I’ve looked back in my scripture study journal from this year and have rediscovered the fact that, for the firstfew months of 2013, I was studying “beauty” according to the standard works. My main goal for the year, though it was broken down into more specifics than this, was basically to become and feel like a more beautiful daughter of God.
Now, the problem with goals like this is that beauty is a big deal for women in a worldly sense as much as it is in a spiritual sense, and it’s so easy to get mixed up and think that beauty is about what size jeans you wear, how thick or long your hair is, or how much attention you get. Shallow thoughts, but legitimate ones in a media-frenzied world where such things are made to matter, or at least made to seem like they matter. It’s too easy to forget the spiritual end of things, and the fact that this is what my goal was really about.
To assist with this, back in the beginning of the year, I started to record every week some of the beautiful things I did, the beautiful things I saw, and the beautiful things that happened to me. These things made me feel that life was beautiful, God was beautiful, and I was beautiful. So in that vein, here are some of the beautiful things I’ve done in the last few weeks:
Beautiful things I’ve seen in the last week:
Beautiful things that have happened to me:
As flawed human beings, and perhaps especially as women, feeling beautiful can be a rare occasion. It’s easy to feel more akin to Leah than Rachel and to feel like a completely different species than Esther. But beauty is also something that can be created with our hands and drunk in with our eyes and accepted with our hearts. And a person that can do these things is beautiful, from soul to skin.]]>
Bone dry ground,
Cracked for want of water,
The blisters of the earth,
Beyond pleading for rain.
Resigned to desolation.
Here grows the yucca plant,
As bitter as its surroundings,
Harsh, forbidding as the sound of
A rattlesnake in the grass.
Blood of passersby on its blades.
But even for the yucca plant,
There is spring.
Child of the blistered ground,
Bitter heart born of the sky’s neglect,
Even you bloom.]]>
The arch rests atop the cliffs,
Springtime scattered in green blotches against the river below.
The air tastes like desert–heat and hot dust
And the zing of life tenacious.
I gaze through the arch at the distance,
Red cliffs, shelves, racks of the Earth–
Story upon story, leaves of the Earth’s diary.
Behind that, blue mountains crowned white
By clouds above, in the midst of the coronation.
I must reach that distant vision–
So often lost in offices, at desks,
In grocery store lines and at ATMs.
I must reach it and never go back.
I must go through the arch, the gateway to a new life.
I walk the path of red steep rock.
I walk beneath Earth’s bow in the sky.
I am beneath. I am through.
I sit on the cliffs, staring at red walls stained black,
At rivers far below lined with cottonwood trees,
At the desert singing its song of survival
Against the blue mountains.
I am through the arch, that much closer to the vision.
The trick is never to go back.]]>
“When I have fears that I may cease to be…”
“What would be your last words, Kessia?” Carin asked me.
We were about to go on a camping trip and two of my fellow campers—Jesse and Carin—had already given their answers. Jesse’s was a stoic “Happy at last” in Latin. Carin’s was a more sentimental and flattering, “Kessia, you inspire me. I crave you.” Now they both looked at me.
“I don’t know,” I said, shrugging. “Last words are important—pretty much the most important words you’ll ever say. I’d have to think about it.”
Why we happened to be commenting on last words I can’t say. I didn’t think us in any atypical danger. Our camping trip, which we were literally packing up to go on as we spoke, didn’t sound overly complicated. The plan was to hike fifteen miles through Provo Canyon from Wallsburg to Vivian Park, camping about three miles in. The trickiest part would be that we’d all have to drive to Vivian Park first, leave two cars there, and then cram into two vehicles to drive to the trailhead. But that didn’t seem especially complex. After that, we just had to follow the map, keep an eye on the GPS, ration our water, and enjoy Nature. This didn’t seem too complicated for our well-prepared group of seven, made up of Jesse, Emma, Maren, Jani and James Crawley, and then Carin and I.
I fled to Nature for relief that Friday afternoon. Every now and again, life builds up into a convoluted mass of commitments, responsibilities, goals, dreams, all of them demanding, none of them possible to perform perfectly. There are family ties to manage, there’s work to do honestly and well, there’s the dream and therefore responsibility to write, friendships to create and support and maintain, church callings to magnify, people to serve, apartments to clean and manage, future’s to plan—in short, there are a million wonderful things in my life, all of which give me great happiness but also can occasionally strain. In fact, the day before at work, with all the tragic fires around Utah, strange smoke clouds cast an eerie orange glow to the world and smoke made us cough and wheeze as we worked. Ash began to rain from the sky. It seemed a symbol for a world of loveliness turned toxic, wasted and charred, as we breathed the fragments that had once been trees. It was raining sorrow. So a camping trip—leaving Provo behind, going into the mountains of Ephraim to dwell, even if only for a night—this seemed glorious. As long as the air was a bit more breathable, that is, which it was. So we thought it would all work out great.
Well, things pretty much immediately began to go wrong.
We dropped off two of the cars at Vivian park and then five of us crammed into Emma’s boat-like Buick, stuffing all of our packs in the trunk, and headed for Wallsburg, where the Crawleys would meet us. We drove down lovely residential roads until we came to a dirt path, which we meandered our way down in our two vehicles. The road grew a little rough, but not impossible.
Until we rounded a particular bend.
There, we came to a point where the creek crossed the dirt road, rushing over boulders and rocks as it went.
Emma stopped the car.
Technically, the road split and could go above the creek for a second, before plunging in briefly before climbing out on the other side. And the water itself wasn’t more than a few inches deep. But the large rocks…
Jesse felt we could make it. We all got out of the Buick and Jesse and Carin moved some of the rocks. Then Jesse got behind the wheel and plunged the Buick right into the creek with Emma biting her nails the entire time. Scraping and squealing, the poor Buick nearly got stuck, but finally did get itself out of the river onto the other side.
But not without damage. It had hit the bottom pretty hard and now there was a strange hissing noise emitting from underneath it. At first, we thought it might be the tires, but the hissing sound stopped as soon as the engine turned off.
It was pretty much a disaster.
But after Jesse and Emma bantered about him buying her a new car, we decided that the hike must go on.
