Posts Tagged ‘perseverance’

On Harry Potter, and Good Men Dying Young

There are spoilers here if you haven’t read or seen Harry Potter movies and books.  But if you haven’t, why you’re wasting your time reading this instead of that I’ll never know.

Last week I went to scout camp.

I’m not the Scoutmaster, only the Assistant Scoutmaster.  Ordinarily, the Scoutmaster is the one that takes the kids on the weeklong camp (with the Assistant and some parents pinch-hitting for a few days), but this time he couldn’t.  The Scoutmaster’s name is Lynn Sorensen, and he’s dying.

About 16 months ago, Lynn was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and given three months to live.  At about the three month mark last year, he was so far from dead that he took the scouts to Treasure Mountain in the Grand Tetons.  I went for three days, and was swapped out by another leader at that point.  Lynn was not quite his usual self, but pretty close.  He made it the whole week, and his doctor said he was better physically afterward than he was before he went.  This year, though, it became obvious a couple of months back that he wasn’t going to be able to go.  I was given the opportunity to take the job, and I jumped at it.  Yes, things are hard for us, but how often does one get a chance to carry a burden for such a man?

Because one must have two leaders at all times with the boys, I found another leader in my son Alexander, who is 19, and is largely just sitting there consuming resources (and waiting for his mission call – which came while we were at camp – to Buenos Aires).  It was an irreplaceable opportunity for us to interact not so much as father and son, but as peers.  For that alone, I would have been very grateful for the opportunity, but as it was, it came with a whole lot more.  Lynn was on everyone’s mind pretty close to all the time.  We missed him.  The troop voted to rename itself “Lynn’s Boys” in his honor, and we honored our Lynn by bringing home every award there was in camp.

Going as we did with death on our minds, it seems a bit surreal that while we were there, a scout was struck by lightning during one of the most violent thunderstorms I’ve ever seen.  He never regained consciousness and died on that hill, the same hill we were camping on.  One of our scouts was at our campsite with Alexander and they were about 75 yards away from the strike.  I was across the valley with the Camp Director, and we all knew something terrible was possible from that bolt.  We all heard it.  We knew which one it was.

The whole camp knew that something grim was happening, just from the reactions of the normally calm camp staff.  They weren’t freaking out, but they got the same look I remember seeing on the faces of the airport guards in Rome when I was there during a terrorist attack in 1985.  Serious.  Tightly focused.  There is a sort of squaring of the shoulders, a realization that what is coming will likely test them.  That it will be painful, and also that it must be borne.  It was clear long before the Life Flight ‘copter came over that the odds were not good of any happy outcome from the incident, and when the chopper stayed on the ground for almost an hour, we knew.

The unfortunate scout wasn’t screwing around.  He wasn’t off by himself.  He wasn’t playing golf, or even fishing, sticking a metal rod up in the air.  And he wasn’t by any possible stretch the highest point in the area.  Our campsite was higher than his by 75-100 feet, and we had metal pavilion poles sticking up out of it.  So what happened was sheer, raw, uncomplicated bad luck.

We gathered the boys around later that night in the safety of the truck and were quite blunt with them.  People die, we said.  Everyone dies.  It might take a year, or ten years, or a hundred years, but everyone’s jug of milk has an expiration date on it.  You don’t know what that date is.  You can make it fractionally less likely to be soon by doing certain things and avoiding others, but you can’t say for certain one way or the other when it will be, no matter who you are.  Lynn Sorensen, one of the world’s most productive and positive people, is dying of cancer.  David Rayborn, a twelve-year-old kid out at a scout camp doing what he’s supposed to be doing, gets hit by lightning and never goes home.  I don’t think it’s actually random, but the Intelligence that is capable of predicting it is as far beyond ours as the sun is beyond a candle, so to us, it’s a toss of the dice.  Hiding from this fact is a terrible waste.  It has to be faced.

We were in a place to face it.  So we did.  We talked about it.  The kids weren’t afraid – twelve- and thirteen-year-olds think they’re immortal – but they were somber.  They understood that they had a choice, to live the time they had or to die without having lived at all.  To be what they meant to be, all the time, so that they would never exit stage right with their lines unsaid or their part unplayed.  Dedicate yourself to the things that matter.  Kiss your mother and tell her you love her.  Hug your Dad.  Be kind to your brothers and sisters.  Then square your shoulders and go.

