Sunday Night

When I saw the article on CNN.com about the passing of President Hinckley, I finally accepted what had happened. But it wasn’t until then, and it wasn’t until much later that I felt any emotional tug or release that I knew had to come eventually.
I was hometeaching when someone knocked on the apartment door and walked in with the news of his death. We were in the middle of introductions, getting to know each other and asking all of the usual interview questions that we hear a million and a half times at the beginning of a semester at BYU-Idaho without ever really paying attention to the answers.
“President Hinckley passed away today, or at least that’s what my friend that lives in Salt Lake says,” the person said. I didn’t believe it; or rather I refused to believe it. He couldn’t die; he’d already been around for about a thousand years and knew Moses, so there was no way that he could have died.
After our interrupter left, the mood of the room turned somber. Whether it was true or not, it really didn’t seem to matter what our majors were, or where we were from, or how many siblings we had in our family. If the Prophet had passed away then a great man had accomplished the task that was required of him. We went on with the rest of the lesson, interrupted later on with more people coming through the door who took it upon themselves to announce the news to everyone in the complex.
“My parents saw it on the news.”
“I just got a text from a friend that heard it on the Radio in Salt Lake.”
I remember thinking, why is it that living in Salt Lake City suddenly makes a person a reliable source for information? Your parents must be wrong. Your friend is wrong. You are all wrong. Yet deep down I knew it was true.
“Check it on LDS.org or CNN.com or something or other. I really don’t think that he died. It’s probably a rumor,” I said to the girls I was hometeaching. They tried to look it up but their internet was being its usual dumb self so we weren’t sure of the truth until later. Well I guess I should say I wasn’t sure of the truth until later. I think the others that I was with believed it much more readily than I did.
My friend Mike and I went to visit other apartments in search of desserts and amiable women to associate with, and with the more apartments we visited the more I started to believe. Around the same time, I felt more and more appalled that people were carrying on laughing and cuddling with their boyfriends or girlfriends and stressing about homework or failing a test and the regular ups and downs of college life. How could they? A Prophet of God was dead. Did it not matter to them? Why did it matter to me? Why did it seem more important to me than them?
When my parents called for their weekly report on my life, I first saw the article on CNN.com. I paid no real attention to it other than its confirmation that the Prophet had indeed passed away. I was restless while talking to my parents, aware that I still had social “obligations” to take care of like saying happy birthday to a friend whose birthday party that I had missed. It was frustrating to have to repeat myself because my parents would take turns on the phone and ask the same questions.
After my parents finally hung up the phone I concluded the rest of my social obligations for the night and returned home to an apartment of sleeping roommates. I brought myself to the computer and found the article waiting for me on CNN.com. By now I had come to terms with facts, and I had begun to reflect on the life of a man that I had never met but always known. I stared at the smiling, cane holding picture of President Hinckley on the website and thought back to the time that our mission had worked hard for 97 baptisms in one transfer to celebrate the birthday of our beloved Prophet. We thanked the Lord every morning, every night, and in every single prayer for a Prophet of God. His picture had covered our planners, adorned the walls of our messy apartments and he was part of our every day conversation with each other and all the members we came in contact with. I remember standing on a doorstep under the hot California sun and being a little more defensive than usual when the homeowner decided to tell us that our Prophet was a lying old man. We worked hard because we knew that President Hinckley worked harder. We were focused on a higher ideal than just the mundane duties of missionary work. We wanted to show love and appreciation that gave more than we could.
Sitting in the glow of the computer with my roommate asleep, I thought of all the times that I had heard him speak at conferences. At one particular Christmas in California I felt the excitement of the season and the gentle hush that filled my heart when the Tabernacle Choir sat down and the Prophet of God stood up to speak. A prophet of God speaks, I told myself. I sat in awe and clung to every word that fell from his lips like it was the fabled balm of Gilead that could heal my tired missionary soul. I don’t remember the words that he said, but the feelings remained in my heart.
I remembered being 11 years old and scrambling down the cement stairs as quietly as possible with a camera in GM Place, the home of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team and the Vancouver Grizzlies. It was a regional conference and I wanted to get a picture of the Prophet as he spoke. I still don’t know whether what I did was allowed, but the memory still remained of the Prophet standing on the floor of the stadium speaking to all of us. In my testimony President Hinckley was always part of the foundation. The work goes on regardless, but the memory of a man that loved the people he served sits fresh on my mind.
I looked again at the smiling, cane holding picture of the Prophet and it finally dawned on me that he loved us, and you could see the love that he had for us in his face. Maybe that realization had hit a familiar chord in my heart because that was when my eyes began to get teary, and I felt a few drops slide its way down my face. Maybe I had taken that love for granted and that was why I felt the need for tears. I knew though in my heart that the words of the old hymn rang true. “We thank thee O God for a Prophet”.