The Crawley’s parked their car. Emma parked hers. And we just decided to start our hike right then and there and walk down to the trailhead ourselves. We theorized this would add only an extra mile to our trek. Of course, it ended up being three times that—but it was doable.
And meanwhile we found ourselves wandering through an endless aspen grove, the leaves glittering and shivering in the breeze. The water weaved in and out between the white trees, and pointed stumps appeared here and there from the dam-building beavers, their homes halting water flow and creating still green ponds. Somewhere close by, it seemed someone had unleashed all the butterflies of Eden. Wings of orange and red and white and gold and blue bobbed and flagged on the warm air. I felt like my soul had been unleashed on the wild edge of the world and Nature’s own jubilant fireworks were flaring around me.
What did it matter it was actually three miles to the trailhead? Or even that our GPS didn’t work and our map was useless? As we got lost in that paradise, as we took the road less traveled by and pressed into thick trees and bushes, I drank in the whole world. To either side of the river at this point, we heard bleating and—sure enough—ahead, right on the trail as well, was a huge herd of sheep. They raced away from us up steep slopes, their huge canine protectors, almost large and white as the biggest of the sheep, barking at us as we approached.
After wandering up and down small trails like that, watching out for the presents the sheep left on the trail, we went back to a larger path. There we pressed forward for the next several hours, Jesse trying to get the GPS to work or at least the map to make sense. The trail began to bend steeply upward and we pressed onward up into the mountains, unsure of whether or not we had the right trail.
But as we walked, we talked of the aspen trees—how each entire grove is actually one plant, all clones of each other. That because of this, aspen groves are actually the largest living organism on the planet. I could almost feel the interconnectedness beneath my feet. And I could see it around me in each of these tall twins reaching up toward life, toward the sun, dropping the branches that failed to receive light, twisting sometimes into sudden ninety degree angles in order to better catch the light.
All around us was life—a snake, chipmunks, deer, and ever and ever the butterflies flashing in the dappled shade, wings beating slow and rhythmic from atop the blazing wildflowers.
Finally, as we panted our way to the top of a high ridge, we decided to make camp on the open area there where three trails converged—the one we’d come from, one heading off to the left, and another heading steeply uphill to the right. We removed our packs. And I could only laugh as I took a look at myself. My shirt was drenched in sweat across my shoulders and back. And my legs from my ankles to my capris were brown-black with dirt. But though this might normally be revolting, I only smiled.
This was Nature, our unifying Mother. Here, the social pressures of Provo no longer held power. My responsibilities, stresses, and fears were dispelled. One thing I felt about life here was that it was unjudged. Here, whether you’re a human or a deer or a sheep, you all climb mountains. Here, all sweat, all get dirty, and all even—yes—need to urinate. Here, we’re unified by the fact that we all live, as messy and crass and unorganized as life can be. And here we’re unified by the fact that we’ll all die too one day. In this sense, the sweat and the dirt and the bugs are a message of acceptance and unity with all the life of the world, with the Earth, and even with God, its merciful creator. Here, unlike anywhere else, even in the grimy clothes we bring with us from home, we’re naked before the heavens in that we are quite simply and singly mortal.
Of course, this didn’t mean that there was no fear among us. Carin especially, as the sun went down, grew more and more agitated by the idea of bears coming into camp during the night. We were, after all, not exactly at an official campsite. This was the mountains, plain and simple.
We attempted to reassure her as her fears began to grow unreasonable. We were smart, after all. Stuffing all of our food, deodorant, and toothpaste into bear bags, we strapped it up high in trees far from camp. But Carin soon grew terrified. I tried to reassure her that bears are a lot shyer of humans than we often give them credit for. Also, the sheep and the sheepdogs decided to spend the night just down the hill from us, which would mean we’d have a lot of warning if there was a bear in the area. Emma helped try to calm Carin by creating a lot of noise to scare any wildlife away. And Maren explained that if a bear did come, she’d ask it kindly in French not to eat us and—since all bears are fluent in French—this would solve the entire problem.
But Carin’s fear still grew.
The sun set into dark-pined mountains and then the moon rose, half full and bright. We walked around on a silver earth, lit without flashlights, our elven moonshadows scaling the mountains behind us. For a while, we’d desired to stargaze—but in the brightness of the moon, few stars were visible. So, refusing to start a fire and chance a new wildfire catastrophe, we all decided to go to bed.
There were three tents up on that ridge: one for Jesse on one side, one for the Crawleys on the other, and the last for Emma, Maren, Carin, and I in the middle, right in front of the trail from where we’d come, its door facing that direction. It was a lovely night, just a little chilled, and Maren decided to sleep out beneath the stars, though our tent ceiling was clear. She set up her sleeping bag out behind our tent, opposite the path we’d taken up. And from there, we tried to relax—but this proved difficult.
Not only did Carin panic during the night, but she also began to feel quite ill complete with a headache and nausea. This would, it seemed, be torment. And it started out that way. At each and every noise, Carin would jerk upright: “Kessia, what’s that?”
“Oh,” she’d say. And then lie back down.
As I drifted off again, she’d leap up. “What’s that?”
“Just Maren out there shifting in her sleep.”
And then: “Kessia, what’s that?!”
And a short time later: “What’s–?!”
And finally: “Why do you think they’re barking? Do they smell something? Is it bears?”
I listened, groggy. “No. Those are happy barks. We’ll be able to tell if they change. Don’t worry.”
I awoke on my own around 3:00 AM. The moon had finally set and the entire world had sunk into shadows but for the sky, blazing with fat, blurry stars. At this point, I realized I needed to use the bathroom. I voiced as much and Carin, in relief, said, “Oh good—so do I.”
I said we should go. Carin asked, “Is it safe? What if there’s bears?”
“It’ll be fine. There’s nothing out there. We’ll go together, okay?”
At that point, we hear the Crawley’s tent unzip and Jani say, “I’m coming too.”
So I open our tent and step out, putting on one of my shoes. Jani comes around and stands beside me. Carin’s preparing to come out just behind me. Right as I’m about to put on my second shoe, it happens:
Just down the trail, a large branch snaps.