The night we returned, my son and I, we went to see Harry Potter 7.2.  We’re Potter fans, if not necessarily Rowling fans, and we had been looking forward to this last movie for quite a while.  I don’t mind confessing that I wept openly at parts of it.  There were, as you might imagine, a few things that seemed to bring the movie uncomfortably close to home.  The theme, it seemed to me, was a familiar one.  In fact, I thought I remembered hearing it (not quite so well said, or as dramatically) at our campfire on Wednesday night, and Thursday night, and Friday.

Now, I know there are parents out there that are not fans of Harry Potter.  On the side of the political spectrum I inhabit, and especially on the religious edge I frequent, there are parents that think that exposing their children to witchcraft is a bad thing.  And so it would be, if there were anything even remotely like real witchcraft in Harry Potter.  The magical universe is a joke.  Anything that creates Bertie Bott’s EveryFlavor Beans and Jumping Chocolate Frogs as an introduction to the culture is not serious.  You could easily substitute ray guns for wands and the stories would make about the same amount of sense.  There isn’t any serious magic ever performed.  I absolutely flat-back guarantee you there are more kids that lost their way religiously because of the weird and silly Jedi cult than ever did because of Harry Potter.

On the contrary, what is actually taught in the Potter Saga is courage, selflessness, resourcefulness, and commitment.  When has there ever been a tale that was more supportive of study and discipline?  More encouraging of education and preparation?  Less dismissive of the consequences of shoddy work and goofing off?

But it’s so much better than that.  Look not at the characters, but what makes the characters.  Draco Malfoy, warped and twisted because of his father’s ambition.  Hermione Granger, who is the focal point of bullying and abuse because…her parents are muggles.  Ron Weasley, who forms the rallying point for Harry and Hermione because…he has a family.  A real one.  And Harry himself, to whom the most important people in the world are his parents and his godfather.  In every major character, Dumbledore, Snape, Sirius Black, even Voldemort himself, there are the potent effects of family and parents, for good and ill.

And in the end, it is the mothers that save the day.  Molly Weasley blasts Bellatrix LeStrange.  Narcissa Malfoy, out of love for her son, saves Harry’s life. And it is Harry’s mother, arguably the most important character in the entire series, that is the crux of the entire final episodal arc, and she’s never been alive for even a second of the entire 4000-page epic.  Her love for Harry is shown to be the most powerful force in all the magical world.  Where, I beg you, where is the message in this you do not want your children to hear?

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book.”  – Of Other Worlds

Soundly killed they may be, and are, and in the meantime the book and the movie look a lot like our lives.  Here we have Sirius Black, killed by…well, we don’t know.  He’s dead mostly because he loves Harry.  Tonks and Remus Lupin, killed defending the children of Hogwarts.  Fred Weasley is dead, too, alone of the Weasley family, and Bill is scarred for life.  Good people that we care about and that didn’t do anything wrong.  One here of this group and one there of that.  No rhyme.  No reason.  But in the greater sense, in the largest possible sense, in the only perspective that works, it doesn’t matter.

Because I heard echoing through the theater the voice of Nevill Longbottom, my personal favorite, telling me and my scouts and those poor parents of that unlucky boy that the good do not die in vain.  They live.  They live because they do that which they came to do, they fight their fight, and they go, as Dumbledore said, “on”.  Only Voldemort, the beast seeking for eternal life, would, even if he found it, have no life at all, for all his works were vanity.  None would remember him, or mourn him, or make a song for him.  His life would mean nothing, and his death less than nothing.

Not so with David Rayborn, and not with Lynn Sorensen.  Not so with you, and not with me, this I swear.

Read the books.  See the movies.  Kiss your mother and hug your Dad.

And then square your shoulders and go.

Blessing Experiment Tweet Report

Probably, you’re not following me on Twitter, so here’s what you’re missing:

2011-07-07 02:08:39
CjLehi: #blessing 8,9,10,11,12 and 13: Valter Nassi’s incredible Tuscan
Promenade at the indescribable Cucina Toscana.

