Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Finally Go To The Ward

I originally intended to post part 2 of the Maine vacation post today, but I’m going to hold off a day and do it tomorrow, so that I can blog about something else.

I’ve lived in Utah for 14 years, and for a while now I’ve thought, “I should go to a ward sometime…” No, I’m not thinking of joining, but I live in this state where most folks either attend the Mormon church or did so at some point in their lives, and yet I’d never set foot inside of one.

Tangent: I have attended tours of new, yet-to-be-dedicated Mormon temples*, twice in fact. The second was just a couple of weeks ago at the new Oquirrh Mountain Temple down in Herriman, and I actually dragged the Trifecta along. I figured they’d lived all their lives in Utah, ½ the kids at their school are LDS, and yet we’d never really exposed them to much info or background about the church.

*For non-LDS/Utah readers: a ward is a regular Mormon Church; you go there every Sunday, and anyone can show up, Mormon or no. A temple is a special building for important sacraments, such as marriages, sealings, and baptisms for the dead. It’s open only to church members who are active and in good standing. But when the church builds a new temple, they open it for several weeks to the general public before dedicating it.

Trifecta at OQ Temple Nested Tangent: So on the drive from my office (where Awesome Wife dropped them off) to the temple, I thought I’d try to explain to them the basic tenets of Mormonism. Keep in mind they’ve never even attended a church service, so explaining Mormonism in 20 minutes at a grade-school level was a fairly daunting task. I started off as simply as possible (“OK, so you guys know who Jesus is, right?*”), but by the time I was explaining how Mormons believe that Jesus visited America after he did all that stuff in the Middle East, they were totally checked out… Twin B was staring out the window looking for fast food joints (I’d promised them they could pick where we ate following the tour) and I’m not sure, but I think Bird Whisperer and Twin A were playing with some Pokemon cards they’d smuggled along.

*Yes, I really said that.

Unfortunately, the tour was kind of a bust with the Trifecta. Though the church did its usual outstanding hyper-organized job of efficiently handling the hordes of visitors, there’s not a lot to actually see in a yet-to-be-dedicated temple, and only one stop (the sealing room) where someone explains what specifically happens in a given room. So while I enjoyed the tour, it was a bit dry for non-LDS 7-10 year-olds.

Special Shout-Out to LDS Readers: Some type of ongoing tie-in or explanation of the various things/places in the temple to some of the rather exciting events detailed in the BoM might make the tour more engaging for non-LDS youngsters (who lack a BoM/Primary background.) Just saying.

Anyway, I’d always thought of attending a service at a ward some Sunday, but had long procrastinated, in part because there are always a lot of other things I like to do on Sundays, but also because I always secretly dreaded having to politely fend off a couple hundred friendly Mormons welcoming the newcomer*. But I always thought someday I’d get around to going.

*Because I’m a native Northeasterner. We’re just not used to so much friendliness. It gets us all out of sorts, and then we have to spend a day or two drinking and swearing and dropping our “R”s before we feel normal again…

As it turned out, someday was yesterday. I attended the Alpine 7th Ward for the funeral of Susan Nelson, Elden’s wife.

I never met Susan, though I saw her once. I was walking back to the office from Einstein’s or Starbucks or someplace, and Elden’s car drove past. Elden was in the passenger seat and the woman driving wore a scarf (this was during or maybe following one of Susan’s chemo periods.) Elden didn’t see me. He was facing Susan, and the two were laughing about something, in that easy way that couples who’ve been together happily for a long time do. That image always stuck in my mind, more than any of the wonderful things Elden wrote about Susan on his blog.

When I think about Elden, I often catch myself thinking, “There but for the…” well, I don’t know what… But we have strangely parallel lives. Same age, same industry, same company, same hobby. Both married to women named Susan, both with 7 year-old twins. Over the past couple of years I’ve been continually impressed by Elden’s strength and calm in facing such a difficult future.

Funerals are tough in any tradition, but Susan’s was as fine a one as I’ve been a part of. A packed church, and a service filled with speakers who loved her, and who were able to share what they loved about her and why she was so remarkable with those of us who didn’t know her, in a way that we really got it. And no speaker was more impressive, moving or inspiring than Elden himself.

I won’t try to capture what he said here. But one thing really stuck with me. He said that when he and Susan thought they had just 6 months left, they thought about what to do with their remaining time together. And they decided that what they wanted to do more than anything else was to go on living they live they’d been living, the life they’d built together.

Like probably all readers of his blog, I’ve been amazed at his- and Susan’s- determination to see something good come out of their ordeal: the creation of Team Fatty, the raising of more than half a million dollars for cancer research.

Research, research, research. I’ll admit it- sometimes it feels tough to get excited about donating money for “research.” The very nature of research is chasing down dead ends, trying things that don’t work out, in hopes of finding something that maybe, just maybe, will work out.

In contrast, many charities feel “easy” to donate to, with a quick “return on investment.” You know: for a few dollars you can help some kid in a poor country to get immunized, or have clean drinking water, or pencils for school. And these are great, easy causes to get behind*. Why should I have that latte at Starbucks when I could feed a kid for a day instead? Compared to these “metrics”, research just seems so nebulous, so intangible.

