I’ve been stewing about this blog post for weeks, because I mean it to be provocative. I want to write about one of our most important Mormon doctrines, but it’s a topic that seems to be shrouded in a cultural taboo, like Heavenly Mother or polygamy. They used to sermonize about having your calling and election made sure a lot more than they do now. “They” being our church leaders. It was a naturally accepted piece of doctrine back in the days of Joseph Smith and the early saints. I imagine that every alert saint was keenly aware of whether or not they had personally been sealed up into eternal life by the Holy Spirit of Promise. I don’t know that we later latter-day saints give it much thought or attention anymore. But maybe we should. Continue reading
I’ve been to a wedding celebration. The bride and groom were delighted in each other, and obviously oblivious to most of what was going on around them. They held hands during speeches, whispered to each other, had that unconscious radar tracking and alignment to wherever their beloved happened to be if not in arms reach, and a stunned awareness that they were finally married.
It was beautiful to see, such hope and passion and excitement sizzling between them. The bride and groom danced, fingers Morse-coding messages against hips, lips, faces, the first couple yet again to discover the hum of passion and sparking delight.
It was also beautiful to see the seasoned couples at my table, each laughing and murmuring to each other as we swapped jokes and conversation between announcements and courses. The full, smiling attention of a wife to her husband as he gave a speech, the gentle clasp of hands under the table after a joke, the sharing of dessert, a wife repeating unheard words into a whiskered, tilted ear.
There was the roaring, emerging flame of a love recently created and newly sanctified before us, and the enduring, patient embers of experienced passion gathered around to celebrate and bear witness. I warmed myself, the bride and groom leaving bright spots of joy before my eyes, while the sincere heat of the settled couples soaked deeper in, warm air stirring up ashes as I returned home.
You can’t have a conversation with the empty half of your bed. You can pretend, but it’s not the same as having a hand available to hold at three o’clock on the morning, just a finger’s stretch away. I remember the fire and sparkle of new passion, the way a first kiss becomes a language in a story yet untold. It’s a giddy time, tripping along heart beats and held breaths, all excitement and discovery, but it’s the embers that I miss.
The embers, those ruby throated coals, which have danced and thrilled before in the flash and burn of passion and delight, when all is youth and beauty, lace and enthusiasm, and have survived to catch a breath. The breath and tumble that comes with kids, or career, or both, with the frantic, shuddering bellows of watching a parent die, or burying a loved one, and holding on to each other and your breath in the same terrible moment. The embers, looking dark but billowing heat, grown from putting the lid on the toothpaste for the seven thousandth time, and distracted conversations, and pillowed laughter at midnight and arguments in the car. Embers that grow as thick and deep as lava, from loving another impossible, incredible, bizarre individual every single day even when and especially when they drive you crazy and they – for some deep, fathomless reasons – love you back even when you’re your real cracked and fragile self.
There’s the obvious, dizzying flash of heat, the sizzle, the unsteady grab for balance and air of early love and attraction, but the sustained, deliberate power of established, active passion and mutual compassion leaves it as dust. In each of us there is a light that cannot be hid, a desire for warmth that never goes out. May we all ignite, burn and coalesce into enduring, sincere passion.
What does passion mean to you? What words do you use to compare new/old love and passion? What do you do to appreciate (stroke) and build (stoke) your passions?
When my husband Chris and I were dating he sent me a love note with this observation of my character. He wrote, “You are always striving for excellence and never quite attaining it.”
Happily, I knew already knew that Chris was a very literal person and what he probably meant was something more along the lines of “You do ambitious things with enthusiasm and still want to improve beyond that.”
