“A Few Very Timely Thoughts”
by Marvin Payne
I guess I could just write a backstage graffiti column this month and then copy it into my journal. “22 December 2003.” Most months I just copy stuff from my journal into this column. That order seems the more logical. Maybe because the past seems so much more organized than the present. Maybe that’s why I generally start there (in the past) when I’m writing a column. Of course, it’s more organized because all the events in it have already happened, in the precise order in which they happened. Priorities are dictated by the order in which they happened, and you don’t have to worry about “first things first” anymore because, well, they were (as were second things second, et cetera, numerically). If, somehow, something was done first that hadn’t previously been regarded as a “first thing,” it became one by virtue of the attention we gave it, and mainly when. This is much more profound than it seems. Or, at least, than it seems to me.
We can’t organize the past. It’s already organized. But we try very hard to organize the future. Herein lurks a great paradox. We try hard to organize the future so that there will be time to do everything we’ve planned, and maybe some time to spare. But in fact the past, which is, as stated, already a good deal more organized than the future, is entirely booked. I mean, booked solid–as far back as you can go. No time to spare. Not one second. You can’t fit the tiniest slice of a task or an appointment into the past.
That’s the condition of my life right now, booked solid, booked more than solid, which I think is allowed by quantum physics or Carl Sagan, or maybe that one episode of Star Trek. So maybe this utter lack of discretionary time is evidence of me being much more organized than might be apparent to a lot of people. I’m so organized that there’s no way I can do everything right now that I need to do. I would find this philosophically overwhelming, I suppose, were it not for the clear fact that, compared to the past and the future, the present is relatively short. I can withstand almost any onslaught of philosophical pain, providing that it’s quite brief.
(My whole concept of the “present” is colored by an odd experience I had when I was eight years old. We were on our way home from church on a Sunday evening and parked in front of the Post Office while my dad got out and stuck something through the mail slot. Mail, I think. I leaned my head against the car window and gazed with intense focus upon a football-sized plastic blue flame across the street that was lit from within, being the logo over the door of the natural gas company, and thought, “This is the Present. Right now.” I thought it real hard. “This is the Present.” I have a little trouble, even this near-half-century into the future, feeling much “presence” in anything that doesn’t give off at least a hint of a blue glow.)
But there are two events whirling around me which, though technically in the past and receding fast, I would like to consider present, with good reason which will become immediately apparent. But only for a minute, because “immediate” is also relatively short, and over pretty quickly.
The two events that make me suspect this is a journal entry masquerading as a column are 1) the wedding of my excellent brother-in-law Brian to my, by all accounts, even more excellent new sister-in-law Cami, and 2) my son John Riley’s third birthday. Brian is excellent by virtue of his possessing many spiritual qualities essential to eternal progression, such as humility, obedience, and a pretty good sense of humor, as well as the temporal quality of being the only one of his numerous siblings, equally numerous siblings-in-law, nearly as numerous nieces and nephews, and far less numerous parents who has any kind of meaningful grip on the concept of compound interest. This will prove him an asset not only to his new wife, but also (we’re urgently hoping) to his extended family.
. . As evidence of this hope, all of us wish, for instance, that instead of his passion for really perilous cliff-climbing, he had a passion for, say, Uno. A very great asset Cami brings to the extended family is a possible influence in this direction.
But she brings a whole lot more. She is possessed of such a rare degree of light that knowing as an eyewitness that she really exists makes it seem entirely plausible that Shakespeare really did write all those plays, that Joseph Smith was on the level, and that Mozart sojourned among us, refining our spirits in spite of himself. Take that, Francis Bacon. I am reminded that some people unwittingly demonstrate with their actual lives that we, or at least they, are children of God.
