Monday, March 30, 2009

From Valley Forge to Bountiful

I got to shake the president's hand yesterday. No, it was not Barack Obama. It was our nation's very first president, George Washington - or, at least, it was a man who looked and spoke a lot like him.

(Side note of small significance: The real George Washington did not wear a wig. It is his real hair that you see in all of the portraits. Of course, it would have taken a real nerd to have pointed that out. And we all know that I'm just not capable of that kind of nerdiness. Right?)

President Washington was the surprise guest speaker at my ward's fifth-Sunday, combined elders quorum/Relief Society meeting yesterday morning. Needless to say, it was one of the most unusual meetings I have attended as part of a three-hour chuch block. But that does not mean that it wasn't interesting or educational.

He spoke on a variety of topics, including the importance of the Constitution, why the United States is a Christian nation and should remain so, and why a democracy is the least-desirable form of government. (Yes, really. John Adams, if I am remembering correctly, said that a nation is in trouble when the voice of the people chooses leaders and legislation that are contrary to the commandments of the Lord. Pres. Washington tied it in to chapter 29 of Mosiah.)

I was also very interested in the story of "the man God wouldn't let die." In a nutshell, George Washington, as a young man, fought in the British army during the French and Indian War of the 1750s. In one particularly gruesome battle, all of the British officers but Washington were killed, and he was left alone to lead the soldiers in combat. Four horses were shot out from under him, and there were also four bullet holes in his clothing - but he was not even wounded. It was clear that he was a man that God prepared to do a great work in this land.

Some other amazing facts about GW: He was dyslexic. A few months ago on this blog, I wrote about some heroes of mine who happened to be dyslexic - and now I add Washington to the list. He also led the continental army in the Revolutionary War over eight years and was not paid a dime for it. Additionally, he is still the only president to have received 100 percent of the electoral vote. And he did it twice!

By the way, Pres. Washington's real name, according to the card he handed me, is Gary V. Dolzer. He lives in Kaysville. From what I can gather, he is apparently just one of a group of actors who are available to portray a core group of the Founding Fathers at readings, seminars, and firesides across the Wasatch Front.

My only regret is that I did not ask Pres. Washington to sign a dollar bill, or at least put his initials on a quarter, for me.

Friday, March 27, 2009

One Year Ago Today

Mom's been in a car accident. It's pretty bad. She doesn't have much time left. You had better get to the hospital as soon as you can.

I'm paraphrasing, but those were essentially the words I heard on my voice mail a year ago today. It was one of the most frightening moments of my life. You had better believe that I got myself to that emergency room as soon as was humanly possible.

Fortunately, once I arrived, I learned that the situation was not as critical as I had been led to believe. Mom had been in an accident, and her blood pressure had initially fallen to a dangerous level when she was brought into the E.R. But it was soon stabilized. When I walked in, she was awake and could talk. I breathed a sigh of relief. I also felt somewhat helpless, looking at her in that hospital bed, with all of those tubes and machines on and around her. All I could do was hold her hand and wait for my other siblings to arrive.

Mom had suffered a sprained wrist and a few broken ribs. Thankfully, her seatbelt had helped to lessen the blow of the crash. The worst part of her injuries was all of the bruising and the hematomas she had from the impact. They were all over her body, from head to toe, especially on both of her legs. The main thing that kept her in the hospital was the excruciating pain of getting up and trying to walk.

For the next week, Mom was in Lakeview Hospital. She spent the week after that in South Davis Community Hospital, going through hours and hours of painful physical therapy. But she remained tough all through the ordeal. In fact, the kind of recovery that Mom made was nothing short of miraculous. I have no doubt that the priesthood blessings she received played a large part in that.

In addition, the response and support from extended family members, friends, neighbors, and ward members was nothing short of overwhelming. I can't count the number of people who fasted for her, asked me about her condition on a daily basis, visited her in the hospital, brought flowers - what have you. A few of the nurses who cared for her and one of her physical therapists were members of my own ward.

One thing about tragic circumstances is that they never fail to offer us an opportunity to develop our own compassion toward the plights of others. They also, I think, teach us a great deal about gratitude.

I am grateful that things turned out the way they did when they initially appeared so bleak. I still have so much to learn from Mom. I'm glad she is still with us.

At the same time, I think of friends and acquaintances who have had family members end up in the hospital, whose prayers were not answered as they had hoped. Truth is, I don't know why some people walk out of hospitals; others are wheeled out, never to walk again; and still others never return at all.

