Friday, January 27, 2012

Life

Today I said goodbye to my friend Rick who passed away due to complications from multiple sclerosis. I'd not known him when he didn't have MS, and in the 20 some years I'd known him he'd spoken little of that time, and when he did it was simply to say what he was doing and where he was at then, how it cut short his education. He didn't complain. In all the time I knew him I'd only heard discouragement or frustration a handful of times, and all those lasted a matter of seconds. I'm sure he felt discouragement, as that is a human emotion. But he didn't dwell on the negative. My friend chose to be cheerful.

Rick was smart. He had more books than bookcases - which I can relate to. He knew what was in each and every one of those books -- which I can relate to only if allowed the opportunity to peek. He especially liked history, and could draw analogies to the Gospel of Jesus Christ -- and he knew the Gospel well. Years ago he had served with me in a Sunday School presidency as one of my counselors, and I always appreciated his counsel and insight.

My friend smiled. A number of people at the funeral today talked about Rick's smile. The picture selected for the program showed a younger man, a picture apparently  taken before his illness, holding two children, and smiling warmly at the camera. The smile had not changed over the years. It reminded me of seeing a childhood picture of another friend at her funeral six years ago. Although I'd not known Lindy as a child, I could pick her out of the grade school classroom shot solely by that slightly mischievous, slightly crooked smile. I wonder if I smile often enough, warmly enough to be remembered by my smile when I pass.

Rick was a vital part of our ward singles group, allowing us to meet in his home for a year most Mondays, and when health and energy would permit he would attend other functions such as movies and picnics. He was always encouraging to others. Whatever discouragement he felt in his moments alone, he seldom showed that to others, and as far as I can tell, he never dragged others down with it.

I like reading books and watching movies that make me cry. I follow blogs of both people I know and those I don't who write about the tremendous challenges they face themselves or face alongside their loved ones, blogs about cancer and disfiguring accidents and watching loved ones slip into dementia. Call me weird, for purposely seeking out such reading and viewing material. But what I like about these blogs is what's on the other side of the sadness. Written from the perspective of many different faiths and belief systems, I gain far more than a recognition of my own blessings and thankfulness of challenges I don't face. I gain an appreciation for other people and admiration for their strength of character and a tremendous ever-growing gratitude to my Heavenly Father and His script for my life.

 Over twenty years ago, then President Ezra Taft Benson likened our minds to a stage on which only one act can be played out at any given time. In the wings on one side is our Lord, who loves us, and on the other is the devil, who hates us. We are the stage managers in our own lives and we get to choose what's on stage at any given time.

I think this applies to more than clean thoughts vs dirty thoughts. I think this concept applies to optimistic vs pessimistic thoughts. It applies to how we respond to the other actors and to the unexpected, hope-dashing script changes and falling stage props -- a.k.a. Life -- can inject pathos into our beautiful sunshiny script. But although from one wing Satan whispers discouragement and tries to convince us that our lives are better off filled with dark tragedy, from the other wing stand our Heavenly Father and our Savior with the encouraging and life giving messages that we are not only the stage managers of our own lives, but are also co-writers with them; and tragedy can be turned to triumph with the final curtain opening to Life Eternal.