We all stiffen—and then hear it: the low long grunt of a bear.
I’m not sure what happened next except panic. Somehow I went from standing in front of the tent to finding myself, shoe still in hand, inside the tent on my sleeping bag. For all I know, I could’ve back-flipped right back inside, though Emma later told me it was more of a flying dive. Carin, at that point, started zipping up the tent—at the same time that we hear Jani, who has somehow magically reached her own tent at the same time, zipping up hers.
Then Carin and Emma (who heard the whole thing) and I are lying altogether in terror, listening. Emma is giggling nonstop in her terror. “Kessia, what do we do?” Carin asks.
Jani, from the other tent, says, “Sh! Be quiet!”
And I’m not sure whether that’s because of the bear or so that James can sleep.
But in any case, I say, “Lie down…and pray.”
So we get to it, but we’re too panicked to really be quiet for long. Emma keeps giggling and Carin bursts out, “What about Maren?”
Maren—outside the tent. What could we do? Should we wake her up and scare her? And even if we did, how could she get back inside the tent? She’s behind it and to get to the door, she’d have to go around to the front where a bear waited less than fifty yards down the trail. “Well,” I finally said, “at least…at least this tent is between the bear and Maren. That’s something.”
At this point, both the sheepdogs started barking madly. “Kessia,” Carin said.
“Happy barks, remember?” I say—though all of us, including Maren who’s awake and lying as still as possible outside, know that these are not happy dogs at this point.
In my head, I told myself we were going to be fine. Bears are as scared of us as we are of them. The likelihood of a bear actually attacking us is small. We had no food in our tent. We didn’t even have chapstick. We’d done everything right. That’s what I told myself.
But in my heart, I was afraid. I lay pressed to the outer edge of the tent, which made me vulnerable. Not as vulnerable as Maren, outside and alone, but still. And then there were the sheepdogs, barking, protecting the sheep, driving the bear up here toward our camp…
And I couldn’t help but think, “What if this is it? What if I die tonight?”
Suddenly our talk about last words seemed very real.
Beside me, Carin seemed to be thinking along the same lines. “Kessia?”
“I love you.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I love you too.”
There wasn’t much wisdom in that, I suppose. It didn’t even feel somber or potent. And as soon as we said it, Emma burst into another round of giggles. But those were the words we chose. Love over wisdom. But the words had power all the same, just because they were true, just because it wasn’t the only time we’d ever said them. They felt good. So as Emma laughed, I said, “We love you too, Emma.”
And then we waited, hearing things that didn’t exist in our fear. We lay there, and I stared up through the tent at a million million stars. It was beautiful. I’d never seen so many stars, glowing large and bright, creating rivers in the velvet darkness above me. It’s funny to me that I was thinking that in this moment of terror. It’s funny to me all of the things I didn’t think about. Keats writes a sonnet pondering what would happen were he to die before he’s accomplished everything he wanted to, “Before [his] pen has glean’d my teeming brain” (l. 2) and he’s written everything he’s wanted to, “high piled books” (l. 3), before he’s every truly been in love. He writes, “When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face, / huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, / And think that I may never live to trace / Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance . . .then on the shore / Of the wide world I stand alone, and think / Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.” In that moment, I beheld the night’s starr’d face and thought that I might never live to trace their shadows in my own life. I lay there beside my friends on the edge of a wide world, right beside the cliff of the ridge. But I didn’t have to think the ideas of love and fame into nothing. As I lay there, staring up at the stars, I didn’t once think, “What about my writing? What about all I’ll never say with my pen?” I didn’t think about the fact that, if I died now, I’d never fall in love or have a family. I stared up at the stars and, even in an extremely high level of fear, awed over the beauty of the moment. I couldn’t think of another place to be than here, looking up at that enchanting sky.
“Carin,” I said, “don’t you think William Blake would love to be here right now? Looking at this sky?”
It was probably the strangest question I could’ve asked in that moment. But I asked it.
Then Emma said, “Oooh. Who’s this William Blake?”
She apparently thought him to be a boy we had our hearts on.
“He’s been dead for two hundred years,” Carin said.
I smiled up at the stars. “He’s a Romantic Poet. ‘Tyger! Tyger! burning bright / In the forests of the night / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?’”
“Oh,” Emma said, giggling some more.
I find it interesting that I wanted William Blake to be there, of all people. He’s not my favorite poet by far. So why did he pop into my head? And why this particular poem? I didn’t think about it then, but now I think of the fierce image of the bear “in the forests of [that] night”—of the fearful symmetry of some of God’s creations, of Blake’s question, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” The bleating sheep just down the hill from us, innocent and white and harmless, were formed by the same God that created the dark bear prowling around somewhere on the mountainside. Maybe I wanted Blake there with me not just for the stars, but to talk about this strange place I was in, threatened by another of God’s creations, most of which I loved, which had so newly liberated me from my feelings of stress. It was a potent reminder of the double-edged sword that Nature’s lack of judgment possesses: Just as all are granted life, all are granted death. The newborn baby and the newly-sealed coffin are planned by the same God, just the way both the lamb and the bear are. This is both harsh and yet somehow comforting—that in that fearful moment, in that bear just down the hill, even in death, God is.
In any case, just after my spout of poetry, we heard Maren’s voice: “Guys, I’m coming inside.”
Carin and I rejoiced. “Yes, Maren, come in!” Carin said.
“Hurry!” I said.
And she came in and we zipped the tent shut and we lay there altogether, side by side. I knew daylight was still a few hours away. It would be a long wait to ever actually use the bathroom. And don’t for an instant allow me to minimize the terror that I felt then, whatever I said about Blake. But somehow, all the same, it comforts me that, in a distant, bizarre, twisted way, in thinking I might die, I didn’t think about my ambitions or my failures, but rather the people around me and the beauties of the world and the nature of God. It comforts me how normal it almost was, me blurting out something about poetry, Emma taking it as a juicy revelation about a fancied boy, all of us close and side by side.
As dawn slowly drew our vision back open, we thrilled to still find ourselves alive. It was one of the most beautiful sights—a sort of Easter Sunday, where the threatening tomb is actually discovered to be empty. We’d made it.
