Journey of Life
By Marvin Payne
I’m a destination freak. Just gotta get there. I don’t remember a hike when I didn’t “get there.” Often I’ve left the folks I’m hiking with when time or strength was running out, just so I could be the one who “got there.”
Destinations are just fine, but here’s the rub: Very little of our time is spent there. At destinations, I mean. If we’re living in the present (our only real option) we have to notice sooner or later that in any given “present” we are probably on our way somewhere, on a journey.
The model is climbing Mount Timpanogos. It has taken me, at best, three hours to get up there – at worst, five – and about that long to get back down. But I’ve never stayed on top for as long as thirty minutes. (The longer you stay, the colder you get.) Usually I just eat the ding-dongs I’ve earned and start stumbling down again.
“Present” is good. I’ve written about this. About two weeks ago, actually.
24 February 2008 (about two weeks ago)
I need to get into the present! [Note italics. Note exclamation point.] My life is about next Friday’s four-chapter novel deadline [missed], finishing the recording of the Moses book [not yet], getting the musical-writing contract that’s always in the future [where it coyly persists in being, even now], feeding my family next month [it’s next month, and dinner is almost ready (!)], being thirty pounds lighter by summer [no bracketed comment], getting worthy to feel the Spirit.
[These are destinations, but]
With nothing but a simple change of mind, I could be enjoying writing, acting, eating, moving, savoring and celebrating light. [Any verb with an “ing” on it is in the present, where we live.] There’s a huge difference between getting things done and doing things [no, really – it’s the same difference as between “a trip to L.A.” and “a drive, with stops for Fritos and chocolate milk, through Santaquin, Scipio, St. George, Bunkerville, Baker, and Cucamonga]. I keep imagining that peace and satisfaction will come at the end of getting something done. But in my life, something gets done and I [usually] wake up the next morning emptied, blank, starting over.Home teach Koerbers Thursday. (No, wait. That’s just because the journal was on my lap when I noticed how late in the month it was getting to be. Which reminds me, Elder W. Grant Bangerter, emeritus Seventy who is a neighbor in Alpine, got up once in General Conference Priesthood Meeting and asked, “Brethren, is your home teaching done ((or words very much to that effect))?” Many heads comfortably nodded assent. Then he said, “The devil taught us to ask that question ((or words very much to that effect – Elder Bangerter says many words very much to many happy effects)).’ What he meant was, “Home teaching is a journey, not a destination – a journey you take with the people you home teach ((or a meaning very much to that effect))!” )
Continuing with the more relevant portion of the journal entry:
I think I find such joy in performing because I am compelled to live in the moment while performing. The audience wants to be with us in a wonderful, exciting, or challenging present. When there’s no audience around, I can empty my head and get lost in the sound of my guitar and come close to the present. The “thanks” part of prayer can do it, because it’s the part about the present.
(Even thanks about something that happened a long time ago is about the present, because the gratitude is now. ((We never say, “I was grateful back then for that one blessing. I thanked you very much.)) A “harmonic” to this idea is the fact that good works, which slip immediately into the past and can be ((maybe should be)) forgotten, make you the person that you are, which ((Should I say who?)) is in the present.
Today, the personal value of all the things you’ve ever done is in who you are. Do you really want to present to the Lord at Judgment the breakfast you cooked for your wife when she was ill in the late nineties? Yuck! No, you want to present to the Lord at Judgment the kind of guy who cooks breakfast for his wife. It can’t be the length of the list that brings us within the grasp of Grace – the guys who worked all day in the parapbleand the guys who joined up in the eleventh hour each made a penny. ((I have worked in parables, and it’s hard work.)) What they did differs, but what they were ((the kind of guys who show up when they’re called) didn’t.
My daughter and son in primary, who never knew that great dabbler in the craft of lyric alteration, Spencer W. Kimball, like to sing “I Am a Child of God” ending the first verse with “Teach me all that I must know,” the second with “Teach me all that I must do” ((the Kimball edit)) and the final verse with “Teach me all that I must be.” I think they get it.)
If we’re focused on the journey, we make something beautiful of it. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man the things we miss while limiting ourselves to the Interstate Highway System. It’s a system fearfully and wonderfully made for the use of long-haul eighteen-wheelers and, if Dwight D. Eisenhower is to be credited, tanks.
