Rehashing the Weather

Find people you can be yourself around. That’s where you’ll find the most happiness.

It sounds so simple. It even sounds trite. But it’s true.

Most people take this to matter most when selecting friendships, but it matters just as much when choosing where to work, attend school or even church.

For two years I decided to morph into another person when dealing with my mission president in Germany. I quickly learned what he wanted to hear and then I regurgitated that each time I had to speak to him. I wasn’t myself. I never told him what was on my mind. By being honest with him I risked getting ripped to shreds so I kept each meeting as short as possible by telling him exactly what he wanted to hear. Then I walked out the doors and did what my heart told me to do.

I recall well the last meeting I had with him. I was unable to contain my joy, and when my mission president asked me why I was grinning I finally had the guts to tell him it was due to never having to speak to him again.

I’ve had a few jobs where the boss only wanted to hear the good news. Good news was always welcome, and if someone had bad news, it was best kept to oneself. I saw what happened to messengers bearing bad news and learned from their mistakes. Bring good news or don’t bring any news at all!

Contrast that with Bill Gates who once said the goal of any CEO was to create an environment where bad news flowed to the top in a hurry so it could be acted upon.

Some of my friends laugh when I tell them my in-laws live next door. That’s usually followed by, “Wow, I could never live that close to mine!”

But what they don’t understand is that my in-laws are some of the most non-judgmental people I’ve ever met. They have had their fair share of trials with their own children. But even before I knew that, they accepted me into their family. I’ve made a number of bone-headed mistakes while married to their daughter, yet I never been lectured or frowned upon. Instead they look for the good in me. No wonder I fell for the youngest daughter they raised.

If you find yourself discussing the weather or rehashing the past each time you hook up with a friend it might be worth asking yourself, why?

Until Proven Otherwise

“I’d have a better chance of finding a boyfriend in church than a bar, but we both know that’s not happening.”

“Well, then, good luck!”

As I stood in line at the grocery story tonight I caught the tail end of a conversation between the checker and the young man bagging my groceries. I finished setting  the last 2-liter of Diet Coke on the counter and pushed my card through the check stand.

When I told the checker I did not have a rewards card she asked if I was from out-of-town. When mentioned I’d recently moved from the Seattle area she began nodding her head and pulled two more tellers into the conversation.

“I’ll bet nobody in Seattle cares about religion, right? I mean, isn’t that how it should be?”

All I could do was smile, collect my receipt, and head for the door as everyone within a 15 foot radius was chiming in with their opinions on the difficulty of finding love in Utah as a non-Mormon.

Although I spent the first 26 years of my life in Utah, I’d forgotten how much Mormon influence is woven into the fabric of everyday life here. When I met my daughter’s middle school counselor for the first time, he asked, “So your daughter must be a beehive?”  And less than two minutes into my haircut, my barber asked, “What ward are you in?”

“What ward are you in?” in Utah is the same as “How are you doing?” anywhere else.

You’re a Mormon until proven otherwise.

Kim and I both understood this well before we decided to move to St. George. Our children made many friends in Seattle, and few of them were Mormon, yet we seldom thought much about it. Sure, there was the occasional birthday party on Sunday that would bring our beliefs to the forefront when our kids explained to their friends that Sundays were time to spend at church and with family.

As Luca would say, “That’s not fair.”

One of our reasons for returning to Utah was to be closer to friends and family. Our children are able to spend a lot of their days with cousins and grandparents and friends who have similar beliefs. I doubt we’ll have to decline many birthday parties or youth sports because they were scheduled on Sunday.

The kids have already made friends who belong to other religions and we’ll continue to encourage them to that end. I don’t know how it will all turn out. The diversity of Seattle was a major reason we decided to stay there for 16 years. It almost feels like the polar opposite of Utah in terms of religious influence on the culture.

Maybe next time I’m at the grocery store I’ll seek out the same checker I had tonight and tell her about the college wards.

Then again, that might guarantee she remains single or flees the state.  

Put Into Words

It took me a moment to realize something was wrong.

I parked our car in the garage,  unfastened the straps that were holding our 2-year old daughter in her car seat and stepped inside our home. I assumed she’d follow me as she had before.

We’d returned home from church, and were hungry and tired from staying up late the night before. It would take a couple of minutes before Kim and I realized Luca had not followed either of us into the house.

I ran to the garage to see if she was still in the car while Kim ran out the front door, thinking she may have wandered into our yard.  When I didn’t find Luca in the garage I ran out through our back door to help Kim search our yard. Still no Luca.

Kim and I met near the entrance to our home and then ran to the street. Several of our neighbors saw us and came to help. We searched up and down our street which connects to a maze of neighborhoods, but could find no sign of our daughter.

I can’t imagine a worse feeling than what I felt at that moment. One minute Luca was in her car seat and the next minute she’s gone. By this time Kim and I were frantic.