We got up and laughed about it all morning as we ate breakfast and packed up. After Jesse hiked a little ways up the trail, we realized we were on the wrong one. So rather than continue another ten miles in the wrong direction, we decided to go back the way we’d come. Back down the mountain we went, twining on the trail between the aspens, the butterflies hovering ahead of us in the sunlight. As we walked, I thought back on the bear. What were the chances that the one moment when we stepped out to use the bathroom, the bear was coming up the trail less than fifty yards away? I laughed to myself. Really, what are the odds?
Then I frowned to myself.
What if we hadn’t come out then? The bear would have probably come all the way up into our camp. We likely would have been fine in our tents—but what about Maren? Out under the stars? That couldn’t be safe. When we’d come out of our tent at that exact moment, the bear had terrified us—and I think we’d terrified the bear.
So what were the odds of us coming out of the tent just then? I don’t think odds had anything to do with it. Providence. That we were all safe and well inside that tent when the morning came and light returned to the world. That we all had what felt to us like another chance at life.
As I walked, I looked at the world as though God had just created it for me new last night. The wildflowers bloomed around us amid the white trees as the green water trickled slow and serene between the low bushes. The shade of those trees seemed a caress to me. Every blade of grass seemed a message from heaven. I didn’t want to leave. Even if everything had gone wrong on this trip, it had combined into a marvelous adventure. I didn’t want that to end. And I felt that if I just stayed long enough, I might learn to interpret it—I might figure out life blade by blade, leaf by leaf, wing by wing. Why go back to the responsibilities? To the pressures? The stresses? When we can be here, seeing pale twisted logs on the banks of the river and mistaking them for unicorns? Where we can think about life and death in their simplest forms?
But as Emma managed to rocket the Buick back over the river, as we all packed back inside, as we headed really and truly back for home, we saw something ahead of us on the road: a mother deer with a fawn bounding about her heels. I thought again about the God of both birth and death, of the existence of both of these things in the life of each human, deer, lamb, and bear. I thought about the part I still had to play in the world during my own lifetime. And some lines by Robert Frost came into my mind:
“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.”
Yes—these aspens were all of those things, talking to me with their wind-blown leaves. Yes, I’d love to stay here and listen.
“But I have promises to keep.”
There are commitments that call me home. These responsibilities are more than just burdens, they’re my promises to others and to God. And I can’t leave them behind forever. I do have promises to keep, a whole lifetime of promises, some yet unknown.
“And miles to go before I sleep. / And miles to go before I sleep.”
I do have a long way to go before I sleep—and I don’t just mean sleep as in unconsciousness, but as in death. True, I thought I might die last night. But this didn’t happen. There are tasks yet for me to do, missions for me to accomplish. And doing these things to the best of my ability will allow me to experience both life and death to the fullest—so that, in the moments before my actual death, I’ll be able to feel the way I felt last night: afraid, yes, but secure in my love for the people around me and fully trusting in both the fierceness and gentleness of God.]]>
att vakna men för sent att somna om.
Jag måste ut i grönskan som är fullsatt
av minnen, och de följer mig med blicken.
De syns inte, de smälter helt ihop
med bakgrunden, perfekta kameleonter.
De är så nära att jag hör dem andas
fast fågensången är bedövande.”
–Tomas Tranströmer “Minnena ser mig”
“A June morning when it is too early
To awake but too late to sleep again.
I must go out into the greenery that is brimming
with memories, and they follow me with their gaze.
They’re impossible to see, they blend in completely
With the background, perfect cameleons.
They are so near that I hear them breathing
Though the birdsong is deafening.”
I woke up at 6:00AM on June 11th and walked out of my hotel room into the open air. Perfect weather. Sunny with a chill. And the perfect place. Parowan calls to me with its summer birdsong and its small town quaintness. Daniella and I will run around most of its perimeter in just under an hour and may well see wild turkeys, deer, cows, horses, chickens, geese, and dogs. We’ll run by the cemetery, the pioneer memorial park, the grocery store, the pool, and the road to Paragonah. And I’ll be seeing all of these things in summer splendor–but in my heart, it’ll be November everywhere I look.
Grandpa Robinson died last Thursday on the seventh. We’re here to celebrate his nearly ninety years of life and to say goodbye. But instead, everywhere I go, all I can do is greet him afresh. Because he’s there, waiting for me, wherever I look. We run by the pioneer memorial park and, though it’s green and calm, I see November storm clouds and feathery snow flakes flurrying down. I see me running here and discovering Parley P. Pratt–my mission hero–standing here in little Parowan, ready to build a city.
Today I’m running down old highway 91–and in my mind, I’m back in the car with Grandpa, driving the other way to go and try and find the wild turkeys. “Piano! Piano!” he says, slowing me from thirty miles an hour down to fifteen. And we’ll find the turkeys, too, and stop the car and watch them awhile, both wearing our baseball caps. And on the way back, a truck will pass us, determined to go faster than twenty miles per hour and Grandpa will shout, “Sick ‘em! Sick ‘em to hell!”
Now, June 11th, Daniella and I run all the way to the cemetery and I see the orange and red brick wall and archway and live in three times at once. I’m here, in summer, and I’m here in the car with Grandpa in November 2010. We’re driving up and down the rows in the cemetery and he’s telling me of all the people lying here that I’m related to and how he knew them and where they lived. And eventually we drive by Louise’s grave. We can only see the back of it from the car–the back where the names of her children are listed. But we sit there awhile looking at it, the resting place of Grandma, before we go on home. And I’m here in another time as well, back in that same November, running here on foot in the chill to go and see the front side of the gravestone. I’m standing quietly in the graveyard, alone, looking at her name spelled out and thinking about her–about how I never really knew her, since she died when I was so young. About how, despite the fact that I never got to know her, there were times on my mission when I felt so close to her, like she was there, supporting me. How strange it was to feel her presence and recognize it when I didn’t even know I knew her well enough to have anything to recognize in the first place. So I stood there at her gravestone, saying thank you to her for her help and thinking how strange it was that we were so connected, all of us more connected than maybe we ever fully knew.