I find comfort in these words:

I know that (Heavenly Father) loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
-1 Nephi 11:17; parenthesis added

In other words, He loves us, and we can trust in that. Trusting in that may mean having the faith to wait to find out the answers to all of our Why? questions in time, or perhaps even in the life to come. But they will come.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The League of Ordinary Gentlemen

Last night, I went to the Utah Jazz/Houston Rockets game at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. It was just my second time going to a Jazz game this season, and I enjoyed the opportunity. The game was very exciting. We had a lot to cheer about, as the home team pulled off a 13-point victory.

As much as I enjoy Jazz games, however, that's not what this post is about.

As I waited in my seat for the game to start, I couldn't help but notice a strange phenomenon. I saw a man and what was apparently his date/girlfriend/wife walking up and over to their seats. What was weird about it was that the man was not only walking in front of the woman; he was, in fact, several strides ahead of her. They were together, and yet they weren't together - if that makes sense. From what I could see, she may as well have been a dog following him around, as far as he was concerned.

It struck me as odd when I saw it. But then I noticed the same thing happen again with a different couple. Why don't these guys have enough courtesty to walk next to their dates/wives? I wondered. I also thought, What kind of girl wants to follow around a guy who acts like that?

I couldn't help but think of the line uttered by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: "Who's more foolish - the fool, or the fool who follows him?"

Whatever the answer to that question may be, I was rather embarrassed for my gender, collectively speaking. I may be misinterpreting what I saw, but it just didn't seem like a very gentlemanly thing of these guys to do.

Growing up, I was taught that it was good manners to say things like "please" and "thank you," to open doors for my dates, to take their hands if they ever needed help getting up - those kinds of things. Chivalry is an attitude that seems to be lost on a lot of people today. It's also something called common courtesy.

Is chivalry dead? No. But it appears to be in intensive care.

Then again, maybe it's just Jazz fans.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Drinking and Driving

I had a rather interesting experience last night.

I stepped out from a friend's party to drive out to Murray to meet Jenry, the brother of one of my mission companions from Peru. (Yes, it is spelled Jenry, though it is pronounced "Henry.") He had brought a small package of goodies from Miguel, my companion, and wished to give it to me. Jenry is here in Utah for three weeks to do some training for his job and is staying at the house of Joey, who once lived at Jenry's house in Trujillo when Joey was a missionary.

Everybody got that so far?

But this was not the "interesting" part! Alas, I had a hard time finding Joey's house. In fact, I drove all the way up and down Highland Drive trying to find it, getting lost multiple times. I was saddened to learn that the old Villa Theatre - the one where I saw (and was traumatized by) Raiders of the Lost Ark as a kid - has now been turned into Habib's Middle Eastern rug outlet. Really. (At least, I think that's how it was spelled.)

Still lost, I called Joey on the phone. We agreed to meet in the parking lot at the Macy's store near Murray-Holladay Road, which I knew for a fact I could find.

We have still not arrived at the "interesting" part. It gets better.

I soon arrived at the parking lot. I didn't know it at the time, but I was a few minutes ahead of my friends. Though I had talked to both Jenry and Joey on the phone, I had no idea what they looked like. So, when I arrived in the mostly empty lot and saw a man standing there next to his car, I automatically assumed it was Joey, and perhaps Jenry was in the back seat where I couldn't see him.

Except it wasn't Joey. He began to approach me, and as he came closer, I soon realized that this man was in his 40s or 50s. Also, he had Idaho plates on his car. Also, he was drunk as a skunk.

This man told me that his car had a flat tire. I glanced at it and saw that he was right. He then asked me for a ride to his house, which he said was five blocks away. Since he had Idaho plates, I was skeptical. And a bit scared. I told him that I was meeting some friends and that they would be there any moment, so I couldn't help him. I am not the kind of person who is comfortable giving rides to strangers, let alone ones who look like they will puke in my car - or worse. But he insisted. He said he needed a ride right away and basically demanded that I take him where he needed to go. He even came up to the passenger-side door, and I'm sure he would have opened it if it hadn't been locked. I was even more scared.

In an answer to a prayer, Joey, Jenry, and their other friend, Jeff, pulled up right at that moment. Yes, I hang out with guys who have "J" names.