But Chris’s first version was right, too. I know I am incapable of doing things quite as well as I hope to do them. All of us who are disciples of Jesus, if we are honest, are in the same predicament. We make covenants – and we’re still not as “excellent” at keeping them as we’d like to be. Continue reading
It must have been how high above the world I was sitting. One minute I’m in my mid-thirties, dressed for a hot summer day, on a train into the city and see a cement pipe down low –
– then I’m thirteen or fourteen staring stiffly out of the school bus window at the farmed hills and valleys trundling past. Below in a paddock is a fallen tree trunk, and something’s in the end of it. The bus groans down another gear to take the corner, and from my raised perch, I can see there’s something (a cat?) curled up in the rotted out end –
-then I’m back on the train, gulping air. I can feel the loneliness and dejection of my old self as thick as a tidal rip around me, and I’m lifting my face upwards as I fight the pull of the sudden time lurch. The memory of how miserable and forlorn I was back then swamps me; I can feel the itch of my winter uniform, see my breath condensing on the window, as I ignore the taunts and backstabbing going on elsewhere in the bus while I work out how many days until I can leave home…
The train waddles through another couple of stations as I’m considering how much intense feeling has crashed down all because of elevation over industrial plumbing. Oh, you poor, bewildered thing, I think back in time to Me-Then – to the little glimpse of that girl unknowingly still riding a bus inside my forgotten years – oh, life gets so much better! I pause, wince a little, And, admittedly, at times terribly more awful too. But you have so many brilliant things to look forward to: books and boys (yes, someone will eventually kiss you of their own volition) and perfect glass water-skiing mornings. Seeing that cat again, smiling every single time deep down in your hopefulness. Desserts you don’t even know exist and a change in faith which will set fire to your heart. You’ll swim in the Atlantic Ocean one day, and will call it your boyfriend because it so joyously feels you up as you laugh. You will have children, and ideas, and see your name in print. You will be incredible. Really. You absolutely will. You are the most stubborn person I know, and that will take you to the life waiting for you.
I remember, dimly, a letter I wrote to my older self at the time, demanding that I be a journalist and visit Paris and live in Sydney – to be far, far away from the warped country town and family I was suffering through. I remember so much detail and the vehemence I felt in writing that letter, and I’m still sitting on a train decades and states away from who I was then, while also being a weird redheaded girl nobody understood or liked, sitting on a school bus in winter.
Last week I read a book where the main character writes letters to himself (now) from his future self, to help him survive the present and make it beyond the next week/month and (hopefully) year. While Future-Him states the world’s been decimated by nuclear war, He-Yet-To-Be also lives on a lighthouse, with his wife and family doing a job he loves, and scuba dives for fun to the cities far beneath the ocean. He builds himself a loving relationship, a pet animal, purpose and direction far beyond what he currently experiences. It’s a scraggly, whisper-thin thread connecting him to a better place and time, even if it is (at least temporarily) imaginary. It’s a beautiful, wrenching and hopeful exercise all at once.
The tide recedes down my chest, until I am yet again a thirty-plus year old woman on my way to the city, looking through the scratched windows to the landscape rolling past. But I’m also composing a letter to my decade-older self (You’ve been to Paris, right?), and composing a love note (on thick, imaginary, silken paper, scrawled loopily in rich blue ink, because why not?) from Me-Yet-To-Be to the woman on the train biting her lip and smiling as she wonders what the future’s going to hold this time.
Stay stubborn. Just wait – it’s going to be AMAZING.
What has shoved you hard back into a memory? Which memory? What would you say to your past self? What would you write to your future self? What would you want your future self to tell you about You-Yet-To-Be?
An unstoppable prankster as a child in California, an unbeatable runner in the Berlin Olympics, a bombardier in World War Two, Louie Zamperini was always a force to be reckoned with.
“All he could see, in every direction, was water. It was June 23, 1943. Somewhere on the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean… Louie lay across a small raft, drifting westward. Slumped alongside him was a sergeant, one of this plane’s gunners. On a separate raft, tethered to the first, lay another crewman, a gash zigzagging across his forehead. Their bodies, burned by the sun and stained yellow from the raft dye, had winnowed down to skeletons. Sharks glided in lazy loops around them, dragging their backs along the rafts, waiting.