Truth. Journal Writing.


The phrase "America's Little Helper" comes from a seminar several semesters ago. An incident happened that has become a private joke between Sara, Chan, and me--not quite fair to the rest of you--is it? Definition: People trying to fix something they think is breaking, which isn't really breaking. Ha. So sorry. I'll explain more later.

Finally...I'm beginning to get it

I’m 22. I’ve been going to college for nine semesters now, and it’s taken until the very last month of my very last semester to finally begin growing up. For four years, I’ve sat at the feet of great people and fill journals as I soak in the things they teach me. But then I never do anything with those journals. I never share those insights with people because everyone around me hears the same things I do. And so after four years I finally get it. I’m not here to stay. I’m here to leave. Because in leaving, I can share those things with other people. My leaving can better someone else’s life. It will better my life.

A wise woman (who some of us know as “Sister Morgan”) let me in on a little secret: Life is about leaving. Imagine how comfortable and secure we felt in the presence of our Heavenly Father and Mother before our time here on earth. We must have sat at Their feet and soaked in all the things They taught us. We must have filled journals with Heavenly Father’s teachings. But He knew, like we couldn’t have understood, that unless we left His side, we couldn’t grow like we needed to. We had to leave so we could remind people of the things we kept in our journals there. We had to leave in order to return to Him.

And so we left, and we came to earth, where we were placed into families where once again we felt comfortable and secure. And we thought we had grown up, but we couldn’t really understand life until we left our earthly parents’ sides.

Now I live at BYU-Idaho, where I feel so comfortable and secure. I feel like I understand life. But I won’t understand until I leave. All along the purpose of my college experience here has lied just outside of the campus. The welcoming sign says, “Brigham Young University-Idaho: Come to learn. Go forth and serve.” In three weeks, I’ll be going forth. Life in Sin City will certainly be far different from life in this Rexburg paradise, but being away from here will prepare me to return to Heavenly Father. Being away helps me to prove to myself that I’m capable to return. So suddenly, leaving doesn’t sound so scary…



America's Little Helper

I have something to say about "America's little helper." I think that this helper is nothing to be ashamed of or to avoid being. Actually, I feel that someone who is understanding and compassionate is exactly the kind of person that needs to be present when another person is sharing something very deep and personal to them. When a person is opening up to that degree, they feel very vulnerable, and need to feel that those listening to them accept them, understand them, and sympathize with them. NOT that the people who are listening to them misunderstand or are critical of them (wanting to tell them what they should do or feel, or that their feelings are ambiguous--well, such is the nature of feelings! What does it matter if we understand them right now? They might not even understand it themselves yet, and that is OK). What it boils down to is that WE ARE NOT COUNSELORS, and I believe that unless someone comes to us for that specific purpose, that we shouldn't try to be. The purpose for sharing these personal things is to be drawn closer together, and I think that the only appropriate reaction to hearing such personal things should be gentle acknowledgement and respect. I say this passionately as a person who has recieved counseling when it wasn't wanted; in a previous semester, I shared my blood essay--NOT to be told how I should have acted or how I should feel, BUT so I could recieve some advice on my writing style and approach. Somehow, however, the focus of the seminar turned into a counseling session for me (because the people WERE caring and well meaning), I recieved NO advice on my writing, and it was horrifying. I FELT as if people were discrediting my feelings and the way I tried to handle a difficult and trying situation. I came away from that seminar thinking that I would never share my writing again. So I say hooray for "America's little helpers" who show understanding and make me feel OK when I share something personal about myself. PLEASE NOTE: This isn't to rebuke anyone--simply to plead that we be extremely careful at the way we deal with other people's life experiences and feelings. And I'm not saying that I never want people to talk to me. Only that I hope that people can be understanding when I do say something important, so I feel that I can confide in them when I do want help and advice. Anyway, the end of my ranting.