The point of this story - and I suppose I have one - is that it is important to try to be a Good Samaritan. I have no issues with helping out someone in need. But there is also a time when that's not a good idea at all. When a voice inside tells you not to help a certain someone, you should do that, too.

One other thing: Alcohol - and perhaps Mountain Dew - is the Official Drink of Hell.

P.S. Today marks the six-month anniversary of The Epistle of Jon. W00t! I will be signing autographs in the foyer.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Doorsteps and Missteps

Today's Random Question out of Nowhere is: What, exactly, is the proper etiquette for the doorstep at the end of a date? How do you know when a hug, a handshake (shudder), or nothing at all is appropriate? Do you wait for her to act, or do you initiate? I would honestly like to know what your thoughts are on the subject.

Okay, so that's more than one question. Sort of. I mean, they're really the same question. Also, if I knew the answer, I wouldn't be asking.

Nothing specifically has happened lately to cause me to ask this question. Then again, maybe that's exactly why I'm asking it - because nothing specifically has happened lately.

It seems like there is not any one, specific guideline on the matter. Or is there? Inquiring minds want to know.

Truth be told, I don't know many, if any, guys who look forward to the doorstep at all - be it an awkward moment or not. We spend all of that time, in the first place, stressing over who to call for the date; then wondering if she'll say yes; then trying to be charming/funny and look cool on the date itself; then, on the way to the doorstep, wondering silently if she wouldn't mind a second date, or if she thinks we look like the Elephant Man; and then, after all of that stress and worry, we have to face a doorstep - the most intimidating moment of all - too?

No wonder the doorstep is always the last moment of a date. We put it off as long as we possibly can. It's almost enough to make us want to get it over with, no matter how awkward, and then breathe that sigh of relief that comes when a date is over.

As for me, I tend to err on the side of caution. I let the girl initiate any kind of gesture, if anything at all is to happen - because I don't want to make her feel like she owes me anything back . . . if that makes sense.

Hugs are great. But personally, I would rather get slapped in the face than be offered a handshake. There's just something so - I don't know - underwhelming about a handshake at the end of a date that makes it feel like a slap in the face. At least, with a slap in the face, you know you're getting what you feel like you're getting.

I have also seen girls literally run inside without saying another word. What causes this? I don't know. Maybe I start to turn into a werewolf in the light of the full moon, and I'm just not aware of it. Maybe they're in a hurry to catch the weather forecast on the news. Maybe they're used to guys not even walking them to their doors, or perhaps they are accustomed to being tossed out of the passenger-side window as he drives by. The possibilities are endless.

And, no, in case you were wondering, I haven't been slapped in the face - yet. But it's still early. I have, however, been the one to do the slapping.

It was for a role in a play, okay?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A New Perspective on Mountain Meadows

On Sunday night, Bro. Glen Leonard, one of the three authors of the new book Massacre at Mountain Meadows, spoke at a fireside hosted by our ward. It was definitely one of the more interesting talks I have heard lately.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre is a topic that has intrigued me since I took a Church History class a few years ago, during which we discussed it in depth. It is also a topic that can be, for obvious reasons, quite a touchy and a controversial subject. Many people still think of it as one of the skeletons in the closet of the LDS Church. I certainly never expected to go to a fireside where it would be the primary focus. But Bro. Leonard handled the topic very well and helped to shed some new light on the subject.

One of the points that he emphasized was the fact that good people do bad things. And sometimes, when one group of good people encounters a different group of good people, they can make bad decisions in how they treat each another. Such was definitely the case at Mountain Meadows in 1857.

Also, it helps to take into account that the people who committed the terrible crime lived in a much-different time than we do. They were people who had been bullied and pushed from place to place, time and time again. They had been beaten, tortured, and misused. And they were not going to be kicked out of their homes again.

Earlier in 1857, shortly before the massacre, one of their most beloved Apostles, Parley P. Pratt, had been murdered in Arkansas. Some of the emigrants from Missouri boasted that they had helped to kill Joseph Smith, while some of the Arkansans boasted that they had taken out Elder Pratt. And these people feared that others were yet to be killed.

It doesn't make what they did acceptable, but it helps me to understand where they were coming from a little bit better.

I am now looking forward to reading the book and getting the rest of the story.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Going Squish! like a Lemon

A shameless plug goes out today for a new program, called "Lemons for Literacy," that is being offered by my workplace, HEC Reading Horizons. Below, I present part of the press release that (ahem) yours truly helped write about it:

As the old saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”
Over 40 million Americans struggle with literacy problems. People who struggle with reading can be seen as having been given lemons in life. With the support of effective reading instruction, these people can turn their lemons into lemonade.

