid of dying and would probably like to be reunited with her husband whom she hasn't seen for more than half a century but in her centennial wisdom she has come to recognize the difference between living and surviving- and even at 100 years, grandma is intent on living.

Grandma told me that my second cousin has been called as the new mission president over the mission I served in (Ukraine, Kyiv) and I got to go by again tonight to talk to him about it. We talked about the people there and he asked me if missionaries were simply obedient or if they were the type that make miracles occur. I thought about that and then told him that I wasn't sure how the miracles happen but all you have to do is meet the members of the church in Ukraine to be absolutely positive that that country has had its fair share of miracles. I guess the topic was on my mind after I had just had a nice long talk with my mom over the phone this afternoon and she mentioned that while we were in Ukraine she saw such an incredible illuminating brightness among the members she met. And it's true that no matter how little some of those members have, there is something about them that reminds anyone who meets them that life can be full of happiness regardless of circumstance. The happiest person I've ever met is also the poorest person I've ever known. She lives in a small village hours away from Kyiv. She's raising three girls by herself thanks to her husband who drank himself to death in front of the children several years ago. She relies on the meager crop she gets each summer from their tiny plot of land to feed her children. The family layers their clothes in their tiny one bedroom home each winter because there is no heat. And she is the happiest person I know. She tries to give you everything she has (which is almost nothing) and you feel bad turning it down because you know that taking it only makes her happier. Her family loves one another and their walls are covered with pictures of the Savior and of temples and a conversation rarely happens with her where she doesn't mention how badly she wants to go to the temple with her girls. But until that day she'll just keep making the 45 minute bus ride to church as often as she can afford and continue on teaching her children by setting an example of how a person really should be.

Those kind of people inspire and influence me so much more than so many others that have made a point to gain all the power, money and prestige this life can offer for the sole purpose of inspiring and influencing. I want to be like the kind of people I've described. I'm not suggesting that we commit ourselves to completely ascetic lifestyles, depriving ourselves of anything that has potential to distract, but would it be too much amid all the blessings and opportunities in my life to make the effort to also be happy and grateful, faithful and humble? Then no matter how bad I perceive things to be going in my life, I'll always see the difference in and be on the right side of the two fates: living and surviving.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

10 Moments

Every once in a while you hit an exact moment where you realize that everything you see beyond that moment will always look different to you than before that moment and it's all because of that moment. I'm not talking about long drawn out life changing experiences- those certainly force you to view the world a completely different way. I'm talking about just small and quick exchanges that for whatever reason permanently shed light on life. I present 10 of mine:

1. As a 7 year old at a Jazz game I threw a piece of popcorn in my mouth that was all by itself only to find that it was actually an already chewed blue piece of gum with soggy popcorn crusties all stuck to the outside. I've never thought it was ok to eat food unless I knew exactly where it came from since then.

2. When I was 16, my high school coach told me that there was no sense in doing anything unless I was intent on becoming the best at it. I've never looked at challenges, goals or tasks the same since then.

3. My high school English teacher once said that whenever she thought something nice about someone else, she immediately tried to tell them, believing that an entire lifetime of compliments that wouldn't have been given without such a goal would leave the world in a much better place. I believe that very few days have gone by since then that I haven't thought about what she said.

4. I used to be deathly afraid of tile (don't ask, I have no idea why). I remember scrubbing my foot as a child over and over again because it accidentally brushed against a tile floor at home (this was a clean tile floor by the way). About two years ago I told myself that it was completely irrational to be afraid of tile and I forced myself to go stand on the bathroom floor barefoot for one whole minute. I'm no longer afraid of tile and I also feel like I can overcome any fear now (except maybe for snakes).

5. Last summer I met Blaine and Diana and at the end of our first visit Diana asked me to tell 7 year old Joseph that he had a family now that loved him and would never let him get hurt again. After I told him, Joseph immediately walked over to her and put his arms around her and I watched them sob and hug. I don't look at people the same way anymore.

6. In December, while on the phone back and forth with Krishelle and Uncle Will, I spontaneously decided to drop everything and fly to Costa Rica first thing in the morning. Making that decision is funny to talk about but it actually opened up the idea in my mind for the very first time that I actually have absolute control of my life and I can make things happen if I really want them to.

7. When I was nine my mom was dropping me off at school one morning and I started making fun of the crossing guard as we drove past her. I remember my mom saying, "I don't think anyone deserves to be talked about that way." And it was as if it didn't occur to me until that moment that this crossing guard was an actual real person. I think I've been a lot more sensitive toward other people since then because of that moment.

8. One month before the end of my mission I was punched several times and kicked, while lying on the ground half-conscious, by a group of seven or eight angry men. I finally stood up and walked through the group and got away as if they could no longer see me. Nothing has really scared me that badly in terms of being in personal danger ever since.

