Thursday, March 20, 2008

"It is always there, right where you are; if you seek it, obviously you do not see it." ~Muso Kokushi

Just some random reflections. . . .

Ten years ago I bought my first house, a condo in Simi, which Hallie and I still own and which has been a well-needed revenue source since we converted it to a rental nearly eight years ago. Maybe it’s because my 35th birthday is coming up, but I have begun reflecting lately on how these milestones and others, like my mission, graduating with my bachelor’s degree, getting my first real job, my marriage to Hallie, trips to Nova Scotia and Buenos Aires, all happened years, rather than months ago. And yet, although the contrast between the photos and the person who I see in the mirror tells me otherwise, I still feel so young and inexperienced. I just became a dad. I only recently graduated. I just got my second real job. We only recently bought our first real house. And the reality is that, despite the 19- to 21-year-old missionaries’ and small children’s observations to the contrary, I am still quite young at three and a half decades old. After all, I’m not reflecting on accomplishments that happened decades ago, only ones that are at most a decade and a half (or so) gone by.

I don’t know what is a more accurate evaluation: that I really haven’t done a whole lot with the time I’ve been given, or that I have, but I don’t have a lot to show for it externally, or something else. Many men my age have a quiver full of children (is that really an accomplishment? Making babies seems separate from raising children. A quiver full of—or even one or two—happy, well-adjusted children, maybe) or millions (even billions) of dollars to their name. Others my age have already made their significant contributions to the world and have passed on. As to what I have to give, I am trying to give it a day at a time, and a little each day. I have neither the charisma of a prophet or a politician nor the artistic sensibility of a great painter or musician, but I appreciate so much the great creative works that those people of true genius have given the world with the time they did have. I keep wondering about my own contribution, and that is mostly because I have always assumed I (and each one of us) had one to make. The older I have gotten, the less ambitious I have become about that contribution, and the more I have come to realize that it takes something truly remarkable that I am not sure I possess to make the kind of creative contribution I had assumed we all had the capacity and obligation to give to this world. Then again, maybe I was right, and the problem is that only a few of us catch on to and understand what all of us are capable of doing.

Ironically, I think my great challenge is not finding the great task I was meant to do, but letting go of my ego and my selfish pride enough to simply do what I need to do to help others and live in ways that show a genuine love and regard for others and their unique contributions to the world from day to day. As a teacher, my job has been to bring out the best in others, to inspire them to catch on to who they are and what they can do, and every so often when I see a student whose mind has been expanded or who feels more confident, I feel like maybe I am doing what I was made to be here to do. I need to go back and reread President Benson’s talk on pride. Here’s a parting thought. When Hallie used to work at Franklin Covey, there was a quotation in the back office that I would read whenever I came to visit. Its basic message stuck with me, and just today I remembered enough of it to find it online:

“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.”

The source is uncertain. As far as I can tell it’s either from an unknown monk from about 1100 AD, or it’s from Rabbi Israel Salanter, a nineteenth century professor.

Confucius put the same sentiments this way:

“To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”

And so, today I will continue to work on the heart of the one person whose heart I have the responsibility to change and set right.