Post-party musings

I have a fear. It’s of opening up too much. Or too little. But that contradiction seems in keeping with the paradoxes shared at the party tonight.

Before tonight I could have easily named the people in my life that I would really open up to.
The list would have been short, not because the majority of my friends are superficial, but because I tend to sit back and listen rather than tell about myself. People have never hesitated to pour out their hearts and life stories to me, but if asked about myself I tend to smile and give just enough of an answer to satisfy curiosity. Why? My first thought is that they wouldn’t really want to know anyway. My second thought is that I don’t want to think about it myself. Am I running from deep thought? I crave it, and I crave the connection that comes from sharing it, but I’m afraid of that connection as well.

I was warned before I joined the Writing Center family that my walls would come down. I was ready. I was excited. I had no idea it would happen so quickly. Within two weeks I find myself sharing my biggest fear with an entire room full of people? At least I had two weeks; Nathan had two days.

I know I am not the only one who struggled to select one biggest fear, just one to dig to the heart of and lay before the group. I skimmed lightly over the tops of several, finally settling on one and proceeding to share it, but as soon as I had finished I wondered: had I picked the right one? Was it really the biggest, the most pressing? Or was there another fear I would have benefited more from sharing and dissecting?

Then a beautiful thing happened: as we continued around the circle my other fears were brought up one by one. Inadequacy. Attachment, or lack thereof. Having to be the strong one. And on and on. It was as though the entire group was a mirror, reflecting my own struggles and giving me insight into myself through the eyes of someone else.

As I stated earlier, I have a fear of opening up too little. I need to feel that connection. But my need to feel safe is more urgent, so I hold back, offering small and often ambiguous tastes of my thoughts to those friends I feel could rise to the challenge of interpreting them. Some do, others don’t care; either way I’m safe, because I haven’t given enough of myself to be hurt. But tonight I was able to share with people I had never tested—and I felt safe. Another paradox to add to our list.




One of the biggest of my life in fact.

My computer started acting twitchy a couple days ago. It wouldn't open documents with a jump-drive in, the next day I got a notice that my anti-virus had been disabled. Unusual? Yeah. Problem? Probably, but I had work to do, so no big deal.
I tried a few attempts to see what was wrong and fix the problem. Then yesterday I tried to access my music. I clicked on a single song and rapidly my music began to disappear before my eyes. It was like it was being devoured by some unseen monster. The little blue sliding bar on the right side of the screen kept getting larger and larger as my music just disappeared. I sat opened mouth for a few seconds of this and then started to shout. David came into see what was wrong and witnessed for himself the massacre. "Do something!" I shrieked at him. He just shrugged and looked kind of helpless. Great.
I watched as my music slowly evaporated. I had slowly accumulated that music collection with the utmost scrutiny and care for years. It had seen my through projects, clean ups, breakups, fights, roommate avoidances. It helped me celebrate, elevated my happiness, related to who I was. It traveled with me cross country and was like a reminder that this still was my life. Each song had been chosen for particular reason and had been listened to for several. And now it was leaving. It was like watching a friend die.

We worked on my computer for hours but it was gone. No trace of it, no recycle bin trash, no shadow, nothing. We even downloaded some 'recovery software' for way too much money and it didn't bring it back. It's gone. All of it. Every last song. Gone.

Now here's irony for you. All that was left were songs that my dad asked me to download for him, consisting of: "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "Those Were the Days My Friend" by DOLLY PARTON!!!!! Tell me how wrong that is. Wait, don't. I already know.

To make matters more interesting, at that precise moment when I lowered my head to the kitchen table and sobbed, I see a "new mail icon" pop up. It's an email from my sister. She had sent me a song.

The song is called "Hold on Little Tomato," by a group called the Pink Martini. Oh, the irony. I decided that this song is my new anthem. It is officially the only song that is mine. Below this are the lyrics to the song in case your interested. I would have posted the song instead, but I couldn't figure out how to post a song. I think you would like it, Sis. Morgan, it is kind of comforting in a way. Look it up if you get a chance.