We want to celebrate and support the resiliency of people who overcome their struggles with reading. Thousands of inspiring people have turned their struggles with reading into strengths.

Lemons for Literacy has two goals:
1. To help cure illiteracy by providing free literacy materials to people in need.
2. To provide free education for everyone.

Lemons for Literacy is a vocabulary-building game that visitors to the Reading Horizons Web site will be able to play. Players must identify a series of vocabulary words. The words begin at a low-grade level and get progressively more difficult as the game is played. For each correct answer, a hand will squeeze lemon juice into a glass. Five lemons squeezed make one glass of lemonade, and five glasses amount to a pitcher full of lemonade. For every pitcher of lemonade that is filled, Reading Horizons will donate money to purchase literacy materials for a needy site.

to help individuals
to help institutions

Play and promote literacy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Whole Lot of Nothing Goin' On

This post is kind of like the TV show "Seinfeld," for those who are familiar with it. It's about nothing.

Do you ever feel like, in spite of your best efforts, you're not getting anywhere or doing anything that ends up being important? Does it feel like you're going through your own personal Groundhog Day experience?

I feel like that a lot lately. I do a lot of writing for my job, and quite often I hit the brick wall that people like to call "writer's block" and just can't write the things that are in my head, jumbled as they may be. It's like my brain puts up the "Be Back Whenever" sign and goes off for an extended lunch break.

Outside of work, when people ask me "What's new?" in my life, the answer I least like to give them is "nothing." Yet it is exactly what I end up doing.

On a daily basis, I converse online with friends from all over the world (okay, well in the United States and Peru, mostly), on MSN Messenger or Facebook chat or what-have-you. We talk about all kinds of things. Once in a while, though, there is someone who initiates a conversation with me just for the sake of having a conversation - out of habit, out of compulsion . . . who knows?

Such was the case the other day when a friend began to chat with me and told me that "absolutely nothing" was going on in his life. Well, I'm glad you interrupted the work project I was in the middle of to tell me that you're doing nothing! I remember thinking. Of course, I questioned him further and found out that that there really were a lot of things going on in his life. I guess it's a force of habit for a lot of us.

Maybe these are the times and the moments that President Hinckley was referring to when he said:

"Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just like people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, and most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is just like an old time rail journey . . . delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride."

You are probably already familiar with the quote. I think it's a good one to remind ourselves of every now and then.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Day of Rest at the Rest Home

Yesterday morning, I was invited to speak in the sacrament meeting of one of the two care center branches our ward supports. I've been periodically visiting these two branches ever since I was a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood. My mom spent a week at the South Davis Community Hospital last year while recupertaing and rehabbing from her car accident. And my brother Steve, on numerous occasions, also used to gather groups of people to visit the residents and sing hymns of their choosing on Sunday afternoons. I got to tag along on more than one of these occasions, and I always enjoyed the opportunity to take part.

It is always a no-brainer to accept the invitation to go to the care center branches. Whenever I visit one or both, I always come away with a renewed sense of humility at the challenges one can face in life. The people who live there are not necessarily older people who can no longer care for themselves at home; some of them are young adults or children who have been through life-altering injuries or sicknesses and, likewise, need constant care. They have suffered and are suffering through things that I can only imagine.

Perhaps that is why the Spirit is always so strong whenever I get the chance to go to one of these meetings. Where there is great suffering, and also great loneliness, there is also a great need for lifting the hands that hang low; and I guess that's where those who serve at the branches (and where we who visit) come in.

In spite of their challenges, the residents are always glad to see me and always have smiles on their faces. True, there are always a few who remain asleep for the bulk of the meeting, but it's usually those who are getting some badly needed rest. Most people tend to pay better attention to me, as a speaker, than most anywhere else I've stood at a pulpit and given a talk.

At yesterday's South Davis Community Hospital Branch meeting (the Rocky Mountain Care Center is the other one), I was erroneously introduced to the congregation as Don Plowman, which made me wonder for a moment if they confused me with the head of a mafia family or a Latin American landlord. I got to share the stand with a recently returned missionary from Indonesia, who delivered an inspring talk about some of his experiences in that faraway land. One of my former Institute instructors is now in the branch presidency, and I got to speak with him for a few minutes, too.

