Around 11:30 am I picked up the phone and ordered lunch at a restaurant across the street from my apartment. My plan to kill two birds with one stone was working out great. The weather was perfect and sunshine was streaming in through my car windows. I was even feeling rather patient with my fellow drivers. I decided to wait for an oncoming car to pass me before turning left into my apartment complex. As I waited in the two-way turn lane I saw a white object from the corner of my eye. A cat was running from the right side of the road toward my apartment complex on the left side of the road. I immediately recognized it as a very friendly cat who occasionally roams our parking garage. In the same moment I recognized him I noticed that he was sprinting to stay out of the way of a car that was slowing down for him. I posed no threat to him since I was stopped in the middle of the road. My eyes followed his intended path and I realized he was on a collision course with the oncoming BMW coupe. I knew what I was about to see and I had a choice: wave my hands desperately in an effort to get the BMW to stop or hold my hands in front of my eyes. I chose the latter.
I heard the car approaching (it appeared to be traveling at the 50 mph speed limit) and then a tiny thud. Filled with dread I opened my eyes and looked left but didn't see anything. For a moment I thought the cat had made it. Then I turned and looked behind me and saw the poor creature lying still in the road. The BMW was long gone.
I hurriedly pulled into my complex's parking lot and got out of the car. I didn't know what to do next. I remembered a story that someone told me about seeing a dead deer in the canyon getting run over repeatedly. He pulled over and dragged the animal to the side of the road. I knew that was the right thing to do in this situation. This was someone's pet and it wasn't right to leave it out in the road to be desecrated. I cautiously walked into the lane of traffic and approached the cat. His fluffy white fur was rippling in the breeze. I didn't have the slightest idea how to handle the poor thing. When I reached down and touched his back he let out a tiny meow. It was a small sound but it keeps ringing through my head. His eyes were open and the beautiful blue sky reflected in them. I realized he was still breathing and I wondered if there was still some way to save him. Then he stopped moving. I touched him again, wishing he could come back. He didn't.
I glanced toward the oncoming traffic and knew I still had a few seconds before the cars got too close for comfort. I put one hand under the cat's back and one under his front legs and was scared to reach around his body and feel blood, but there was none. I picked him up and he was so limp. I knew that all of the oncoming cars could see me and I couldn't help but lose my composure right there in the middle of the lane. I felt so guilty. I could have tried to get the driver's attention but here was this poor little cat dead in my hands. I might as well take the blame.
By the time I set foot in the parking lot I was sobbing. I placed the cat on the lawn in the shade of a tree. Part of me still wondered if any part of him was alive or aware of this. Only a few short minutes ago he was running in the sunshine dodging cars on his way home. How can life be stopped so suddenly? Only a few short minutes ago I was daydreaming of flying home to California to celebrate birthdays and my dad's upcoming retirement. It is amazing how quickly we can be brought right back to the ground. I couldn't help but try to comfort the empty vessel. I kept saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Then I would just cry louder. There was no room to feel embarrassed but I also had very little capacity to think rationally. I needed help. There was an HVAC worker in the parking lot but he just ignored me. He literally pretended he had no idea I was there. That just made me more upset.
I only had a few minutes before I had to be on my way back to work in time for a 12:30 meeting. I knocked on several doors but no one knew anything about the cat or its owners. I heard footsteps down another path and I hurried toward the sound. I recognized a friend from my ward and told her what happened. She agreed to look up someone (maybe Animal Control?) to come and get the cat. She said she'd also post a note on the door of the apartment where the cat lived. I am so grateful she was walking around the complex right when I needed her. I don't know what I would have done without her.
Now, 13 hours after the incident, I am home. I'm sitting in the house I lived in until I was 19. While I am safe, comfortable and warm I cannot forget how delicate life is. I would love to think I've built up an invincible wall of protection around myself, but it is really just an illusion. We can be called away from this mortal existence at any moment. Today taught me that if I had to go home in an instant, I would hope it is on a day full of sunshine and promise. I would want to feel the wind running through my hair as I sprinted toward the finish. I would hope that death came on swift heels and I that I had time to glance at the sky one last time before heading home to my maker. More than anything, I hope that someone would watch over me with sympathy and love in their heart as I slipped over to the other side.
Today I lost a little friend in this world and I hope that he is happy wherever he is. There is a small comfort in knowing that he will never again feel the pang of hunger of the shiver of a cold winter night. If his owners are missing him, I hope their hearts heal soon. More than anything, I hope he made it home.
