Saturday, July 26, 2014

Connections and Mortality

So, the last time I blogged was on Wednesday evening.  I have only run once since then.  I did a seven mile tempo run with three great friends and fellow runners on Thursday morning downtown. That put me up to 1202.2 miles total.  That is a nice accomplishment and if I continue to run the same average number of miles per day I will actually achieve over 2100 by year's end.  We will see.  And if I do go over 2000 we will also see what aditional spiritual places I can find on my virtual pilgrimage to the southwest.

But running is not what I want to talk about today.  Yesterday was a rest day.  Yesterday was the second time Sherry convinced me to go to something I had not otherwise planned to recently.  A few weeks back I went to the concert in which my oldest son performed as part of a brass ensemble and we supported The Uganda-Baltimore Alliance (TUBA).  I wrote about that on July 16 in "Family, Runner, Connector, Encourager."  Yesterday we attended a memorial service for a young man who passed away just prior to turning age 21 who was a member of the Church of Jesus Chirst of Latter Day saints.  I had a work commitment.  I ended up skipping the work commitment and going to the Memorial Service for a young man whom I barely remembered as part of the Maryland State Boychoir.  My middle son was singing as part of the memorial service.  I could have titled today's entry the same as I did on July 16.  Each of those four things came out yesterday as an observation as part of the service.

First--family.  Choosing to go with Sherry was the right thing to do.  I should have gone without question.  I should not have even needed to think about it.  It was to go with Sherry and to go with Joshua, too.  He chose to sing.  It was not required.  Being part of the Maryland State Boychoir experience is like having a very large extended family.  This was the second unexpected early experience with mortality for the boychoir in the past year.  A parent not long ago.  Now, an alumnus.

Second, runner.  Why is runner relevant.  The young man whose short life was being celebrated was not a runner.  But running (and writing about it) is my therapy.  My outlet.  How I choose to take time to think through issues so I can deal with them.  The older sister and father of the young man both gave talks.  The sister gave the official eulogy.  The father had an opportunity to provide extra remarks.  The sister was strong.  She talked about so many good things.  But she was also very honest about the issues that the young man faced including bipolar and substance abuse.  She referred to what he had done as self-medicating.  She was brutally and entirely honest about how hard it was to deal with him.  She was clear about what led up to his death.  The father commented on this as well.  He made four statements that he considered absolute.  This was instructive to me to see.  He even preceded some of what he said by talking to those in attendance who are not members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.  He basically said, "Outside this service we can be friends and accept the uncertainy of whose faith is correct.  But until I am done, please accept my beliefs as truth."  He probably even made it stronger than that.  But he was also brutally honest.  He said don't do drugs.  He also added alcohol.  We may differ on the alcohol, but he pointed out how they cloud judgment of the choices that we are here to make and how it can drive a wedge between and separate us from those whom we are here on earth in our mortal lives to love.  He also implored us not to cause contention.  He was brutally honest about how his certainty of the moral correctness of what he had told his son had also driven a wedge and pushed him away.  He said that only recently in his life had he reached a point at which he believed it was possible to have moral certainty but to show compassion for the person in his life who was absolutely wrong on a moral issue.  Again, all of this is relevant to me as I think about how I deal with the issues in my life and in the lives of those around me.

Third, connector.  Knowing as much as I know about the Church of Latter Day Saints in advance of last night (which is not really all that much but a lot more than I did a decade ago) helped me to put things in context much better than I could have otherwise.  The fact that they referred to parts of the service as talks.  The difference between a ward and a stake.  The importance of no drugs and no alcohol.  The terms bishop and president.  The importance of family and family for eternity.  The concept of being a spirit who chooses to come to earth to experience a mortal life.  Also, my musical interests.  As part of the service, the individuals on harp and cello played Bring Him Home (from Les Miserables).  I don't think there was a dry eye there.  It was an incredibly combination of instruments for an incredible song of longing.  And the belief that the young man is home.  I had a connector experience earlier in the day as I met with a colleague whom I had not seen in person in several years and we realized how interestingly our personal lives paralleled each other (not exactly but similar) and how much our professional lives overlapped.  One way for me to enjoy life is to find those connections and to make the most of them. 

Finally, encourager.  The older sister when she was done talked about how so many people have asked what else they could have done.  She turned that around and reminded everyone in attendance to focus on what they can do for people who are still alive.  Be the friend who is needed.  Help others out.  The father in the third of the four things he implored everyone to do said, "Do not despair."  He added in one of the most powerful expressions of the night, that if anyone ever felt so much despair that he or she felt that they were at the end of the line and that they wanted to end to call him.  Then he would find the person.  Then he would give the person the relentless hug that he could no longer give his son.  Everything is turned to a positive for the future for those who are still here. To try again to correct mistakes made in the past.  To correct mistakes made because of a combination of temptation and weakness as part of the free will that we have as humans.  So, why is all of this relevant. 

Am I the perfect encourager of family and friends?  No, sometimes I make the wrong choices and cause contention (thinking back to the second point the father made).  But I see myself as someone for whom encouraging is an important part of my calling.  (The calling is another aspect of life in the Church or Latter Day saints as the bishop of the ward talked about his calling to that ministry.)  In any case, yesterday for the third time recently a friend or colleague shared something very personal.  Asking for my opinion.  Asking for my judgment.  Asking for my wisdom.  I jokingly asked her, "Why do I get all these?"  She said it was a function of my emotional intelligence.  My approachability.  She didn't add this aspect, but I think the fact that I can offer an opinion without offering a judgment of the person.  She called me mentor.  This was the second person who had voluntarily called me mentor in an informal mentoring situation in the past several months.  Each time that happens it makes a big impression on me and it means a lot to me.  

Could I be a better encourager?  You bet.  With my sons.  With my wife.  Certainly with friends and students and colleagues in some cases.  But I like to think that I am already on a path of being "the friend who is there" or the one who helps those who have issues.  Perhaps not the despair that the father mentioned last night.  I had not had to deal with anything quite that strong.  But certainly have had to help people straighten themselves out and their situations out.

The father asked that if we have successes to share them.  Offering advice to each of my three friends recently is a success in giving them hope.  In helping them to move forward.  Small compared with what his son faced, for sure.  But each is a step in the right direction.

And so, as I move forward from last night, I will think about how to make less contention and more support (two things I think I already do a lot) even bigger parts of my personal mission.  First, with family by blood.  Then, with others around me.  

After the service, we went to eat cupcakes.  The young man's 21st birthday would have been this weekend.  The family has a tradition of singing a "Second first."  Same tune.  Same timing.  But added "'Tis love brings us here."  Love brings us to this earth--the love of our parents in most cases.  Love brings us together each week.  Love brings us to celebrate birthdays.  And love for the young man, for the family, and for those who supported all of them brought people together for the memorial service last night.  

If I can lead a life led by love to cause less contention and to support those in some type of despair, I will have led a successful life.  

Love is where my blogging began.  Love is what it returns to often.  Love is the root of all good in my life.

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