Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sticks And Stones

The sting of steel cutting up into my lips and teeth, brought me quickly around to confront the kid shoving me from behind in the drinking fountain line.  I was tall for my age, and tough as nails from hard farm work, with more spit and vinigar than any seven year old really ought to have.  My arm was cocked and fist doubled with only a foot between it and the intended recipient of my retaliatory strike, but to my surprise, it was not a boy, but a pretty girl who I was about to pummel!  It's purpose suddenly lost, my swinging arm dropped harmlessly below its cowering target, and as soon as its threat was gone, her frightened countenance leaped at me in snarling savagery.
     "Were you really going to hit me Quinn Heder?" she yelled loud enough for the whole class and teacher to hear.  Then, filled with twenty five against one bravery she shoved me again, stepping up close to my face while she made her threat, "...you better watch out, cause my big brother's going to beat you up."  Then came the blow that tilted my young world, as crinkling her lips and squinting her eyes with disgust she exclaimed
     "Euuuu, ...your breath stinks!"
So devastating were those words, at that moment in on my developing psyche, that for nearly five years I couldn't even make eye contact or even say hi to a girl I considered pretty, and for more than twenty years, wouldn't be caught dead without gum in my mouth.
 
      While nearing the pinnacle of childhood singing fame on rural Utah later that same year, a friend leaned into my ear and told me that I sang like a girl.  I promptly beat the unholy hell out of him right in the middle of Jr Sunday school singing time, and after refused to sing again until the nearing the end of my ninth grade year.

     I knew well the saying, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me", but say it all I wanted, the damage had been done.  Those two little kids grew up to be great people, and are good friends of mine today, but just as they, innocent, unthinking children with only words as their weapons were able to turn my tender life upside down, so can any of us without intending, cause pain and suffering that is difficult to overcome.
     I wonder how many times I've done similarly, and shudder to think of the price that had to be paid by others because of my thoughtlessness.  The older I get, the less tolerance I have for meanness, in fact, I am convinced that when we are brought before Jesus Christ to account for our lives, ...we will be judged more by the way we have treated our fellow human beings, than any other single thing besides our attitude toward God.  When you think about it though, the two attitudes go hand in hand, ...if we truly love God, then we will naturally treat his other children kindly.


     "The first great commandment... Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," ...and the second is like unto it, Though shalt love thy neighbor as thy self." 
     My heart and boundless respect goes out to those in this world who understand and truly live these commandments.  We see them stopping roadside to help a stranded traveler, giving to the beggars and street peddlers, conversing with the "slightly off" co worker in the office, giving a hand up to the fallen combatant on the field of play, looking in on widows, elderly, hospital bound and poor.  Most often we don't see such people, but they're out there, ...the world is full of them.  I know because I have seen and felt their kindnesses toward me and loved ones close to me.

     God bless you and yours, for the kindness you show, ...and as we reflect on the example of him who we revere as Lord and Savior, may we resolve to do a little more to be like Him in the coming year.