Jack be nimble
On Monday night my friends and I enjoyed a fun adventure in a local corn maze. Our trek through the maze was lighthearted and although we became thoroughly lost we knew we would eventually get out. If we got tired of walking "the long way" we just cut through paths of flattened corn stalks that others had hewn down. I imagine it would be difficult to feel claustrophobic in such a natural environment. The walls weren't really walls at all, just insentient stalks standing as sentinels against their human visitors. Even though there was only one "right" direction, we knew we could make our own path. While the merit of our corn maze conquest may have been questionable, we emerged victorious and unscathed (albeit completely disoriented).
On Tuesday night I was pondering our journey. I was with close friends whom I trusted. None of us had all of the information we needed in order to successfully navigate the maze. We entered the maze expecting fun and a little adventure. We knew it was nothing serious and that we most likely wouldn’t be stranded overnight. While it was frustrating that the only lights in the area which acted as our point of reference completely blinded us, it wasn't really a big deal. With a few blinks we were able to regain our vision and distinguish between solid terrain and questionable ground. But what if the circumstances were different?
The world we live in thrives on shades of gray. Some hold that seeing the world “in black and white” is to see the world with a closed mind. In a maze where there is only one right way to go, paths subtly diverge without indicating that they will lead us in completely different directions. At the onset there is no telling how far off course we will be led. Oftentimes a dead end is the only indication that we’ve chosen the wrong path. We frequently have to backtrack and find our way back to the beginning, only to start again and navigate the dangerous gray area we feel so comfortable in. Great concentration is often required to spot and interpret markers along the path. They may be warning signs, helpful hints or even the occasional Cheshire Cat.
During a devotional address at Brigham Young University on November 9, 1978 Elder Robert D. Hales* emphasized the importance of knowing your destination:
In Lewis Carroll’s story Alice in Wonderland, Alice approaches the Cheshire Cat and asks, “Would you please tell me which way I ought to go from here?”
How many of us are going through life telling ourselves, “If we keep going long enough, we’re going to get somewhere,” but are not defining exactly where that place is we want to be? “Somewhere” is not good enough. We must know where we want to go and be firmly committed to getting there. And we should get that knowledge and commitment early.
I committed to follow the gospel of Jesus Christ at an early age. This commitment has been tested time and time again. Recently we were blessed to hear from church leaders during General Conference.** Their teachings act as markers along the path that are plain and simple and reverberate in our hearts and minds. One talk has gained significant attention in the media. President Boyd K. Packer’s address, “Cleansing the Inner Vessel,”*** discussed issues that many people are more comfortable ignoring than facing. He took a stance on what was evil and what was good. While this act may alienate a great number of people who prefer to stay in the gray area, it is his responsibility as a prophet, seer and revelator to teach eternal truths.
Sometimes it is hard to hear the truth. When our heads have been filled with lies the world has happily placed there, the truth seems confusing and malicious. In order to understand what is right and what is wrong we have to be sufficiently humble and recognize we need help. There is real danger in ignoring the difference between right and wrong. Those who are brave enough to take a stand are often scorned and misinterpreted. The enemy of all good wants you to stay in the dark. If you are humble and desirous to do what’s right, our guides will set fire to Satan’s traps and free you from the world that would have you as its prisoner.
“‘Somewhere’ is not good enough.” If you’re feeling lost, you’re not alone. Navigating this treacherous terrain takes skill, experience and wisdom. The best solution is to follow a guide who can see beyond the walls of mere mortal existence. He will do anything it takes to bring you home, even if it means making the greatest sacrifice of all.
All in a Day’s Work, and a Night’s too
“It is good advice to slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials when experiencing adverse conditions.”
– President Uchtdorf
Tuesday night was my first GMAT prep course. After three hours of math strategies review, I drove home pondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. As I walked from my car to my front door I thought of all the things I needed to do this week. The list included devoting major time to GMAT math review, practicing violin, going running and writing this blog. Of course, it was much easier to let my mind saunter over to the list of things I wanted to do instead. Sleep was pretty close to the top of the list, as well watching several episodes of Arrested Development on DVD. Somewhere in the background was yet another list – the list of things I really should do but am not held accountable for. I really should use up more of the Halloween fabric I bought for craft projects. I really should think about cleaning my room. I really should be doing laundry sometime in the near future. And when was the last time I had my tires rotated? ...This goes without mentioning the long list of items waiting for me at work. I ended up bouncing between all the possibilities and wondering how I had gotten to be so busy.