Daniella and I run right on by down 300 East. We run along some houses and, as we do, a tiny dog begins to follow us. I can’t help but smile. And in my mind, it’s that same November and I’m out running, being followed too, only its a different dog–a larger, rottweiler-type dog following me home. I’m not afraid, just amused. I get back to Grandpa’s house and pet the dog a few times to say goodbye and then go inside. But the dog isn’t as willing to call it quits. It begins scratching at the door. Grandpa asks what’s going on. Panicking, I fling open the door and run outside, shooing the dog off of the porch. And then, ten feet away from the door, I freeze. The dog and I both have a moment. Together, we look behind me at the wide-open door. Together, we realize my mistake. “No!” I shout, as the dog bolts around me and straight inside the house. Grandpa lets loose a string of curses around something like, “Get this dog outta here!” I run inside and seize a broom, trying to shoo our surprise guest out. But he thinks that’s great fun and starts biting at it and lunging around me. So I forget that idea. Finally, I straddle his back, sticking my knees into his ribs and grabbing his ruff with my hands–and I walk him right on out the door. Grandpa calls the police who come and take the dog–still scratching at the door–away. And as I sit in utter shock in the living room after it’s all over, Grandpa looks at me and says, “Didn’t your mother ever tell you be careful who you bring home?”
Now, the dog running back and forth around us, Daniella and I are running on the same road that would take us to Paragonah. And I’m back in the car with Grandpa. Every day we’d have to go and get the mail at the local post office and then he’d tell me where to drive–out to the farm, on highway 91 to see the wild turkeys, all around Parowan, once out to the canyon to see the Indian writing, and oftentimes to Paragonah. We’d drive on up the road and see by the large orange wind sock which way the wind was blowing. We’d drive around the city and he’d tell me who had lived in each house. Then we’d drive back to Parowan through the fields, seeing the cows and horses and he’d point out the different sages and grasses and tell me how much the sheep liked each kind.
Now we run down Main Street a short ways, right on past Grandpa’s family doctor’s house–who now works in Cedar City and lives in Paragonah with her horses. And I’m back with Grandpa at Dr. Crouch’s office, having the doctor talk to me instead of Grandpa and feeling uncomfortable. I’m listening to Grandpa complain about Dr. Crouch and praise his “Negro doctor.” I’m riding with Grandpa to Cedar City and, after an appointment, being taken out for lunch. I’m panicking as I look at the menu, trying to find the cheapest thing and seeing only steaks. Finally, I order a steak–only to wither inside as Grandpa orders something from lunch menu hiding almost out of sight to my left. So I end up taking Grandpa for all he’s worth and as we’re eating, he looks up at me and asks, “How’s the steak?” And I want to slap myself in the forehead with my hand. Instead, I try to smile. “It’s great.”
We run through the houses and down 600 west, past the one Joshua Tree in town that I’d stand staring at sometimes, thinking about my childhood home and how it compared to this place, where Dad grew up. We run past Food Town, the grocery store where Grandpa and I would do our shopping and he’d get himself his bean and pork soup, his bread, and his orange marmalade and where I’d stop sometimes on my way home after a long run for a powerade.
Our run ends, but the memories don’t. This day will be saturated with them. They say every day is new, a brand new canvas ready for painting. But today–the day of the funeral–is already so stained with memories that the canvas is saturated and heavy and each new action, each new stroke is merely a burden. We go the viewing and watch slide shows and look at a table display and look down on a sleeping Grandpa in his coffin–only that doesn’t look at all like Grandpa, even after cousin Austin sticks his red handkerchief in his hand. Then the coffin closes, the veteran’s flag is pulled over the top, and they take the casket into the chapel for the funeral. And suddenly I’m listening to everyone else’s memories–memories I don’t even have. Suddenly Grandpa is also a father and a husband and a soldier and a farmer and more than just the little old man in the little old house in the little old town who traditionally greeted me with, “And here’s Kezia-Jane.” It was hard enough to bury the wry grandfather. But to bury the man who wrote love letters to his young wife from the front lines of WWII in Europe, the man who fought against twenty years of hard times in the farming business, struggling each day to make ends meet to support his nine children, the man who could’ve been a physicist but chose farming to support his father’s business–this man that I knew but never knew is impossible to say goodbye to, even more impossible than the grandpa I can’t actually place in the coffin at the front of the room.
Even after we’ve been to the cemetery, even when we go to his house and begin sorting through his things, I’m mortified in his place that everyone’s moving his things from where they belong. Don’t they know he hates that? I expect him to walk in each moment and yell, “What’re you doing?!” I remember first coming in November 2010–remember hearing him griping about how his daughters came and refurbished his house, buying him a new chair and a new bed, rearranging his things–and how much he detested it. “They’re killing me with kindness,” he said, “but that doesn’t really matter to me, does it?” And he disliked the new bed because he felt like he was going to tumble out of it. And the chair–the new chair he despised most of all. He would sit in his old chairs and glare at it. “What am I going to do with that chair? Shoot it?” he’d say. And once, when I made the mistake of sitting in it, he gave me a look and said, “You like that chair, do ya?” All things had their place. I knew that his toenail clippers belonged on his radio on the kitchen counter. The screwdrivers and tools are in the kitchen drawers. And don’t mess with his stack of mail in the middle of the kitchen table or the keys he keeps in his little box above the fireplace. It was easy to keep Grandpa happy. Just sit at the table and eat his meals with him. At breakfast, bring him the paper and when he hands you the funny papers, chuckle a time or two or he’ll say, “You’re not laughing.” And whatever you do, don’t move anything from its place.