2011-07-06 23:52:37
CjLehi: #blessing 7: wisdom enough to give no response under provocation.
More bad news, but I have not compounded it with foolishness. For once.

2011-07-06 23:17:02
CjLehi: #blessing 6: German engineering. My first ride in a Mercedes over
any real distance. Holy. &%(&*$^.

2011-07-06 23:04:02
CjLehi: #blessing 5: Computers.  I write probably 8-10,000 words a week.
Cannot imagine having to do that on my IBM Selectric.

2011-07-06 22:25:02
CjLehi: #blessing 4: The awesome Lehi Rotary Club. Congratulations to Ron
Foggin, new President, and welcome Glen Meigs to the past-president club.

2011-07-06 22:18:02
CjLehi: #blessing 3: Jill Peterson, who is currently juggling my life so I
don’t have to.

2011-07-06 22:00:28
CjLehi: #blessing 2: a father that really believes in me, no matter how
many times I have cried wolf.

2011-07-06 18:30:20
CjLehi: #blessing 1: Ian Darke. It’s so nice to be able to watch a soccer
match in English, where the announcer is worth listening to.

2011-07-06 18:28:06
CjLehi: Day 6 of the #blessing experiment. Lots of positive things to
tweet.

2011-07-06 04:46:44
CjLehi: #blessing 11: a new day to try again. Didn’t finish strong today.
Have to give day 5 a 6. Not really the day’s fault, tho.

2011-07-06 01:27:43
CjLehi: #blessing 10: http://lockerz.com/s/117438298

2011-07-06 01:21:12
CjLehi: #blessing 9: a son that respects the flag of his country enough to
retire it properly.

2011-07-06 01:20:20
CjLehi: #blessing 8: salad from my own garden. Well, mostly from there.

2011-07-05 21:50:25
CjLehi: A continuacion…: Day 5 is underway of the #blessing experiment on
Twitter (I don’t use my phone much on weekends… http://bit.ly/oBKTl2

2011-07-05 21:30:39
CjLehi: #blessing 7: the entire Harmon clan, but today especially Jeff and
Neal, with a shout out to Theron. Great lunch, even better conversation.

2011-07-05 21:23:36
CjLehi: #blessing 6: the hole-in-the-wall Neapolitan restaurant La Dolce
Vita in Provo. Authentic Italian.

2011-07-05 16:51:26
CjLehi: #blessing 5: spare buttons for my shirt. That’s thoughtful design.
And 5a my lovely wife sewing the replacement on.

2011-07-05 15:10:37
CjLehi: #blessing 4: an impossible six green lights in a row through the
busiest part of town.

2011-07-05 14:55:46
CjLehi: #blessing 3: finding that my potential, inhumanly-successful
business partners are human after all. Since I certainly am.

2011-07-05 14:49:42
CjLehi: #blessing 2: a four-hour wide-ranging conversation with Randy
Peterson. Learned a great deal.

2011-07-05 14:48:10
CjLehi: #blessing 1: the lifted ban on aerial fireworks. Made yesterday
evening sound like a WWII movie.

2011-07-05 14:46:59
CjLehi: Back after the excellent weekend to the #blessing experiment, day
5.

2011-07-05 13:59:32
CjLehi: Dan at his best. RT @mortgagereports: When Mortgage Rates Rise 1%,
Your Purchasing Power Falls By 10.75%. http://t.co/DjAxiY4

2011-07-02 07:00:21
CjLehi: #blessing experiment day 4 is a wrap. I give today a 9.5, best day
in months. If the trend continues, tomorrow will be perfect.

2011-07-02 04:16:41
CjLehi: #blessing 10 thru 1476: The Jimmy Rex firework show. I know some
cool people.  http://lockerz.com/s/116137113

2011-07-02 01:30:50
CjLehi: #blessing 9: it’s BYU’s independence day! #BYUDAY

2011-07-02 00:32:42
CjLehi: @thebookmaven Reading Thou Shall Prosper by Rabbi Levin.
#fridayreads

2011-07-02 00:02:35
CjLehi: #blessing 8: finished the week and did not take the car to work.
Not once. I do love Lehi.

