Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thankful for these past 10 years...and the 10+ years before

Thanksgiving is approaching. I want to take a few minutes to follow the examples of my mom and Allison to write some thoughts about these last 10 years, as Allison suggested, perhaps as a means of therapy; but also to express my gratitude. Ten years is a long time. I have not accumulated too many decades in life, so they are rather difficult to comprehend. My driver's license photo still shows an eager 15-year-old ready to get behind the wheel. I smile each time I pull it out. Hard to believe that's nearly ten years. There were ten years in Saudi Arabia (I moved out when I was ten), and it was ten years ago that my dad died. A slice of time in Montana, almost fictional in retrospect, lies sandwiched in between to complete my life history.

My dad's passing wasn't easy for anyone in the family. We don't mention it often. For me, there is rarely a context where I feel it appropriate to bring up in depth. However, I believe we think about it regularly. Naturally, the memories return when there's a holiday or a special event, like a wedding. Sometimes, though, I just resurrect old memories when lying in bed at night unable to sleep. It's true that it has been hard at times. The first Thanksgiving and Christmas without him were somber and awkward. Playing baseball in high school, I no longer had the post-game feedback and encouragement. Hunting seasons came and went without any deer jerky in the fridge. Other men became surrogates as I progressed in the priesthood and left for a mission. I believe trials bring growth, and I can't complain about life. Mine has been way too good. There is far too much to be grateful for.

I think first I have to express gratitude for my mom. If you don't understand the challenges of single parenting, you can read her blog. She spells it out in detail. All us kids seem to have turned out to be sane, functional members of society. I know raising us wasn't always easy, what with my pet rattlesnakes, hitchhiking across state lines, lack of cooperation during the single parent dating phase, and even going so far as to keep the day for senior pictures a secret so as to avoid them entirely. We all had to learn to adapt, and my mom had to learn to do all the things that were typically done by my dad. Life isn't always perfect, fun, or easy, but I give credit to my mom for the great job she has done over the years...thanks, mom!

Obviously, I am thankful, too, for the years with my dad. He was always involved in my life, and I think he did just about as good a job parenting as can be expected. Not only was he my coach for several seasons of baseball and soccer, but he was always a good example to me off the field. Still a new member of the Church when Allison was born, he was bishop of our ward shortly before his death. I remember one day riding home from a baseball game. I was still wearing my cleats, and it was just him and me in the car. Up ahead on the shoulder was a girl standing next to a big, blue cooler and a sign, "Fresh hucks!" My dad and I both recognized the girl selling huckleberries. She was Molly from my class at school. My dad had done enough volunteering and chaperoning of school activities to know her by now. She was poor, socially awkward, and the unfortunate punchline of many a joke and jab from classmates. "You want some hucks?" he asked with a smile. Uhh...oh gosh! Kind of, yeah, but maybe not that bad. Besides, someone could see. We pulled over. They were $5 a bag. We bought two, but paid with a $20. As she reached into her fanny pack for a ten my dad told her to keep the change. He then offered a kind word, and we drove away. A small act, but it's something I've remembered. I never doubted his testimony. In fact, he bore it in church the fast Sunday (I believe) before he passed away. I suspect he knew his life was wrapping up, although he never verbalized it that way. There was something of a calm before the storm, as the saying goes. He had even reached his goal of getting back down to his college weight.

I am thankful I was there in his final moments. That's sort of a weird thing to be thankful for, I know. It's been a hard thing for me to live with sometimes. In an unusual way, it has strengthened my testimony in Christ more than anything in life thus far. It's a very personal experience, but I know I needed to be there. I think my dad needed somebody there with him, as well.

Even in life's tragedies, there is so much to be grateful for. I have lived a life I feel I don't deserve. When I was 19, people would ask me where I wanted to serve my mission. "Whereever the Lord wants." "Oh, come on, where?" "Hmm...well, I would love to go to Australia, but I really want to learn a foreign language." When my call came to serve in Sydney, Cantonese speaking, I almost started laughing. I got my wish. Coming home, I got accepted to BYU, and I have since been able to do something I love in school, which is study languages. Last fall, I had the opportunity to study in a Chinese university, and next summer I will have the opportunity to study Arabic in a Jordanian university. I have no idea what life holds. I have no solid plans for the future, but I'm grateful for all that's happened in life to put me where I am today. Trying to look ahead to the next ten years is dizzying. There will certainly be trials, but there must also be gratitude.