When I graduated from college I loved having free evenings and Saturdays. Back then I thought of myself as hobby-free. If people asked me what I liked to do I’d say, “Well, I really like TV!” I knew this didn’t really count for anything but I also couldn’t think of anything else to say. I decided to “work on that” and over the past few years I’ve come up with a better list of hobbies. However, now I worry the list has become too long. There are so many things that I like to do that when it comes down to getting serious about something, there is very little time to fit it in. For example, I’m trying to “get serious” about preparing to take the GMAT. The only problem is I have to give up a lot of fun stuff in order to stand a chance against what is proving to be a horrible test. My current scheduled test date is 11/24 which is seven weeks from now. Maybe I can go without fun for seven weeks, but can I go without fun during two years of business school? I’m not so sure.
These issues have been on my mind for quite some time. Last Saturday I was completely content to stay in my pajamas, have breakfast with friends and curl up in front of the TV to watch General Conference.* After eating a very naughty quantity of carbohydrates (mmm… waffles and donuts!) I got settled in a gigantic bean bag chair and halfway expected to drift off in a haze. Much to my surprise I stayed awake. I was very grateful because there was a talk at the end of the first session that I absolutely needed to hear. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s address was called “Of Things That Matter Most.” It was a real wake up call.
President Uchtdorf spent his professional career as a pilot and he almost always ties some aspect of flying into his talks. This time he explained that although student pilots may feel it is best to increase speed and pass through turbulence as quickly as possible, this is rarely the right thing to do. The same principle applies in our lives (emphasis added):
“When stress levels rise, when distress appears, when tragedy strikes, too often we attempt to keep up the same frantic pace or even accelerate, thinking somehow that the more rushed our pace, the better off we will be.
“One of the characteristics of modern life seems to be that we are moving at an ever-increasing rate, regardless of turbulence or obstacles.
“Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.
“It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Overscheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks.”
All I can say is – THIS IS ME! This is what I do! I looked up “albatross” on a sketchy dictionary website and I found this definition, “a seemingly inescapable moral or emotional burden, as of guilt or responsibility.” The definition seems pretty credible to me. I think people who are driven are both blessed and cursed. They are blessed because they are sufficiently self-aware to want something more out of life, but they are cursed because they can always think of more things that could be done in order to fill the void. I am driven. I search for fulfillment in personal relationships, athletic endeavors, musical study, church activity, career dedication and more but I know that I am missing something. As a result I try to pack in more things every day and night and can’t keep a handle on everything. The result? “…increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning…” What seems like a logical plan (1. Be ambitious 2. Set a goal 3. Go for it) can truly backfire. Where is the balance?
“The wise … resist the temptation to get caught up in the frantic rush of everyday life. They follow the advice ‘There is more to life than increasing its speed.’** In short, they focus on the things that matter most.
“…Leonardo da Vinci is quoted as saying that ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’ When we look at the foundational principles of the plan of happiness, the plan of salvation, we can recognize and appreciate in its plainness and simplicity the elegance and beauty of our Heavenly Father’s wisdom. Then, turning our ways to His ways is the beginning of our wisdom.
“…My dear brothers and sisters, we would do well to slow down a little, proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances, focus on the significant, lift up our eyes, and truly see the things that matter most. Let us be mindful of the foundational precepts our Heavenly Father has given to His children that will establish the basis of a rich and fruitful mortal life with promises of eternal happiness. They will teach us to do “all these things … in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that [we] should run faster than [we have] strength. [But] it is expedient that [we] should be diligent, [and] thereby… win the prize (Mosiah 4:27).”
I would love it if I could sleep for a few fitful hours tonight and wake up wise. At times I get so tired of being young and foolish. I wonder if I will ever stop making mistakes. I overcomplicate everything and need to learn to have an editing eye. I need guidance to find out what things are good, better and best*** and luckily I know where to find it. It’s just a matter of being willing to act on the answer. While I may currently be determined to find out what I can offer the world, I’m neglecting to remember the reason I’m really here:
“Learn to see yourself as Heavenly Father sees you—as His precious daughter or son with divine potential.”
While we are currently limited by our mortal existence, one day we will understand exactly what we are capable of. In the meantime it is just guesswork and the real clues are the teachings of the ancient and modern prophets and apostles. I am so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the inspiration He gives the leaders of His church to guide Heavenly Father’s children on Earth. There is no doubt in my mind that these men are called of God. I know I can be a billion times happier (not to mention well rested!) if I wholeheartedly follow their teachings. There will never be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything we want to do, but we can focus on the essentials and be eternally grateful for the consequences.
The full text of President Uchtdorf’s talk can be found here: http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1298-7,00.html
*General Conference happens twice a year and consists of four two-hour sessions in which the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints address the worldwide membership of the church. The satellite broadcast originates from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah and is viewed all over the world. The four sessions are broken up between Saturday and Sunday and church members watch the sessions in lieu of attending regular church meetings on Sunday.
***“Good, Better, Best” by Elder Dallin H. Oaks http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-775-38,00.html