More neighbors joined in the search including one man and his two sons. I went back into our home to make sure she hadn’t fallen asleep somewhere we hadn’t searched. When I couldn’t find her I decided to check the backyard again which had plenty of places for her to hide.

As I ran back around to the front of our home, I recall thinking I should call the police.

But when I came around the side of our home, I noticed our neighbor slowing driving his truck towards our home. His two sons were walking behind the truck, and one of them was holding the hand of our daughter, and she was OK.

What I hadn’t initially noticed was our three year old boxer named Elka, walking alongside Luca.

Our neighbor pulled up and mentioned how he’d found Luca a few blocks away walking down the middle of the road in search of who knows what. He explained that Elka walked alongside our daughter and wouldn’t leave her when he and his boys approached. 

Elka_Nightt

As a parent a few lucky breaks here and there are always welcome. I had made a major mistake in not accompanying my daughter into our home, but our boxer had acted as her guardian angel that day.

Elka was loved before this incident, but she endeared herself to our family that day.

Today a tumor took her life two months shy of her 13th birthday. We knew this day was coming, and I thought I’d be prepared for it, but it hurts more than I can put into words tonight.

“Your Insurance Didn’t Cover It”

“Four hundred and thirty dollars.”

“How much was that again?”

“Four hundred and thirty dollars. Your insurance didn’t cover it.”

Although it’s easy for me to point out mistakes I’ve made as a father, I’ve always been able to provide for my family. I’ve kept a roof over our heads and food on the table along with the basic necessities of life. With each child we’ve brought into our family we’ve made adjustments to our budget and helped set expectations with our children on a realistic number of activities in which they can participate.

There are times I wish I could do more for them. Between church and school activities we’ve had to limited the number of sport leagues and music lessons we can handle in any one season. It’s as much a time commitment as it is a budget issue. But there are times when we don’t have the money to pay for camps or lessons so we must be creative in finding alternative outlets for our children’s energy and creativity.

Kim and I both grew up in middle class families. Her father worked as an IT administrator and my father spend over thirty years teaching and coaching at a high school. We both had what we needed, but didn’t grow up in families where the children were showered with expensive clothing and new cars waiting for them at age 16.

I don’t recall my father ever buying a new car until most of the kids were gone. My parents drove hand-me-down vehicles from grandparents or bought used cars. I recall looking through the blinds on our front window and watching my father pull a used station wagon into the carport when I was 13 or 14. My sisters and I ran outside and celebrated like my father had won a Ferrari.

As frugally as we lived, I never recall a time when we didn’t expect to receive the best health care possible. We didn’t postpone visits to the doctor or dentist. As a young boy, I required stiches over a dozen times. My father never tried to close a wound with Super Glue or apply a Butterfly bandage and call it good. I never heard, “Let’s avoid the high co-pay of the emergency room tonight and see our primary doctor in the morning.”

If we needed to see a doctor we made an appointment. If medication was available that could ease pain, we had it. We may have shaved a few dollars off our grocery bill by shopping for store brands, but didn’t shave pennies when it came to seeing the doctor.

This brings me to last weekend. More specifically, to the four hundred and thirty dollars.

That was the cost of one bottle of pills someone in our family needed. Although we pay over $500/month in health insurance premiums, our insurance didn’t cover a dime towards the pills. I’m certain this very situation plays itself out thousands of times a day in pharmacies around the US.

As Kim and I sat in our car at the drive-thru pharmacy, we didn’t spend more than five seconds making a decision to skip the meds. It wasn’t a difficult decision because we didn’t have the money.

I suppose we can debate the condition and affordability of health care in the United State all night. But that’s not why I decided to write this.

I decided to write this down tonight because this experience, at the drive-thru pharmacy, is the first time I’ve felt that maybe I can’t provide my family with the care they need.

And it feels just as strange to admit that.

I’m A Mormon And I Don’t Watch Fox News

I’m less likely to discuss my beliefs about religion today than I was ten or twenty years ago. That sounds odd because, as I’ve written before, I served in Germany as a missionary for two years where I spent twelve hours a day attempting to convert Germans to my religion.

Looking back on those two years, it’s clear that I gained a lot more than I gave to the German people. I learned to speak up for my beliefs and my country. I learned to read a map, enjoy new foods and speak a foreign language that would later help me through college.

It also helped me realize that beliefs are uniquely personal, and I don’t believe I could return and speak to them in that arrogant tone only a 20 year old with two quarters of college could pull off.

This comes at a time when the media is taking a close look at Mitt Romney’s membership in the LDS church as well as a national “I’m a Mormon” campaign that’s made its way onto TV.

What makes me feel uncomfortable and less likely to discuss my beliefs are the words I read on Facebook and Twitter from members whom I’m unable to relate to. Many use Facebook to not only disagree with President Obama but to craft lengthy rants about why he’s the anti-Christ.