Interstates typically lead only to where people have done the most damage. If you and I can’t drive together along the back roads to Potsdam, New York, to Polk, Pennsylvania, to Torrey, Utah, and to Cokeville, Wyoming, let’s at least rent “Cars” and reserve a theater someplace. (If the editors of Meridian Magazine are right when they tell me how many people ((animals, aliens, cyber-‘bots, the dead)) are reading this, we’d have to reserve the Conference Center in Salt Lake, with direct feeds into all the stake centers and NFL stadiums ((stadia?)) for our time together with the good people of Pixar, who speak the words “Route 66” with reverence.)
I’ll admit that the Interstate System has its uses. Once, driving I-84 alone between Tremonton and Boise, I read most of Respect For Acting, a useful book I, twenty-five years later, sometimes agree with. Once, driving the other way on the same stretch, I consumed a goodly portion of My Name Is Asher Lev. I took short breaks of looking up whenever the snow got deep.
I DON’T DO THIS ANYMORE.
Now with food we pretty much seem to understand this journey-to-destination emphasis ratio. We seldom think of dinner as “the Interstate to Health.” I have a friend who lost his sense of taste. He would stop his wife from dumping scorched peas down the disposal – it was all the same to him. Now this particular guy might be excused for looking at a pile of peas as simply little round carriers of certain nutrients, but not we. Nutrient absorption is, technically, the destination here, but to facilitate the journey past the teeth and around the tongue for a couple of laps is what we gather at the table for.
None of my journal entries actually has a name, beyond something like “2 October 1979.” This next one is the only exception. It’s called “Phoenix Phoeasco.”
2 October 1979
My son Sam (8 years old) and I have had an adventure. “Around the World in Eighty Days” crammed into a weekend. We left 5:30 Saturday morning for Phoenix, intending to play The Planemaker for Young Adults there at 8:00 that evening. We had with us Connie Mecham, fiance to the promoter.
The truck gave out in Page, Arizona, halfway to Phoenix. We lost one of our buffer hours driving in short spurts up the last hill into Page. We lost the last of our buffer time waiting for the repair. Then we left, with the prospect of arriving at 8:00, having phoned ahead instructions as to curtain and lighting arrangements.
Ten miles out, the truck broke again. Limped back into Page, intent on renting a car. But nobody rents cars for cash (can you believe this?). So on the strength of Connie’s checkbook, we chartered a 4-seater Cessna to Phoenix. Nice pilot, Daryl Fuller, who I wound up giving a record to. Tried to interest him in the Church, over the roar of the engine, but he was already a member.
Got there in just in time for the performance (which turned out to be in Mesa, actually), but of course had no P.A. with me. Steve Palfrey, excellent young guy who I feel blessed to know now, hustled up a good P.A., and ten minutes before curtain we had it operating. We guessed at levels, and set up hand signals for the technician to read during the performance.Full house. Great response. Slept until noon Sunday. The Young Adults felt it worth it to float $50 to hold the plane long enough for me to give them a fireside.
We flew out at 6:00 on Monday morning. Broad splashes of color on the big pine mountain we skirted just north of Flagstaff. Grand Canyon way in the distance. Down in Page.Huge expensive repairs that no one could be sure would work. So we left for Provo with the barest possibility of arriving in time for The Planemaker there. But the sun went down for us over Utah Lake, and we made it in just enough time to tune and go, leaving the audience outside until fifteen minutes before showtime. Full house. Great response. Came home. Collapsed.
(At this point in her review of this column, my wife pointed out that this foregoing story seems really to be a lot more about destination than journey. Because there was very little in it of savoring the scenery and smelling the roadside roses, she’s probably right. But do I remember the destination? Not a bit, except that there were many Young Adults there, and among them a society of ageing returned missionaries who called themselves ((this word should so-o-o be “theirselves”)) “The Menace to Society Society.” I don’t even remember how my son entertained himself ((this word should so-o-o be “hisself.” Where is Spencer W. Kimball when you really need him?)) while I was sleeping until noon.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Sam grew up thinking all my gig trips were like the Phoenix Phoeasco. I know he was with me on several of those trips, but the one that springs to mind right now, a journey to be savored, is the one where the headlights failed on the way home from someplace south and east and far from here. Lonely mountain roads – no cops. There was a moon, which helped. Apart from that, the trick was to get behind somebody whose lights worked and follow them just close enough that they didn’t know we were there. (There is a metaphorical lesson here that we will save for another column, except to say that it will have to do with Doctrine and Covenants 46: 13-14.)
The journey is often where the excitement and beauty and growth are, whether we choose to put all that stuff there or are simply surprised, threatened, or astounded by it. And so, as the legendary Joan of Arc once said (and was subsequently quoted promiscuously, and usually without attribution, by Charles de Gaulle, Chief Inspector Jaques Clouseau, and Maurice Chevalier,
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)
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