Only now, everyone’s sorting through everything and walking away with things under their arms. I feel sick inside to think that Grandpa’s not here to protest, that each moment is one second longer that he hasn’t stopped all of this. I feel like a vulture, taking his things after his death, walking out the door with the treasures he kept each in their respective place. It was so easy, I think, to keep Grandpa happy, even when he was sick. He greeted the hard things with a dry humor that none of his nurses understood. “How are you doing today?” they’d ask. “Oh, wonderful,” he’d say in his dry way. And they’d smile. “Oh? That’s good.” But they didn’t understand that he didn’t mean it. They didn’t understand that he stayed up all night watching westerns in his old chair because he almost fell out of the new bed. They didn’t understand that he’d shuffle around the house muttering, “Hell’s bells” under his breath. Still, he was friendly to them and to me and would constantly make jokes. “This one,” he told the nurses, talking about me, “she’s gotta walk around with cotton in her ears,” referring to his swearing. And he always told the story of me letting in that blasted dog. And of course, when they left, he’d say, “I’ll see you when the roses bloom again.” They didn’t always get it. Some would look at his little rose bush, wilted and frozen that November, and say, “Well, that won’t be till spring!” Or “this rose is dead.” But I always smiled, waved goodbye, and closed the door behind them.
It’s strange how many memories there are everywhere in the house, and that when I only lived here for a month. I think about the nine children who grew up all their lives here–think about how strange it must be for them, how each and every item must have as many dusty memories as this whole house does for me. But mostly I think of Grandpa. I think of all the things he called me. There was Kezia-Jane, his all-time favorite. And then, that November I stayed with him, there was many many more, including his nursemaid, Richard, and Richardaphine. I think of him muttering about Eve and how all this hardship was her fault because “she ate that damned apple” and feeling slightly guilty since I was of Eve’s sex and happened to be thankful to her for choosing a little misery–and because I happened to like apples myself. I remember later, after my month-long visit, when Daniella was there with me–who Grandpa always called “Josephine”–I saw the exercise bike up in the living room, when it was normally in the basement. And I smiled and asked, “Grandpa, have you been exercising on this bike?” And he gave me his funny Grandpa look and said, “Every damn day.” Another time, as Grandpa was watching one of his westerns and I was sitting on his couch eating an apple, Grandpa muttered that same traditional, “Everything was fine until she ate that damned apple.” After that, I crunched another bite and Daniella leaned over and said, “Kessia, stop eating that! I don’t think he likes it!” And I laughed and said, “No–he’s talking about Eve.”
All of this as we sit here, rifling through his things, taking his plates and his books and his albums. Memories. Memories. Everywhere. In the backyard where the cherry trees grow. Over the fence where we would always go to feed the horses, which Krista, as a tiny toddler called “meows.” The grass out back where the corn used to grow and where pipes used to crisscross. And out front, by the front porch with the railing that was added on when Grandpa got sick, there was the rose bush, now in full bloom. I look at it and think of all the times I could’ve visited and made the roses bloom for him and didn’t. And I say silent thanks to God for all the times that I did.
As I drive out of Parowan that night, I think about the little town that no longer seems to call my name. I think of all the things, the memories, that used to pull me here that aren’t here anymore. This day, this canvas heavy with rich colors, though completely filled is filled in such a way as to show one gaping, glaring absence that I’m finally beginning to feel inside me. Something was here that is not here–a grandfather, a father, a farmer, a soldier, a patriarch. Something I didn’t even really know that I had. The anchor to one side of our family. A root that gave more life than I, an upstart branch, ever acknowledged.
As I get on the freeway, I wonder when I will be back. I wonder what will bring me here now. And I think of the archway–the red and orange stone archway in front of the Parowan Cemetery. One day, I will stand again amidst the gravestones. I’ll run there, maybe, like I did one cold November day and stand in front of a particular tombstone, one shared now by not only Flora Louise but Leon. Maybe it’ll be cold then too, a chilly autumn morning and I’ll be alone, me and them. And I’ll stand there thinking about how we’re all more connected than we ever fully know. And I’ll be able to say not goodbye, but thanks.]]>
So the other morning, we were running and I saw a cat running across the road. I didn’t think anything of it. It happens, right? My roommate slowed down and I got ahead of her. Oh, I thought, that’s not one cat, it’s three. How odd. Cats aren’t really social like that, are they?
They were ahead of me on the sidewalk by some garbage cans and I ran straight at them. If I knew anything about cats, I knew they’d scatter. My roommate fell even farther behind. They didn’t scatter but they did retreat up a driveway together and my roommate immediately caught up with me. “Kitties!” I said.
“Uh, those weren’t cats,” she answered. “They were raccoons.”
WHAT?! I laughed, a little nervous. “Well, I guess I’m glad I didn’t know that. I would’ve been scared.”
“I WAS scared,” she said.
Huh. I laughed for about five minutes, counting my lucky stars that they hadn’t been rabid monsters bent on eating my face. Running is always an adventure!]]>
“The bad thing about death is not that it changes the future. It’s that it leaves us alone with our memories.”
–Peter Hoeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow
So this is my first post since I’ve been back from my mission. Yes, I’ve been back for six months. I know that’s a long time. But I’ve been trying to get used to life again andthere have been both amazing, wonderful things about that - and some distinct challenges. I’ve thought a lot about why it is so challenging to come home. Why is this cliche difficulty so pertinent and real? You know what? I think I finally put my finger on it.
All you other return missionaries, have you ever had a moment like this one? Where you find yourself telling a mission story (every single day of your life) and you get more and more animated and in the end, you’re either laughing or dead serious, but either way, you look at the person you’re telling with big glowing expectant eyes and they say obligingly, “Wow. Yeah. Cool.”
And slowly your big glowing eyes become normal sized and you frown a little. Because no matter how nice they are about it, something in their answer is unsatisfying. Something’s missing. I’ve puzzled over what that could possibly be and I think I’ve finally figured it out. There used to be a power in those stories - a power that benefited both me as the teller as well as the listener. That power is dormant now.
I don’t mean the power of the Spirit, nor do I mean that the stories have no impact whatsoever. But the power I was expecting them to have no longer was in them. Here, I’ll try to explain what I mean.
It all reminds me of a myth I’ve heard about farming soils. This is something I’ve always been told but have no way of knowing is true. I’ve always heard that different soils have different balances of available nutrients, some having more of one thing and less of another. I’ve heard that different plants require more of some nutrients than others and thus some soils are better suited to those plants. I’ve also heard that it is a good idea to rotate which types of crops you plant in a particular field so that no one nutrient gets depleted and the soil maintains a proper balance.