Happy Easter

Monday, April 18, 2011

Survivor's Guilt

At the end of Search For Yesterday, Kid expresses remorse for being the cause of his family's murder, ...was he really the cause? ...or was he just experiencing what some refer to as "Survivor's Guilt"?
      By far, this is the most frequent question troubling the thoughtful minds of readers as they close the back cover of Book.  As I attempted to answer questions posed by one such reader this morning, I had a cause to reflect on something similar that I find myself facing almost on a daily basis, and in doing so gained a deeper appreciation for this troubling human condition that many of us face in one way or another for varying reasons.  
     Recently, as I have continued to mourn the death of my brother Van, while at the same time contemplate the probable fate of my sweet sister, I often find myself wallowing in my own version of this "Survivor's Guilt", wondering if it shouldn't have been me, ...what is the reason I'm allowed to survive while they, such deserving and wonderful human beings have this bitter illness thrust upon them, suffering unimaginable difficulty and pain times while having their lives cut short?
     In "Search For Yesterday", Kid, the main character suffers the loss of his memory, seemingly from a blow to the head by falling debris, but after reading Book Two, "Trail Of The Damned", readers will have cause to wonder, as he suddenly finds himself set upon by a traumatic series of events, the last of which leaves him buried alive beneath his burnt home.     
     Now back to the original question, "Was he really the cause of his family's demise?"  Obviously, by his comment, he believes he was, but perhaps it is only his youthful perception that defines to him a reality that reasonable thinkers might not recognize.  Don't we all at times allow our sometimes myopic perception to distort the truth, creating a personal reality that better conforms to our emotional state?  When we do this, it becomes possible for us to see an undesirable situation, accident, or tragedy as somehow being our fault.  At times, such thinking can be good, when it causes us to reflect on our shortcomings and make needed behavioral changes, but when we allow guilt to consume our hearts, we risk becoming lost.  Despair throws up walls fending away reaching hands, keeping out would be comforters, and obscuring from view any possible doorways to freedom, and all too often the result is devastating if not deadly. 
     I have three personal friends who have at different times over the past ten years, taken their own lives while caught in the wake of despair and hopelessness.  The saddest part to me is that from where I and others stood on the outside looking in, each bore little fault in the circumstance for which they paid the ultimate penalty.
     Someone doesn't have to die for another to experience the destructive affects of this type of misplaced guilt.  May I share a personal example, completely different yet frighteningly similar as I now reflect back some thirty five years.  As a young teen, life somehow seemed to steer me where it wanted, robbing me of coveted opportunities, friendships and personal achievement I could only look back upon with longing.  The farther away I let it pull me, the more I became resigned to my diminished status, blaming myself more and more, until at last I was convinced that it was because of my own stupidity, that I no longer had hope of experiencing my once vivid dreams.  I didn't speak about my private sadness to anyone, and did pretty well to disguise it, while all the while continuing to be wagged about by my proverbial tail until reaching a breaking point.  Then, a miracle happened, ...hands, perhaps from heaven, as arms reached down and plucked me from my misery, providing new strength, and fresh, productive ideas to fill my chasm of vanished hope.  Fortunately, I took the hand extended to me, and by the grace of Jesus Christ was given a chance to change my fate. 
     Kid's memory loss, and subsequent  struggle to re-invent himself anew, is reflective of my own adolescent struggle.  I never did throw a hatchet like him, or save a beautiful girl from the clutches of hell, but I did experience the gutting trail of social awkwardness, loneliness, and self doubt, and know first hand the darkness that fills such a place.  I've never been so sad as a father, as on the night I heard one of my beautiful daughters tearfully admit with a fallen countenance, that she was simply not in the league of the people she wished almost more than anything to be friends with. 
     For the causal reader, "Search For Yesterday" may seem like little more than a cute, exciting, or compelling read, ...but for the struggling soul out there, ...for my own children and yours, I pray it is much, much more, ...it just has to be.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

"Sign"

Dropping into the Salt Lake Valley from Corner Canyon yesterday as the storm pulled back in a sweeping arch over the north and west before resuming its deluge, I became suddenly overwhelmed with mounting appreciation for the human family.  Before going to my first appointment, I had stopped by to check in on JoLyn and Chad and perhaps my time there had fostered a heightened sensitivity, I really don't know, but whatever the cause, ...its affect was something I'll likely not forget.
     Homes by the thousands seemed to leap up with greater prominence than before.  Streaming road ways, fabulously designed office buildings, shopping malls, an amusement park and a myriad of not so desert-like trees spread as far as the waiting clouds would allow my vision, all whispering together in nostalgic harmony to my hungry spirit.  I thought, "What a spectacle! ...a miracle even!" 

     Familiar to many who have roamed the mountains of the world, is the term "Sign", which is just a simple way of referring to tracks, or evidence that an animal had passed.  Well, ...as I paused roadside, marveling at the scene stretching out below me, it wasn't "Sign" of wildlife I observed.  As I often do these days, I thought of my brother Van, ...where he must be, and how his and other's view of us, the ones they've left behind must appear to them now.  Perhaps with the beauty of heaven all around them, our mere scratches in the earth's soil might understandably suffer by comparison, but then again, maybe not.  My thoughts then turned to my sister JoLyn, and I had to choke back tears thinking of what must be going through her mind and heart as she was at about the same time descending into the valley on her way to the Chemo ward for another battery of life prolonging poison.  There aren't two more industrious people in the world than she and her husband Chad, and knowing how they and their new family of cancer afflicted friends wonder and hope with each passing moment, clinging to every bit of this life they can, I suddenly gained a new appreciation for the "Signs" I was seeing.
     For all the bad we may suffer and endure at the hands of a few, as evidenced world around, the overwhelming trend and disposition of humankind is to build and create.  Whatever their motive, people everywhere seek to beautify, improve, and increase, making their present condition better.  Sure we can find the exception, without even much effort, but when contrasted with the good of humanity, even the most zealous sceptics would have to agree that the bad they fixate on is an under-whelming minority.
    Invisible from the lofty benches overlooking the valley are the simple kindnesses offered on the streets, in grocery stores, between neighbors, or in our food, blood, and clothing banks of our communities.  Our buildings, roads, and beautiful gardens and parks are only the most visible evidences that humanity is good, but the undeniable spirit of love I felt flowing up to me yesterday morning as I viewed them is the defining "Sign" of those who have gone before, and others who are presently leaving their mark through this place; sons and daughters of the living God, ...brothers and sisters of the resurrected Christ, he that lived and taught love above all else.  I'm ashamed to have just now noticed