2011-07-01 03:21:51
CjLehi: I’m using @TweetBackup by @backupify to archive my tweets

http://tweetbackup.com

2011-07-01 03:18:59
CjLehi: #blessing 6: my son ALexander has his papers in, at long, long
last.  If you’re LDS, you know what that’s code for.  If not, well, sorry.

2011-07-01 02:26:19
CjLehi: #blessing 5 is a doozy. From White Collar, from “Where There’s a
Will”, the excellent joke of the Ark in the Nazi sub relics. So shiny!

2011-07-01 20:56:50
CjLehi: #blessing 7: I feel good. I’m happy. It’s been a while. The
interesting thing is that my circumstances have not really improved. Even
so.

2011-07-01 20:26:04
CjLehi: #blessing 6: the orange chicken at the Thai House on Main in Lehi.
Oh, doctor. THAT’S lunch!

2011-07-01 20:22:48
CjLehi: #blessing 5: ripe cherries. You get four weeks, max, and then it’s
over. I’ll be sick, but I won’t care.

2011-07-01 15:19:48
CjLehi: Happy Birthday to You!: Last night, I completed my 43rd year on the
planet. I’m disgusted. No, I take that back…. http://bit.ly/mPsKgI

2011-07-01 15:18:28
CjLehi: #blessing 3: Max.  http://lockerz.com/s/115932814

2011-07-01 15:17:35
CjLehi: #blessing 2: HDTV. I know that I used to watch tv before HD, I just
can’t remember why.

2011-07-01 13:13:41
CjLehi: #blessing 1: humility. I love to play basketball, but I played my
age today. Sigh.

2011-07-01 12:05:16
CjLehi: Day 4 of the #blessing experiment. More positive, and often
cryptic, tweets on the way.

Some really fascinating things are happening with this.  It’s true that there has not been much change in the type of things that have been happening to me, but there has definitely been a change in my reaction to them.  Even really negative things, I’m reacting to differently than I have before.  So we’ll be continuing, no doubt about it.  We’re one week of tweets in.

On Writing, and Everything Else

My son Nicholas tells me he wants to be a writer.  I think that’s wonderful, except for one thing:

He’s wrong.

How do I know this?  How can I penetrate the heart of my 16-year-old son so deeply, to expose this secret?  Simple.  Writers do one thing that other people do not.  They write.  And Nicholas does not.  Not letters, not a journal, not stories, not, except under duress, even papers.  He writes nothing.  Q.E.D., he is not a writer.

I’ve always wanted to be able to write well.  Really well, well enough to sell the things I write.  When I was in high school I failed my geometry class because I was writing a post-apocalyptic romance novel about me and this girl I had a crush on.  Sixty-three longhand pages later, I had a work of surpassing ugliness and sap, and an F in geometry, but it didn’t really matter.  I had to be writing.

I wrote a diary.  I wrote stories about my fictional football players.  I wrote newspapers.  I wrote essays.  I wrote quite a bit, when I look back.  When I got to college, I wrote short stories and essays, and some of them won prizes.  I got published a couple of times.  That’s not, as I look back now, a bad beginning.  Clearly, I had some skill.  There might have been a career there.

But I stopped writing.  Oh, not entirely, never that, but seriously.  I stopped writing stories and entering contests.  I stopped sending essays to magazines.  I finished a novel – a really, really bad novel about things I know nothing whatever about – but only because my father told me I never would.  It was unreconstructable, unpolishable.  A dead story with no future.  But it was a beginning, and I finished it at 23, and I had clean sand in front of me.  On this sand, I have made few new footprints.

I have marveled for years at the clarity and power of the writing of people like Orson Scott Card, Dick Francis, Isaac Asimov, Donald Westlake (okay, “clarity and power” don’t fit here, more like “hilarity and seismic wit”), to say nothing of classic writers like Jane Austen or Alexandre Dumas.  Card, especially, has embraced the internet and the opportunities it provides.  He writes multiple columns, reviews, blogs, and still churns out novels and short stories and all sorts of material.  I write a lot, even still, but this guy writes fanatically.  He’s a writer.  So he writes.  No wonder he’s good.