Well, I don’t know if that’s true about soil, but I think it may well be true of people. Each one of us, whether by nature or nurture, have our own individual balance of nutrients. Each of us specialize in some character traits and have a shortage in others. Unlike soils, however, the concentration of our excess quality - the nutrient we specialize in - increases with time. This doesn’t even have to be a character trait as distinct as diligence or patience. It can be an affinity for poetry, or love of a particular smell, or a hobby. Anything. Whatever small natural tendencies we have that can grow in us with time. Only the problem is that each and every quality, even if good, grows poisonous in excess. Too much of any one nutrient makes the soil barren and unproductive. And if we, as human beings, are constantly having some nutrients increase, then our soil is always moving toward excess, toward barrenness. In short, we have a problem.
What is the solution? The solution is relationships with other people. As we build those relationships, we open a conduit between our own inner fields and theirs and they take part in our excesses and we in theirs and thus balance each other out. This is one of the reasons human relationships are so vital. This is one of the reasons that marriage is so essential to progression. These relationships restore balance and harmony to ourselves. They take the foam off the virtues that have boiled over into faults, giving us back our good qualities as good while at the same time providing us with those qualities which we lack. It’s beautiful, the way relationships help every member come to a new level of wholeness.
And I ask you, what is that conduit, that relationship built upon? What are the bricks that build that tunnel between two souls, that create the connection? They are our memories. As we do things together, have conversations, memorable outings, uplifting experiences together, we build these tunnels between us, stronger and deeper with each experience. And when we share memories, laughing about things we did together in the past, we’re doing more than just reminiscing. We’re using our tunnels. We’re trading essential human nutrients. We’re balancing out our fields, our soils, our characters. And as we do so, we feel a cleansing relief, a joy in harmony, a peace in that one step closer to perfection.
That’s what telling my mission stories used to do in the field, when I would laugh with companions. When we would tell amusing Swedish tales to each other as a district, as a zone, as a mission. We had this intricate maze of tunnels from missionary to missionary, from missionary to president, to district leader, zone leader, to investigators, members, companions, and more. We built ourselves a network of deep relationships that helped round out our souls and fill us with light. Of course, we grew closer to Jesus Christ and God and those tunnels never close off, but much of the benefit was also the connection to those other people.
And so what was unsatisfying about telling mission stories wasn’t that somehow the stories were different. It wasn’t that the person reacted differently than I’d anticipated. It was that the joy and refreshment that telling such stories used to afford is gone. I’ve been removed from my network. I still feel the tunnels, the conduits, and I’m still telling the memories, trying to use them - but they’ve been completely blocked off. I have these phantom limbs I’m still trying to use, expecting to do things with them and nothing happens. I’ve been cut off. I’m locked within myself. And these memories that used to do so much have grown powerless. And all my excesses are swelling and there is no relief.
This is the frustration I’ve been feeling. This is part of the sadness we feel when anything ends. But do you know what the solution is? We must build new relationships, create new experiences, open new conduits. This is painful and difficult, especially because eventually, at least for a while, even those tunnels will be closed. But you know what I’ve decided for now?
I think it’s worth it.]]>
-George Gordon, Lord Byron
Amid all the waiting I get to do, I also get some pretty fun field trips. See, Darren encouraged me to get out and do something fun too before my mission – do something to remember. He suggested a theme park. I guess he thought I’d be going to Disney Land. But if I was going to charge into a theme park, I knew exactly the one that would make me and perhaps few others in my family happy: Sea World.
At first, I wanted it to be a big thing, all the family flooding through the gates and jumping into the dolphin pool before any security guards could even think about stopping us. But, not only would that be a little alarming for the dolphins (not to mention a little contaminating for their environment), what with the house being filled with what felt like eighty-gazillion Robinsons, forty-gazillion of them being one very cute baby we just had to cuddle and smoozle and play with, Sea World just didn’t get done.
Eventually, it was just Krista and me buying tickets and entering the park. Sad to say, we didn’t flood the gates or jump into any pools, though we did run away from those people who take pictures of you and try to get you to pay for them. Take that, Sea World security!
Anyway, Krista and I have actually been twice and are planning to go again – but don’t panic, Darren of the wise wallet. We only went again because it was economical. That’s right, I used that word. You see, for the same price as a one day ticket, you can get a ticket that gets you in as many times as you want for a whole year. And, seeing as how gas is cheaper and we bring our own food, I say it’s only cutting the ticket price down to keep going back.
And it was so worth it!
In just our two days in the park, Krista and I fell off a manatee, got sneezed on by a walrus, got our knuckles sucked on by floppy bat rays, met Flotsam and Jetsam and all their babies (bet you didn’t know Jetsam was a girl eel, did ya?), and met an old friend at the dolphin tank.
Of course, the manatee wasn’t a real manatee. Well, I mean, it was real – as in, it was solid. But I don’t think it was ever alive. It was a statue one, you see. We tried to get this lady to take a picture of us on top of it, but Krista had hurt her groin muscle so bad we couldn’t both get on top of it – and then we did get on top of it, but then Krista started sliding off and I tried to grab her, but instead she fell off and I landed on her. So we took a picture in front of the manatee that vanquished us.
As for getting sneezed on by a walrus, I’m almost certain it was a sneeze – but it was on the other side of the glass, so I can’t be sure. And I’m afraid we have no snot to prove it.
But I wasn’t kidding about the bat rays sucking on our knuckles – well, Krista’s knuckles. The trainers tell you, when you’re feeding the rays, to keep the fish tight between your two fingers. What they don’t tell you is that, when the ray comes and starts trying to suck up the fish, that’s a good time to let go of the thing. So Krista just laughed and laughed, wondering why it wasn’t taking the fish while it was sucking up her fist.
And I wasn’t lying about Flotsam and Jetsom or their babies. They kinda look like long bloated jump ropes made out of congealed sludge – or at least like boogie-man arms. Don’t they?
And this is my good buddy Beaker in the dolphin tank. She’s the dolphin I got along best with when I did Sea World’s Trainer for a Day program. Isn’t she perdy?