The men had been adrift for twenty-seven days.” (p. xvii)
Laura Hillenbrand’s ‘Unbroken’ is a true life, non-fiction title which relates the childhood, teen years and Army Air Forces training of Louie with affection and clarity, with the strength of the story coming to the fore when Louie is captured by the Japanese as a prisoner of war (POW). Louie’s treatment as a POW is clearly detailed, focussing on his determination, friends, mental athletics and personal acts of rebellion through the war.
While that may be more than enough to fill a book, Hillenbrand continues to chronicle what happened in Louie’s life on his return from the war. Louie shared with Hillenbrand the coping mechanisms he used – alcohol, temper, marriage, family, revenge – to readjust and, when that failed to work, survive each day. What happens next in Louie’s tale is as astonishing and courageous as what happened on the other side of the Pacific from his home. It is about faith, hope, revenge, forgiveness and being absolutely, terribly, humanly breakable, yet still unbroken.
Hillenbrand includes in the epilogue a summary which gives a great summary of Louie’s attitude towards life and how he lived it:
“When Louie was in his sixties, he was still climbing Cahuenga Peak every week and running a mile in under six minutes. In his seventies, he discovered skateboarding. At eighty-five, he returned to Kwajalein on a project. “When I get old,” he said as he tossed a football on the Kwajalein beach, “I’ll let you know.” When he was ninety, his neighbors look up to see him balancing high in a tree in his yard, chainsaw in hand… Well into his tenth decade of life, between the occasional broken bone, he could still be seen perched on skis, merrily cannon-balling down mountains.” (pp. 383-4)
‘Unbroken’ is slow-paced in areas, however it is possible to skip forward to specific parts and chapters (as detailed in the contents) and it is worth it for the POW and post-war sections alone.
Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’ is the only picture book I cry reading, and I sob every single time I revisit it. Considering there are no words at all within its pages, it’s quite a feat. ‘The Arrival’ details a man’s escape/immigration from a war-torn country (leaving his wife and daughter behind) to an unknown land. The story charts his struggle to leave his family, then his country, the stress given by the immigration officials, then entry into a totally foreign landscape. As co-gazers on this strange and baffling country (curling architecture, what looks like a kettle is some sort of incendiary torch, bizarre and fanged creatures at your window, challenging customs), we are scared and worried and lonely with him, hoping for rescue, comfort, relief, a safe haven and friend, frame by tiny or double-paged frame.
Shaun Tan has created an intimate, whimsical and touching story using no words at all, just expressions, a tree through seasons, a child’s smile, a folded piece of paper, the flight of birds – just to name a few. ‘The Arrival’ is a literally wonderful book, suitable for readers and early-readers alike. The art is beautiful, and pulls on my heartstrings and empathy on every page.
‘The Arrival’ is about surviving in unexpected places, wherever you may find them, however you got there, placing the reader in the position of main character, into every other character encountered, and pushes what we learn about belonging into our own lives after we’ve closed the cover.
‘The Arrival’ is an essential addition to any bookcase.
Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)
- Enjoyers of non-fiction
- Anyone with an interest in the Pacific WW2 events
- Anyone wanting to be uplifted
Not recommended for:
- Anyone afraid of the ocean, sharks, running, war or hope
- People who don’t like to read about sad or difficult situations
Rated: PG15 – Louie’s time as a POW is given in detail, he was not treated well. Themes of war brutality, survival mentality, alcohol abuse, revenge, hope, redemption.
The Arrival, by Shaun Tan (2006)
Recommended to: Anyone with a pulse
Not recommended for:
- Kids under the age of about 8 (symbolic drawing of war as long monster-type tails, or giants with flame-throwing machines may upset young children)
- Possibly people (adults or kids) with separation anxiety
Rated: PG for under 8’s. Gently handled themes of war, family upheaval and separation, differences, new beginnings, confusion and belonging.
Which books about survival do you love and recommend? Do you read non-fiction? Graphic novels or picture books? Is there a book which inspires you (or makes you cry) every time you read it?