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Miracle Of A Baby

A little less than twenty years ago, I paced nervously in the upper halls of an old Puertorican hospital, praying like most young fathers that God was watching and would see another one of his precious daughters safely into this precarious existence.  My Father was expected to arrive from Utah, but hadn't yet, and having looked so forward to his always unfailing strength while awaiting my fourth child, I began to wallow in worry of a cornucopia of the dreaded "What If"s".  Two years earlier, Kent had blessed our lives, but his arrival and early days of life had passed with fear and trembling accompanied by much prayer and fasting in hopes of him even being able to survive the first week, so you might imagine the worries my anticipation of another delivery would conjure up. 
    I was a mess, and when my father finally stepped from the elevator to join me I in my wait, words cannot express the lift his presence alone supplied.  I love my dad, ...Mom too, but in that moment, something about his strong embrace and sacred mantle of fatherhood, which I may add, he has always carried with honor and dignity, was just the thing to set my convulsing heart to rest.  Together we endured the next few tenuous minutes until Diana was wheeled from the delivery room in a small cart on her way to the nursery.   She was a miracle baby, sent to us on the heels of a heartbreaking miscarriage only a few weeks before her conception, and to see her alive and well was nothing short of perfect.
     Today, I again stood in the hallway outside the delivery room waiting to hear the first cries of a baby, but this time it was with my lovely Marianne beside me, as we hoped for the blessings of heaven to attend my once infant daughter of twenty years ago as she delivered little Jordyn, our first grand baby into the world.  Like exuberant school kids, we strained our ears for sounds of progress from within the closed doors, and nearly leaped out of our pants at our grand daughter's robust cry.  Sealing the moment with a tender kiss, Marianne and I silently reflected back on the precious first moments with our own wonderful children as they each opened their mouths filling the air with the announcement of their arrival.  What a glorious gift God gives us, to have this blessed opportunity of family.  I thank him from the bottom of my heart, as I'm sure my sweet Marianne does. 


     Welcome to our sweet Jordyn Kay Johnson, ...to you goes our greatest hopes, sweetest dreams, and most tender expressions of love. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cutting Loose

     The first time I remember hating the red pen was in Mrs Potter's Honors English class at Richfield High.  Each circle, slash, or line she vigorously scribbled across what represented my very heart and soul set to words, cut me like a razor, and I wondered if by the time her proverbial blood letting ended there would be anything left of my work.
     I eventually came to expect the butchery of her brutal editing however, and as time went on, I began looking forward to it, hoping with each successive exercise, that my writing skills had improved enough to deny her some of the morbid pleasure she seemed to get from ripping my essays apart.  Confident the day had finally come when only the only red ink I would see would be a big circled "A", I laid the meticulously crafted draft of my final Essay on Mrs Potter's desk and settled into the chair while she proceeded to read.  Impossibly, the red pen leaped into her fingers after only a few lines, and in horror I watched as once again I my best effort fell slash by ripping slash short of the mark I had hoped for. I couldn't believe it, and glaring over at her short pixie cut brown hair covered head with disdain, I sat there wishing it would just somehow explode.   She folded down the final page and for what felt like forever, just stared blankly at my paper in silence.  I started to worry, but then she turned and met my crest fallen countenance with moist eyes and barely enough voice to manage the words, "That was really beautiful."
     "But you tore it to pieces!" I complained, to which she smiled, and what she said next has had a profound affect on me ever since that day...
     "It's not what I cross out Quinn," she said, "...it's what I leave that matters."
     Many other teachers, professors, and editors have reviewed my writing, each wielding their red pen with a certain flare, but it will forever be Janet Potter who changed my perspective of the once hated foe.  That was the day I became a writer, and in me was born a desire to create word masterpieces, each time I put my pen to paper.  Professors became friends rather than foes, and their criticism, mortar and bricks rather than a wrecking ball.  I had learned, that if I just cut loose with near reckless abandon rather than writing with a carefully planned outline, my impressions would originate from a place nearer my heart, therefore causing my words to flow with purer motive, deeper feeling, and an honesty that would validate my expression.  Rarely do I risk breaking my groove to censure, re-write, or edit any more, because I believe that my first thoughts are usually the purest.  Perfectly arranged or not, somewhere in those raw and often times roughly constructed run on sentences are the priceless gems that after a few stokes of red ink will stand out like brilliant diamonds.
     People have often warned me of the editors brutal pen, but I say bring it on, ...cut the unsightly fat from around my Herculean physique, so my inner awesomeness can be exposed, ...I don't fear it, I count on it!
     In writing a fictional story, I had to be self indulgent in my writing through the first draft, in order to become intimately familiar not only with my characters, but with the environment that I was creating; ...the setting, its details, with all the color, smell, taste and feel that made it live inside my mind.  Later much of that got cut away, but by simply cutting loose with all I had in that first draft, I helped insure consistency, depth, and the raw emotion necessary to breathe life into what otherwise might have been just a bunch of words.