9. When I was about 10 I was home with Micalyne for a little bit and a bad storm came in. I got scared and said a prayer that my mom would call us. She called within seconds of me finishing the prayer. Prayer has felt so much more powerful and real to me since then.

10. After recently finding out that a friend had unexpectedly passed away I thought about how much I wished I would have spoken to her again before she had died. But I had let myself get so busy that I neglected someone. Nothing seems important enough to me now to ignore friends.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

President's Day

I should have gone to bed about 35 minutes ago but I just ate some cheesecake and I've been deep cleaning the house for an hour and a half and now I'm a bit wired.

President's Day was good. It's one of those bank holidays that mean I get the day off although the holiday is not exactly soaked in elaborate cultural tradition. I apologize formally to the presidents whom I did not celebrate or think much about today. It's not that I'm not grateful for good leaders, I just simply did not celebrate United States' presidents. If I was going to I would probably focus my efforts on presidents like Abraham Lincoln or GW himself but I get the sense that they really don't care much if people celebrate any days on their behalf.

No, I instead celebrated being able to see my family on a Monday, a day that I rarely get to see them. I guess you could say that in a way I did celebrate the sacrifices that great leaders have made which have enabled me to spend time with my family. Bit of a stretch but I make it work.

Saw the adorable nieces and nephew. Everytime I see them they get so much more amazingly cute . . . and full of energy. I guess a few weeks ago, four year old Kaylee asked Krisanda if they could have "girl talk." When Krisanda asked her what she wanted to talk about she said, "um, about people that are dead." Krisanda asked Kaylee who she knew who had died and Kaylee responded as if her mother had missed a major news flash, "Well that grandpa on tv that lives at the temple." So they talked about that grandpa that lives at the temple and Krisanda explained who prophets are and Kaylee said that she was happy that the prophet could go live with her brother Jesus now. And somehow the purity of these kids never really stops amazing me.

Sorry for the disconected thoughts tonight. It's almost 1:00AM and I've really got to go to bed. Love you all.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

President Hinckley, Grandma and Mitt

I should be doing my homework (yes, although it doesn't seem to be the case, I actually am taking one class right now). But I kind of just feel like blogging. Maybe it's because the alternative is studying financial management which is tragically a constant reminder of my accounting days. Maybe it's because I just watched the republican party let the best candidate they've seen in maybe a hundred years slip right through their fingers. I just feel like blogging.
I visited Great Grandma Whittle the other day. She's doing well and despite her telling me over the phone that she had a cold, she seemed about as healthy as I've ever seen her when I went by even for someone who will turn 101 years in just a few months. I did make sure she had Vics to put on her feet though. I told her I would shovel her driveway but failed miserably when I realized that there was about a foot of solid ice under the light layer of powder. I did my best (aka sort of tried) for about 15 minutes but finally gave up and went inside doing whatever I could to prevent Grandma from trying to investigate my work as I'm positive it would not be up to her standards.
We talked about politics for a while, the conversation being sprung by my mention of her giant poster in her front window with only two bolded words: "STOP HILLARY!" When asking her about this she said as if a vote for Hillary would betray everything she's ever tried to stand for, "If anyone votes for Hillary in THIS family, they'll be hearing from me!" She then told me while dramatically looking out the window, as if she was symbolically watching the world's demise, "I pray every day that the Lord won't curse this land with another Clinton." So by the time she asked me who I supported through guarded expressions, I was very relieved that I feel the same way about the Clintons as she does; and I was even more relieved at her reaction when I told her I was a staunch Mitt Romney supporter and she inducted me back into the family.
After the political talk we turned on the news to catch some highlights of the press conference with the new first presidency and I realized that even though the world chooses some terrible leaders, as long as God has a hand in things, we'll always still have some great ones. One of His great ones died a week and a half ago and for those of us who admired him, there will always be a part of us that misses him because of his incredible example of how a person should be in a world that is far from the way it should be. But Heavenly Father has blessed us again with a prophet and for that I am so thankful because even though we sometimes make some terrible mistakes and often disregard good people and the morals they stand on, He still loves us enough continue to put those kind of people on our paths to further go about saving the world one good choice and one good example at a time. And while we may not all agree on who is best to politically lead this country, those of us who understand the divine goodness in these people don't have to worry about whether supporting them or not is making some kind of mistake. Still, a week and a half later I can't help but wonder about a world that floods the news with reports of people making terrible choices and contributing nothing positive to the world, stars behaving badly if you must put a name to some of them, but then only in passing mention some of the lives of some of the greatest people this world has ever known- Gordon B Hinckley to name just one example. I guess I'm just old fashioned like that.