The reason why I want so wantingly for their wedding to linger in the present is that during our time with them in the temple, the absolute reality of brighter realms was undeniable. Lots of times when I’m in the temple, I feel like I’m in a bright haven away from the big bad world. This time in the temple, I felt (I want to say “feel”) like I was in a bright haven away from the itty-bitty teensy bad world. C. S. Lewis, the (undisputed) author all the C. S. Lewis books, writes (this feels perfectly natural here, using “writes” instead of “wrote”–is that because the written word freezes time? See, I told you this was profound) that Satan tells us that the bad stuff is reality, from which we occasionally escape into illusory good stuff, whereas God tells us that the good stuff is reality, from which we persist in escaping into illusory bad stuff. Well, having been in the temple with Brian and Cami, I can say more boldly now that God is right on this particular issue. (Lewis shrinks all of Hell into a nearly imperceptible crack in the mud on the outskirts of Heaven.)
(Working somewhat against my thesis, Lewis also defined “joy” as a “stab of desire” for heaven, and that trying to hang onto that feeling is futile, until we are there. This, of course, is exactly what I’m trying to do with that temple moment, but there you are. I’m hoping that just because somebody writes a lot of books and gets quoted in general conference, it doesn’t follow that he’s right about everything.)
John Riley’s Birthday
I think I should leave these lovers for a moment (very short things, moments) and leapfrog over to phenomenon number 2, which is John Riley’s birthday. I’ll skip over John’s many proofs of excellence, because you won’t believe them and because they are, for a moment (see
parentheses above), not relevant. What is relevant is why this phenomenon should persist in my present when it actually occurred yesterday. Well, it’s because when you’re three, your birthday is
really more of a season than a mere day. And John is way more than three. Ask him and he’ll say, “Five, and One, and Three” and hold up either his index finger or all of his fingers, depending on his mathematical mood. He’s not about to let go of this birthday, and getting him to delineate between it and that of the Savior of the World (four days apart) is going to be tricky. (Perhaps we have uncovered here at least one small justification for the existence of Planned Parenthood after all.)
Two nights ago, on his birthday eve, we bought John’s cake at the store, because Mommy has the talent to sculpt a pretty fair Buzz Lightyear, but is limited by less-than-industrial-strength tools. It was tough to resist candle ignition right then, and to make up for it we allowed him to rake his finger through the frosting and into his mouth once or twice, and to remove the Buzz figure from the cake and sleep with it. Yesterday, his birthday, we came home from church and lit three candles and sang “Happy Birthday” and he blew them out and we ate some of the cake, not the Buzz part. In the evening we took it to Grampa’s house where all the cousins gathered and we stuck the candles back in, lit them again, sang “Happy Birthday” again, and he blew them out again, and we ate some of the cake, not the Buzz part.
. . This morning the kids got up before I did. I didn’t hear them sing, but they may have eaten some of the cake, not the Buzz part. You see? How can you limit something this dynamic to only one of the three paltry time dimensions available to us?
The most poignant moment, though (don’t forget the parentheses), was on the night of Brian and Cami’s wedding reception, still before his legal and lawful birthday. At said reception, there was a lot of loose talk about “cutting the cake.” Everybody was dressed up fancy, including John. Jolly people filled an entire gym, obviously waiting for something of moment (forget the parentheses–this is a different meaning) to happen. There was, as is mysteriously but universally typical of such events, a sizzle of anticipation in the air. Now you tell me, how could John Riley be expected to think anything other than that the party was for him?
(I’m giving you a large pause here, probably extending from the recent past right sprang through the present and into the near future, for you to consider the implications of this. I mean, Brian and Cami had dressed up like royalty for him. And what about the flowers? And the children’s special potato-chips-and-Disney-video retreat in the primary room where John repeatedly and triumphantly leapt from the crown of the podium? How could all this wonder and glory not be for him?)
He came to me near the end of the evening with a suddenly worried look. I sat down on the gym floor with him to hear the distressed report that he hadn’t yet blown out any candles and a lot of people were going home. There hastily ensued an earnest conference between the bride and the birthday boy (you will remember the earlier reference to “light” emanating from said bride) in which all was tenderly made clear to John Riley’s satisfaction. All except why Brian and Cami wouldn’t be to his “other” party tomorrow. (Which, as is wont to happen, became, as of today, yesterday.) But they’ll be back in a few more days for Jesus’ birthday. I think John doesn’t mind deferring the honor. He likes Jesus.
All the time.
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)
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