Put that much time in at anything, you’re going to be good.  This is the premise of Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, a book the Chris Jones Group highly recommends.  You do something a lot, all the time, even, and you’ll be good at it.  Get training, get feedback, be humble and listen, and you’ll get better faster.  But nobody comes out of the box brilliant.  Everyone has to work at it.  Even Christopher Paolini.

That should make you feel good.  It does me.  You want to write?  Write.  You want to sing?  Sing.  You want to program computers, then program the bleeping computers.  Whatever it is you want to do, do it.  Do it a lot.  And you will become good at it.

On Doing Something

Once upon a time, when I was in sixth grade, my very excellent teacher, Mrs. Lindstrom, put the class through a month-long exercise in market economics.  At least, I think that’s what it was.  Anyway, in this exercise, each of us had money to spend and each of us had a profession, through which we created things for people to buy.  I was a writer.  So was my friend Harold Stusnick.

I was then and am today a better writer than Harold is.  But after a week, Harold had sold a story.  After two weeks, he’d sold three.  After a month, he had far, far more money than I did, even though my story was infinitely better than the Star Wars-style imitative shlock he was turning out.

But there’s the key: he was turning out stories.  And I wasn’t.  I never finished my story.  He finished several, and he sold them, because he had something of value to sell, and I never sold anything, because I didn’t.

I have wanted to be many things in my life, and have begun being many of those things, and never finished most of them.  I did not learn to play the trumpet with any skill.  I did not reach the point where I actually enjoyed playing the piano (and now cannot play at all).  Like everyone, I have a huge list of potential projects to do that I may never get around to doing.

But.

Recently, really in the last six months or so, something has changed in me.  I now do things instead of just talking about them.  I thought Lehi needed a newspaper, so I started one.  I didn’t let it take over my life, so it doesn’t come out every week or anything, but I do print a newspaper, Lehi’s only one.  It will surely never win a Pulitzer.  But I have subscribers.

I always wanted to sing professionally.  Through a series of wild coincidences, I was given the opportunity.  I took those opportunities.  I will never be on stage at the Met.  Nevertheless, now I sing opera and I get paid for it.

I always wanted to teach school, but I have no truck with the education establishment (despite that my mother is a certified, currently-employed teacher, and my father has a Masters in Education and teaches at a community college).  But because I helped a bookstore to hang on by its fingernails, when that bookstore transitioned to a school, I was asked to teach.  So now I am also a teacher.  And I get paid for that, too.

There’s a pattern here that gives me hope.  Perhaps, after 30 years, Mrs. Lindstrom’s lesson is finally sinking in.  You, too, have a list of things you want to do, projects – sometimes hopeless projects – that you keep feeling you want to do.  First, write them down.  Let them marinate.  But then, do something.  One little thing, every day, to move one of those projects forward.

You’ll be as shocked as I am how far you can get that way.

Some Couple Weeks

Last week, my home computer gave up the ghost. I shut it down one night, and in the morning, nothing. No boot cycle. Nothing. That usually means a blown motherboard, though I couldn’t tell you how it happened, so rather than go and get a new one and see if I could get all my components to work with it, I stripped the components and went and got another computer. If you’re wondering why no blog for two weeks, that’s most of the reason. Reassembling all the data and all the programs is a process that is still going on. It takes forever and it isn’t cheap.

Also last week, the central vac stopped working. Central vac is great, but it’s biggest drawback is that if something gets jammed in the piping, you’re screwed. It costs a good deal to get it out again, unless you are hugely fortunate and can do it yourself. Well, we have one or two kids here, and they have one or two friends, and things are constantly getting jammed. Sometimes we can get them out. Not this time. Not only that, but the guy comes out, fixes the problem, and within one day it starts again; exactly the same problem in exactly the same place. We haven’t been able to vacuum the house in over two weeks. Maybe in your house that’s livable; here, it is not. We need the vacuum every day. There is an oppressive and increasing amount of crap on the floor and it’s starting to really weigh on Jeanette, especially, who has to be around it every day and can’t really get it clean with a dustbuster.