The thing that stuck with me the most, however, occurred as the sacrament was being passed. An elderly sister, who was obviously suffering with dementia or some other kind of memory-related issue, began to speak very loudly to the deacon who brought her the bread and the water. This would be a problem or a distraction in most any ward or branch of the Church, except she wasn't obnoxious or irreverent about it, even though she may not have been holding all 52 cards in her deck. She simply repeated the words I love you again and again.

Right back at you, sister.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Phoning It In, Again

Earlier this week, a new regulation went into effect locally. Anytime you dial a local number here in Utah, you now have to first include the area code, too. So, pretty much every phone call is now an 11-digit number (counting the "1" before the area code).

Thank goodness for cell phones, so you don't have to dial those 11 digits each time you make a call. The only time-consuming part of the switchover, for me, was having to edit all of my contacts by adding an "801" to the first part of all applicable numbers.

In a recent post, I was a little hard on cell phones. Actually, I was hard on people who do stupid things with cell phones, particularly while they're trying (and I emphasize the word trying) to drive a car at the same time.

I recently upgraded my cell phone to a newer model (see the adjoining picture). It's so much nicer than the old phone, which was kind of like a brick with numbers on the side. True, the new phone is much-more likely to be stolen than the old one, but it also doesn't look like something that was unearthed along with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

One of the best features may be the fact that it is a phone with a flip-top, and that means no more accidentally calling my friend Adam three or four times per week as the phone rests in my pocket. Adam did nothing to deserve this other than the fact that his name was first alphabetically in my old contact list, and the phone went directly to him when it needed to make a phantom call.

Adam was a very good sport about these phone calls. He told me recently that, when they came, he would often overhear me singing along to the radio in my car or other embarrassing things like that.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Jury Duty!

I received quite the surprise, to say the least, when I returned home following Saturday's Improv rehearsal: I had received a summons for jury duty in the mail.

I have no idea, at the moment, what kind of trial I might be needed for. To be honest, I'm not sure how to react or what to do about it. After all, these things usually happen to other people. But, of course, I want to do my civic duty.

One of the first thoughts that occurred to me was to rent the Pauly Shore movie Jury Duty and perhaps learn something from that. Then again, it was just a thought. A stupid thought, really.

Another thought that has occurred to me is to show up at the jury selection prepared with absurd statements such as "I favor the death penalty for everything, including littering and jaywalking" and "Meesa no speaka da English" (pretending to not be able to speak Spanish got me out of more than one embarrassing situation in Peru - and that's a true story).

Whatever might happen, strange things are definitely afoot at the Circle K. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 2, 2009

And the Hits Just Keep On Coming

Do you ever have one of those butter-side-down days when it feels like very little at all can go your way? Today was one of those days for me. It would have to happen on a Monday.

My day began as I accomplished the bone-headed move of catching my own foot in a door as I was closing it. There is now a big bruise on the side of my foot to mark the spot.

Work was not all that enjoyable for me, either, as I am now in the middle of the tedious process of revisiting and rewriting, and it is quite often a frustrating thing to have to do.

In the evening, I headed over to FHE at the ward house to join in on a few games of dodgeball. My team got creamed in every match I played in. As I was attempting to move out of the way of a ball that was thrown in my direction, I lost my balance and fell backward, landing awkwardly on my right wrist. I'm no doctor, but it feels like it might be sprained. I'm going to have it X-rayed to be sure.

With my mounting list of injuries - I am still doing the physical therapy thing, too, by the way - "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" doesn't feel like a song but, instead, a list of all of the places that are sore.

Not long after I walked off of the court, my friend Gary became light headed and passed out. It seems that I was not the only one to feel the effects of dodgeball. Fortunately, the Bishop, who is a doctor by profession, was there to help Gary back onto his feet.

After my last game, I went over to the kitchen to grab a piece of pizza. Surely nothing bad could happen to me here! But, as it turns out, I was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. The girl I dated not all that long ago - the one who is now getting married to another guy - walked in with some urgent wedding planning business and chose to speak about it to the member of the bishopric I happened to be standing right next to.

If I ever wished to be have the ability to disappear on the spot, this was surely the time for it.

After the interesting events at FHE, I came home to put some ice on my wrist. At the moment, half of my family has caught whatever bug it is that's going around. I started to feel light headed myself and am now wondering if I'm coming down with the same thing.

Sigh. These are the days you wish your bed was already made.