*And to be clear, you absolutely should donate money to charities that provide basic necessities and medical care to children and families in extreme poverty, for 2 reasons: First, it’s the right thing to do. Second, if there is any kind of God and/or afterlife, and you show up and you didn’t give money to help starving African kids, but you bought nice cars and bikes and Wiis and iPhones and Frappacinos, then you are absitively, posolutely going straight to hell.

But research does work. Cancer victims today- of many types of cancers- so often live longer and better than they did 30, 20, even 10 years ago, because of research.

I don’t think Good Things just cancel out Bad Things. Bad Things are still Bad, and no matter how many cancer victims Susan’s ordeal helps in future years, her cancer was- and is- a terrible thing for her family. But I posted about cancer in this blog recently, and I think it’s worth sharing a quick update on my friend “Lance.”

Gleevec is working. After a very difficult couple of weeks, Lance’s body seems to have adapted to the drug. The pain, nausea and fatigue have largely abated. And his white blood-cell count is essentially normal- or close to it.

His ordeal isn’t over; his oncologist is still working to finesse his dosage, to increase his red blood-cell count. But his prognosis looks good. 10 years ago he’d be facing death and/or a bone-marrow transplant. Today he’s probably facing watching his sons grow up, and growing old with his wife.

Research is like cold-calling or wind-pollination. It’s tough, it’s disheartening, the odds seem daunting, and it’s hard to get excited about. But every sale starts with someone picking up a phone, and every mighty oak starts as a one-out-of-million grain of pollen that somehow hits the right spot. Every cure starts with someone doing something about it. Someone getting some bucks together. Nice job, Susan & Elden, nice job.


Ski Bike Junkie said...

Nice post. FWIW, my kids are bored with the temple open houses, too, and they've been going to primary their whole lives. My five year old would have been watching out the window to see if Harmons was on the way so he could hit me up for gelato on the way home.

KanyonKris said...

It was good to see you at the ward, Brother Watcher. :-)

Yes, the temple open houses are dry. For better or worse the idea is: let people go in and quietly look around then answer questions outside. This promotes a feeling of reverence, but I can see that an interactive explanation of each room would be better.

UtRider said...

Was that you I heard singing behind me? If so you're pretty good, talented even. Definitely a candidate for the ward choir. :)

I haven't been to many funerals (3 total) but I must agree with you that yesterday's service was very well done.

JZ said...

You don't know me, but I'll share my ward attending 8-year-old son's reaction to the temple open house: "kind of like church, but shorter." Sad, but true.

Fatty said...

thanks for coming; it really meant a lot to see you there.

itgotweird said...

I have 7 year old twins too, weird.

Cathy Crandall said...

Nice post, Watcher.
I haven't found the goldenrain yet, but we've seen some pretty impressive thunderstorm rain visiting in Utah. Tomorrow I'm hitting 9th South so we can get a look. We might miss the bloom next year in China, where we will be spending the school year, but at least I'll have an idea about what it looks like in real life.

Hope you had a great time in Montana.

Watcher said...

Cathy- they're common around town. On 9th South, look between 2200 East and 2300 East (couple blocks from my house- were I in town I'd tell you to knock and I'd walk you over and show you), probably 2 out of 3 trees on that block are Goldenrains. The seed pods are light/dull green right now, sort of 3-sided, vaguely pear-shaped.

Ed said...

Found your blog about a week ago and totally enjoy it. I have been a photo junkie since I was a kid and I thought I would offer a little help with a couple of your photos. Camera meters are programmed, usually, to render a scene a nice medium gray. When you have a close up of a white flower or any light subject, it will dutifully render it medium gray in tonality. The secret is to override your meter by a stop or more to render the light tones closer to how they really are. (They opposite is true for dark tones) Just use your exposure compensation to over expose light subjects +1 or +1 5. I hope this helps! Keep up the good work and let me know if I can be of more help.


J Davis
Sao Paulo, Brasil

Watcher said...

James- thanks for the photo tips. I've always been a completely lame photographer and so I really welcome the advice. When I get a chance to catch up, I'll replace my 2 pics with your lightened versions from flickr.

(BTW, I'm in Montana right now, and have already taken dozens of pics in poor light conditions (dark forest, rainy day) which I'll be using in posts next week, so expect a few more poor exposures before I can implement your suggestions!)

KanyonKris said...

I run all my photos through Picasa, a free Google program. For most photos the "I'm Feeling Lucky" (auto contrast & color correction) button works great. For the few that don't, Auto Contrast usually does the trick.

Picasa even has a button to upload photos to blogger, although it only does the first 4 selected photos, but I can work around that by doing multiple uploads.

I'm sure it's better to set the camera properly, but for me it's easier to shoot on auto and tweak with Picasa at home.

Lucy said...

I had similar thoughts on my tour of the Draper temple. It didn't exactly enrich my life, but I'm glad I went.


Plus, the building stone was totally worth the trip.

Ed said...

I have to disagree about your photo ability. Your photos, along with the text and explanations of all living things, are excellent!
Keep doing that thing you do!