Last Friday, as I was driving home from the home office in Bountiful, just tooling along in the fast lane doing a relatively sedate 75, the the engine up and stops. I rolled to a stop about a quarter mile from the Bangerter highway exit – thank Heaven it wasn’t much, much further north – over against the concrete dividers and tried to get it to start. No luck. I had to get Jeanette to come get me – fortunately she could – and tow me to my folks’ place, where we could get the car over to the mechanic.

He called about half an hour later and told us the integrated timing belt broke and we’d have to spend about $500 just to find out if the car had any serious damage to it, which it probably did. A new engine costs $3500. I bought the car to be my primary transportation, leaving Elanor, our Dodge Stratus, for my wife, so she didn’t have to drive our gas-guzzling 15-passenger van to the grocery store while the kids were in school. We had owned it for a little over two weeks.

Those things are a little tough to take. They hurt our wallets, which are none too fat to begin with, and they take up huge chunks of time, of which we have even less. They kill productivity, stop momentum, wear us out. But in the end, they’re just things, and things we can get along without.

But then yesterday morning, a stray dog got into our back yard. We were sitting down to scriptures when we heard him barking at our cats, so we sent Alexander, our animal lover (and our oldest and largest child) to shoo him away. Friendly dog. Didn’t bark at him and wasn’t mean.

A few minutes later, Xander came in white as a sheet and told us he thought the dog had killed all our chickens. We have ten chickens of all sizes and ages, all different kinds, many of whom were given to us by locals, but some we raised from eggs since the day they were hatched. They were all young, and just starting to lay. We built them a very sturdy coop and run, and were looking forward to a long cycle of egg production, something we really need. They had names. They had personalities. They were, like all living things that we come to know – animals, people, everyone – part of our family.

I say “were” because Xander was right. Silky, Xander’s favorite, was lying in the middle of the run. Chickens don’t lie down on their sides, except for one reason. The coop exterior door was open, and Honey, Charlotte’s favorite, was lying in the doorway. Outside on the grass by the woodpile three of our bantams were scattered in a mass of feathers. When we opened the coop, we found the Chicklets, the three Buff Orpingtons we raised from the day they were born, all together as always, all dead.

Reconstructing, the gate had been left open and the dog – it was a bird dog breed – got through into the back yard, jumped up on the coop and broke into the run. It killed and ate one of the bantams, then killed Silky in the run while the rest of the flock tried escaping into the coop. But the dog followed, killed the Chicklets, who would, just like our three older boys, never leave each other no matter the danger, then killed Honey and in doing so knocked the door open, so the three remaining bantams escaped through the door. The dog caught them and killed them a few feet away. Because most of it happened inside the coop, we never heard a thing.

By this point, of course, the girls are weeping, and the rest of us are
having trouble ourselves. We loved these birds. What made it worse
was that we, all of us, felt responsible for not having protected them. They were in trouble and needed our help, and we weren’t there. We knelt together as a family – nobody’s going to school after this, I can tell you, not today – and prayed that God would forgive us for not being better stewards, and that He’d help us not hate the dog, who was just being a dog. Our family has had some shocks, and we’ve always prayed for help when they came, and our prayers are always answered.

They were this time as well. It was a terrible day, a very sad day, but we were comforted and it didn’t end up being traumatic. We worked together to bury the chickens (except the one we ate – hey, it’s what chickens are for), get the house cleaned up a little, get the garden back in shape. We pulled together and talked about what happens to us when we die. Fortunately, none of us have had to face that yet. But it’s coming, and we need to be ready. And it turns out that our best egg layer survived the attack. Crispy is the one that knows how to get out of the run, and she did it when the dog attacked. She got bit – there are feathers all over – but she escaped. How she’ll deal with being all by herself instead of part of a flock, we don’t know, but we’re very grateful she’s still with us.

I don’t know what this is all for. We’re under a black cloud at the moment. We’re not able to replace the car, and it will take months to replace the chickens. Huge amounts of time and money, feed and water, exacting care so that eventually – next March, now – we’ll start to get eggs again. We can survive without another car, though it will cost us both in the wallet and on the clock.

But we’re here. All of us are still here. Thanner is still running around the house and laughing, and it’s a school day. Life goes on.

Psalm 121:1. We’ll make it.