Jenny, I'm glad your back. How's your life? I'd like to hear from you. Anona, how are you doing? How's the job? Chan, I'm glad your glad to be back. EmPo, where are you and what are you doing? Are you happy? Hope all is well.
Lyrics and music: Patrick Abbey, China Forbes & Thomas M. Lauderdale

The sun has left and forgotten me
It’s dark, I cannot see
Why does this rain pour down?
I’m gonna drown
In a sea… of deep confusion
Somebody told me – I don’t know who
Whenever you are sad and blue
And you’re feelin’ all alone and left behind
Just take a look inside and you will find

You gotta hold on, hold on through the night
Hang on, things will be all right
Even when it’s dark
And not a bit of sparkling
Sing-song sunshine from above
Spreading rays of sunny love – just

Hang on, hang on to the vine
Stay on, soon you’ll be divine
If you start to cry, look up to the sky
Something’s coming up ahead
To turn your tears to dew instead

And so I hold on to this advice
When change is hard and not so nice
If you listen to your heart the whole night through
Your sunny someday will come one day soon to you

Peaceful Warrior

I watched the movie "Peaceful Warrior" last night for one of my classes, and it changed something inside me. For the first time, I REALLY understood what Sister Morgan means about "Living in the moment." And so, when I walked out of the Snow building I tried it; I stared at the snow swirling around the stadium lights for a good two minutes, thinking of nothing but the snowflakes, and, now and then, how they all looked like tiny bugs. Then, when I got to my car, I blew the fluffy snow off of my windows with my breath as if it were a large, fuzzy dandilion...and a happiness that started in my stomach and welled up to my face created a slight smile and gurgled out of me in a soft giggle. It was such a purely happy feeling--and for doing something so simple. Another concept the movie taught me was to "take out the trash," meaning, empty your mind of any fear, regret, anger, worry, anything!, that is holding you back from being happy, or being successful, or making others happy, etc. This is my new goal.
Has anyone else seen this movie (especially Sis. Morgan)? What did you think? I think it might be something worth watching in seminar. --Jenny


The way people walk


Did everyone have a good break? How is school going now? Chan, are you back? Are you happy to be?

My favorite time was when seminar started back up again, especially in the fall. Seeing people stream into the Center that I hadn't seen all summer long was always so buoying. The desk was the best place to sit for this. People would come up that hallway by the Reading Center. You could see them approach from a distance, and just by the way that they walked, you could tell who it was. Does anyone remember that seminar where Sis. Morgan had us analyze and describe how we walked? I think she described Millie as a battalion leader. She had her walk back and forth across the room again and again. Anyway, we would eventually be herded into the room and the talking would continue. I would get this small feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was like laughter, but not the kind you let out loud. It was probably what most people would just call happiness. But it was so exquisite. Feeling my stomach fill up with something that wasn't visible, that wasn't tangible.

I miss seminar.
I'm glad I got to be there.


Creating a monster

Middle schools seem to have changed a lot since I was in one. Kids come to class now with iPods and MP3s instead of discmans, and they brag about their latest xbox or Wii game instead of their new Sega Genesis. And while they are hidden, I know that just about every single student in all of my classes has a cell phone in their pocket. I started teaching 6th grade English on Wednesday. On a good day I come home drained, on a bad one I come home drained and with a ringing in my ears. But all of that aside, it really has been fun. For the most part, they're pretty well behaved. They just get excited easily, and they like to show off for the new student teacher, moi. But I'm sure they'll settle down in a few days when they get used to me being around.It's been an interesting experience getting used to the students, but it's also been fun getting used to my role as a teacher. I mean I get to park in the teacher parking lot, eat lunch with all the other teachers in the coveted teachers' lounge, and I don't need a hall pass to go to the bathroom. Plus, I have my own desk next to my cooperating teacher's, and it has all kinds of fun "teachery" stuff on it already like a red pen, post-it notes, and a magnetic paperclip holder. It's just weird being on the other side of everything, but it's a good kind of weird, of course.On my first day when I introduced myself, I let them ask me questions when I was done. And you know what the most popular question was in every class?--"What's your favorite color?" (And just in case you're curious now, too, it's purple.) I just found that strange that it was the first question asked in all four of my classes. Can it tell a lot about a person or something?