Oh, and of course, you can’t go to Sea World and not see the shows. The Shamu show now is called “Believe” – and is about two worlds, two species “coming together” as never before. It was kind of cheesy – but then Shamu jumped out of the water with a trainer standing on his face and he launched the guy like a cannon and the guy did a bunch of flips thirty feet in the air and then dived into the water. They can call the show whatever they want as long as they do that.
The dolphin show is always great. And this time the Sea Lion show was funnier than ever. They had to cut it short because all the walrus wanted to do was twirl upside-down in the water with his butt sticking up in the air. But that’s what they get when they name him “Admiral Bigg’nBottom.”
So, over all, was Sea World a good choice? Oh yeah – I am so going back. Besides, Krista and I’ve got some unfinished business to attend to. We’ve got to salute a darling Admiral, sneeze on his uncle, and teach a certain manatee some respect (slam fist into palm here).
Watch out, Sea World security, we’re coming back!
(Examine the pictures above and below. I’m fiercely proud of them, as I took them with an ordinary disposable camera and as Krista and I worked hard to shield the camera from a soaking at the shows, sacrificing our dryness, etc. Also, the Joshua Tree/Palmdale photos are mine too. Huzzah!)
-Shannon Hale, Book of a Thousand Days
It’s been a while since I’ve last written. Since then, I’ve taken my finals, deferred from school, sold my contract, and gone home - and, of course, recieved my mission call. I’ve been assignmed to the Stockholm Sweden Mission and I enter the MTC March 11th. I could never have hoped for anything better than that - not for what it felt like to open the envelope and see that word, that place, in bright black letters on the page.
But now, at home, waiting once again, all I can think is how strange time is. In so many ways it’s about moving from time bubble to time bubble. We live in constant anticipation, waiting for something, always for something. And then it comes like this happy slippery barrier and we slide on over it screaming for happiness, only it just so happens that that it passes too quickly to fully appreciate and it’s only later, after we’ve slid into the next waiting bubble that we think about it all - and about how eager we are for what is yet to come. I guess it’s like what William Wordsworth says about poetry: it stems from extreme emotion remembered calmly afterward, “flash[ing] upon the inner eye, which is the bliss of solitude” (”Daffodils” ll. 21-22).
So I spend my new waiting bubble in Palmdale and go to my own little Joshua Tree Walden to think - to remember and to anticipate anew all the periods of waiting behind and beyond where I now stand. And when waiting gets hardest, I think with Keats on the beauty of the world, which is beauty of all kinds - and how all of those kinds, even “Beauty that must die” (Keats, “Ode on Melancholy” l. 21) is still “a joy forever” (”A Thing of Beauty” l. 1) and a truth all its own.]]>
- Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
You know, I always considered myself fairly patient. After all, long car drives don’t phase me much even though I can’t sleep or read in the car. I don’t get antsy about Christmas beyond what I consider normal. And I’m not even itching to graduate. But this waiting for my stake presidency interview grates my nerves away grain by grain.
I’d always heard that mission papers take a while, but what I didn’t know was that most of that “while” is composed of meaningless waiting. I got the paperwork itself done in a week along with the bishop’s interview. And yet it’s been three weeks and I’m still waiting. Add onto that, Bishop wants me to be a good sport and refrain from heckling in any form whatsoever.
All of this is problematic. For one thing, I need to know if I should sell my contract or not before Winter Semester smacks me in the face. I also need to know if I should defer or sign up for classes. Either way, it’s getting to be about time to act. I’m probably just going to have to defer now and sell on pure skittish hope that it’ll all work out in the end. Aside from that, Daniella and Zach and I have really been looking forward to Thanksgiving break and leaving Monday afternoon for what will be my longest Thanksgiving break ever. But rumor has it that the Stake President will be calling this Sunday to arrange for the interview - and if he sets it the week after, that will muddle some plans.
But that isn’t even the real issue. The worst part about waiting isn’t even the uncertainty - it’s the self-esteem attacks that come and go sporadically. It’s a common fact that the moment you set your heart on a righteous decision or you receive inspiration, the adversary blasts you with all the doubt he can find. I don’t know how it’s been for other missionaries, but boy howdy has it been scary for me to confront all of the issues of timing, inadequacy, and worthiness the longer I have to wait. I wouldn’t know, but I imagine this is more difficult for a girl. A boy knows he is supposed to serve. Although doubts of this nature are likely to come anyway, all he has to do is resign himself to do as he has been commanded. The decision is made. For girls, the command is between ourselves and the Lord. There are no messages from general conference to fortify the walls when we question. We have only our own records of the time we decided, when we knew it was right.
But that, and the constant mercy of the Lord of course, is enough. I’ve been talking to Jeannette, who happens to be in the same boat as me exactly. In fact, we got all our paperwork done that same week. Bishop asked us if we were racing. And in speaking with her, I’ve been reassured that she’s been dealing with the same feelings. Luckily, I’ve recently learned that the Lord never communicates through doubt or fear. Luckily too I’ve learned that it is just when we make our biggest and best decisions that we are attacked the hardest. In fact, in a sense, we know just how important it is that we carry on by how much we are opposed by the adversary. When Joseph Smith was seized by the thick darkness in the grove, we can be assured it was because he was making a righteous and essential decision and Satan wanted him stopped. Of course, we’re all a long way from being Joseph Smith - but I think we can still learn from what he said: “And as for the perils which I am called to pass through,they seem but a small thing to me, as the envy and wrath of man have been my common lot all the days of my life; and for what cause it seems mysterious, unless I was ordained from before the foundation of the world for some good end” (D&C 127:2).
What can you do? When you have to wait you have to wait. You build yourself a little fortification to wait in. You put a platform of patience atop supports of faith and trust and hope so you’re above the current. You build walls of virtue and knowledge and past experience. And you bolt the door with prayer.
And then you sit inside and yearn.
I guess I have no reason to complain. Three weeks may feel awfully long, but goodness knows people can and have waited longer for blessings to come. And there is always this sustaining thought: “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (D&C 123:17).
I can stand still a little longer, I suppose.]]>