My parents taught me to respect the President of the United States even if I didn’t agree with all his polices. I was taught that the office of the President should be respected, and I still believe that today. But when I hear such vitriolic nonsense about President Obama while attending church it makes me step back and rethink my involvement with these people.

I want to be clear that the leaders of my church do not condone this behavior. In fact, around election time, they remind the members that they do no endorse a political party. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’ll find far more members who consider themselves Republican than Democrat. During the 2008 presidential election, a friend wanted the LDS church to officially back John McCain. I’m sure he wasn’t alone.

So much for the separation of church and state.

I don’t mind that my political beliefs don’t sync up with most of my fellow Mormons. But I’m having a more difficult time listening and reading about how many of them despise our current President and any policy or positions he’s taken. Many spout off their hatred for any socialist program such as health care reform that will result in health coverage for more Americans.

What many of my fellow Mormons forget is that our church has an impressive welfare program to help its members through difficult times. Members also donate “fast offerings” that go to help those in need at the local level. Many of our lessons teach us about the benefits of giving service in our community, and to search out and assist those in need. But these teachings stand in stark contrast to the “everyone man for himself” philosophy portrayed by some of my fellow members.

It’s all beginning to feel like a zero sum game: if we’re right then you’re wrong in not only your religious but also your political affiliations. Is there room for those of us with more moderate political views in a sea full of strong conservative members?

I guess what it comes down to is that I no longer want to be lumped in with these people because we happen to belong to the same church. I don’t share their hate for the President nor do I believe President Obama is evil, or that women need me to make choices for them, or that those on unemployment or welfare are lazy bums feeding off the system.

Not all Mormons will automatically be voting for Romney come November, nor do all of us worship Glenn Beck or base our political views by what we hear on Fox News.

But what I really hope is that all the hate fades away.

Living On Faith

Time has a way of romanticizing the past.

I was reminded of this recently as I walked down the avenue, not far from the University of Washington. Bulldog News was still doing a brisk business as was the shoe cottage only hipsters could appreciate. Overpriced parking lots are all that divide one business from the next. 

I crossed the street so I could take in the aroma of  the walk-up gyro joint. I recall the gyros being as good as the service was poor. The Tower Records was gone as were most of the panhandlers. My friend tells me the police have cleaned up the area. I can’t helped but think they chased  some of the personality away as well.

My first apartment in Seattle was a block off the avenue. I didn’t have much money, but I did have a lot of free time to explore. Twice a week I’d hit the avenue and spend hours listening to music in the used record shops. On my way out one afternoon, I asked the guy at the counter what album was playing over the speakers. He tried to ignore me, but when he realized I wasn’t leaving without an answer he said, “That’s the Velvet Underground, and how does anyone not know that?”

I’ve since gained a better appreciation of that band to the point that I realize the scolding I received that day was deserved.

As I returned to my car I passed the ATM, and a nervous empty feeling hit me which makes no sense since I seldom use at ATM anymore, and haven’t used this particular one for over 16 years. But I can picture my much younger self standing in a line of students praying to God that I have twenty bucks to last me till Friday.

My life sucked but I was too dumb to know it. I was living on the faith that tomorrow would be better than today. 

And in hindsight, it usually was.

Lost in Translation

Nine years after its release, I watched Lost in Translation on HBO. When it was over, I convinced Kim to watch it with me, and I enjoyed it as much the second time. I even noticed a few detailed I missed the first time such as when Charlotte stubbed her toe.

The idea I take from the film is that connections can change the trajectory of your life. But they aren’t guaranteed nor do they occur often. When they do happen, they are the source of so much joy that the rest of life’s complexities fade into the background.

lostintranslatio

I recently wrote about a friend I meet for Pho a few times each year. We chat for hours, and he’s my only guy friend that I hug when we meet or say goodbye. I don’t know why other than I share a bond with him that’s strengthened over time.

Last spring I sat down at a hamburger joint in Salt Lake City with my father. I’d recently lost my job and my career was in flux. I listened to him describe what it’s like to see your spouse become very ill, and how his plans for retirement had changed because of that. I’d never thought about it from his perspective, but there is was in all its emotional rawness.

It’s not easy for my father to say, “I have no idea how this turns out”, yet when he said that I felt a connection to him that I hadn’t felt before. He’s dedicated and controlled in his actions. But he was vulnerable in that moment, and it brought us closer together.

I told my father that I have no clue what I’m going to do to support my young family. I’d recently started a small business with a friend to escape having to take another mindless corporate job. I wondered if he’d question my work ethic. Instead he placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “You’ll figure it out. You always have.”

When the movie ended I told Kim that I could relate to much of it because I’d felt that instant bond when I first met her in Las Vegas. I didn’t feel the need to be someone I wasn’t because she was happy with the imperfect me. 

That so few of these connections have taken place in my life has me wondering if they are naturally rare or if I’m not perceptive or skilled enough to create more of them. But I know that I’m happiest when they are occur regularly.