The most exciting part so far is that I feel like I already have done some good. There is a student in one of my classes who kept complaining every day when "Silent Reading" time came. "Mrs. Howard, I hate reading! It's so stupid!" Then he'd throw his book on his desk and become a problem by distracting other students who were reading. After a few days of that, I decided to bring in a book for him that I thought he might actually get a kick out of--Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He absolutely loves it! But for the past day or two, we haven't had time for silent reading because of everything else we need to fit into the day. So today he grabbed my hand with both of his after looking at the board and seeing silent reading wasn't on the agenda, "But Mrs. Howard! I have to have time to read my book!" It was so dang cute, and it made my day that he wanted to read so badly. I love seeing him in class hiding his book in his desk and reading. Maybe I should be upset that he's not paying attention to what I'm teaching, but I just can't make myself do it. Another good thing is that his little neighbor friend told me "Mrs. Howard, he used to hate reading, and now he's addicted to this book. Do you have another copy that I could borrow, too?" So now they both have their own copy. I just hope I haven't created monsters because I'm not sure what I will recommend for them next that will be as fun as the Wimpy Kid. Any suggestions???


Going to the dogs...

I see you all have become incredibly silly in my absence. Oh well, I suppose it was to be expected.

Austin and I have moved into what we fondly call our "cinder block mansion." Somehow we ended up in an apartment with three (incredibly small) bedrooms, so we each get an office. Unfortunately, cinder blocks don't keep out the cold, so the heat's up to 80 and I'm still freezing. And how did I end up with the coldest room in the apartment? Austin won't trade, so maybe I'll share with him, transform my cold office into a cold guest room, and wait for you all to come visit. (Not all at the same time, please. Or at least give me fair warning.)

p.s. I got a cool job today!!! In brief, I'm looking through the BYU library's collection of rare 19th century newspapers to find articles about Mormons and catalog them. I don't know, the writing center here just didn't feel right. For me, that is. Everyone else can come to Provo and work there. (Sorry Sister Morgan). I do want to take a paper there just to see what it's like though. Kind of like entering enemy territory.


Eyes are windows to the soul

I have noticed that whenever I talk about my brother's living conditions (living with his girlfriend in California) to someone, I don't look them straight in the face. By not looking in their eyes, I can pretend like I don't see that flicker of disappointment, pity, judgment, or even that look of "I don't know how to respond to that." I try to make it easy for them to respond by tossing it off like it's nothing, so they'll think I'm okay with it, that I've come to terms with it, even though I don't think I ever can. But then I wonder, what would I see if I were brave enough to look? I'm not brave, though, so I hide. I don't want to know what they're thinking because what they think is probably true, and truth is too hard to deal with. I would rather pretend than face it all.

I also get queasy when I discuss my future to someone. I dread the question that I always know is coming when someone finds out I am going to graduate soon--"So do you plan to get a job teaching after you graduate?" They look so excited and thrilled at their suggestion that sometimes I just nod my head and smile instead of telling them the truth. What is the truth, you may ask? Lance and I are trying to start a family. We haven't succeeded yet (although I'll let everyone know when we do), but I know that this is right for me. Yet when I tell someone "No, we're actually trying to start a family," I find myself hating how I sound like so many other girls on campus. Family is important, and that's something that I have known all my life, so why am I embarrassed to admit it? And why do I not want to look them in the eyes when I tell them my plans?

Today while I was student teaching, the principal came in to talk to me about my future. I looked him in the eyes when I said it. I told him I wasn't looking for a job right away, that I probably wouldn't actually teach for quite some time, and that I wanted to be with my children. I hated seeing the excitement disappear from them. I hated wondering if he was thinking the same thing I was--"Then why are you here?" Why did I have to look?


Too Much Break...

Yes, I am officially breaked out. We can't move into our apartment until the 8th, so I'm at my parent's house all day while Austin is at work. I just feel blah--and do you know how much energy it takes to live with family? I spent five minutes arguing with my mother over what an appositive is.

And I have a dilemma. Should I work while I go to school? Extra money never hurt, and maybe I should relish my role as a career woman for a little longer. Then again, where would I work? I'm an English major. The writing center at BYU seems scary, and in a way it would be like going on a mission again...just weird and not the same. Not like I've been on a mission. But they do this volunteer tutor thing. I think I'd like that. But if I want a job I don't want to commit to that yet. ???