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Hot Rod (or How we Roll)

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Blog Post # 48

Yesterday evening, my husband, Brad, and I were waiting at a streetlight, next to a low-riding, black hot rod – one that epitomizes the standard for such a car. It was long, sleek, and low, with a flattened square-ish cab-like roof and chartreuse hubcaps. Scrawled on the upper back portion of the roof were the words, “This is how I roll.” A man of immense proportions had squeezed into the driver’s seat, bulging out the windows like leavened dough, appearing to be cramped beyond comfort. He revved his engine like a NASCAR driver, clearly impatient to go.artflow_201701181402.png

We were astonished when, after waiting only a few seconds, the hot rod streaked into the intersection, and rocketed through the red light at lightning speed, leaving a blast of engine noise in its wake. A car in opposing traffic had already begun to make a left turn, and (fortunately) moved slowly enough to prevent a collision—completing its turn just after the hot rod exited the intersection. We looked at each other in stunned silence, then wondered aloud what madness had possessed the man behind the wheel of the hot rod! (Maybe all sense squeezed out of the driver by the snug quarters he was wedged into, or maybe he was experiencing some kind of brain-cramp.)

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Do you see how big the driver of this hot rod is? The one we saw looked just like that (but this isn’t him).

Soon, the light changed, and we lumbered up the street at a crawl compared to what we had just witnessed. When we approached the next light, and were about to turn into our destination, we noticed the hot rod stuck behind a car at the intersection just ahead of us. As we entered a restaurant, we heard the unmistakable roar of the hot rod’s engine as it zoomed around the corner and up the adjacent street.

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I wonder…what motivates someone to do something so insane? He might have caused serious injury or death to himself or others—and for what? 50 yards of street? To be first? A lack of patience or self-control? Showing-off? … I have no idea! (To be fair – to give him the benefit of the doubt – there is the possibility that in anticipation of the light changing, he thought it already had.) However, whether or not it was intentional, he took that intersection blindly and at tremendous speed.

Here’s the truth. For all his speed-demon antics, he was still forced to wait at that next light, and had gained no advantage over all the other drivers who had waited for the previous light—those who had obeyed the laws, and exercised patience and self-control.

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I wonder if, after his apparent mistake, or, in any case, his recklessness, that guy gloated over his supposed machismo, or conversely, if he felt even the least bit small, sheepish or sorry? If his recklessness shrank to fit into the size of the cab, at least that would be something. Whatever the case, he proved “how he rolled,” and let those in the world around him determine for themselves exactly what that meant.  I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was not impressed by his brazen show of bravado. Instead, I was stunned by his ostentatious demonstration of thoughtlessness, irresponsibility, and foolishness.

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Each of us is a walking, talking – yes, even driving – example of “how we roll.” Whatever persona we hope to exude, others will see what is inherently and obviously part of our character through our words and actions. If we don’t want to send mixed signals, we must be absolutely true to ourselves. And if we want our persona to match any ideals of good character, we must also be true to the truth and light that burns deep within our hearts – the light of truth given to all human beings, reigning in an unsullied conscience.

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Flawed as I am, I hope that “how I roll” may be consistent with my most valued knowledge and precious beliefs—that I might “walk my talk” with purity of purpose, with real intent, with generosity, tolerance, patience, optimism, gentleness, kindness, and love. A tall order, I know, but that is how I would like “to roll.”

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Ha! Perhaps a whole different scenario would have occurred at the streetlight if the man in the hot rod was of a mind to write this expression on the back of his cab: “Merrily We Roll Along!” 

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End Piece

©January 17, 2017

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

 


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Nearly Perfect

Blog Post # 21


Ether 12:27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.


    A woman approached a bouquet of silk flowers, investigating it closely. She zeroed in on the only rose, reaching to touch the petals and whispered, “Is it real?” Judging from the other flowers in the bouquet, I shook my head, and told her I didn’t think it was. Drawing back her finger, she remarked confidently, “It’s fake, but the rose looked real—it isn’t perfect.”
    This silk rose was unlike some—made with small imperfections. Reproductions of nature are sometimes created in perfect symmetry and form: a dead giveaway that the reproduction is a fake since things in the natural world tend to have blemishes and inconsistencies. At first glance, a rose may appear perfect, but even the most perfectly formed rose is, upon closer examination, likely asymmetrical, or may have a spot of brown, or a gimpy petal.

    It is in these little departures from perfection that we see the true beauty of the rose. Each rose, though coming from an abundant proliferation of rose bushes around the globe, bares its own individual distinctions and, if I may, flaws. I wonder if all roses were identical in shape and arrangement—clones of one paragon of perfection—would we find them boring or monotonous? (Well, probably not.) But even “flawed” roses are perfectly beautiful.


    The same is true of other things. When electronic keyboards became popular many years ago, I occasionally had the displeasure of playing one. The older, economical models had the action of a toy piano, and the tone of a toy accordion. Many of the keyboards were only half the size of an eighty-eight key acoustic piano. Try playing Wagner’s Wedding March for a bride on such an instrument (I know–I had to do it once), and you’ll find the results as laughable and embarrassing as if the Olympic Fanfare and Theme were played on Kazoos. 

    Early Electronic Keyboard
    Kazoo

    Recent electronic and digital instruments have improved on those early models. They come with headsets, improved hammer action, full-sized keyboards, and a variety of sound options. But there’s one thing these modern instruments lack—flaws in performance sound and delivery. Digital tones can be beautiful, functional, and astonishingly versatile, but without the small distinctions and inconsistencies in tonal quality created by the vibration of strings and the resonance of a wooden sounding board the sound they create is manufactured and flawlessly, monotonously consistent.  By nature of their design, acoustic instruments have distinctive character that makes their reverberations unique and moving.

    Piano Sounding Board

    When my daughter was purchasing an acoustic piano, we walked together through the warehouse trying out different instruments. Each piano, including those made by the same company, had a distinct sound, action and quality because each piano was made from a different kind of wood, from a different tree, with slight variations in the wound strings, and so on. Each had a unique identity—a unique voice. These inconsistencies created character. Where one had a bright, full sound, another was subdued or thin, another rich.  It was somewhat like choosing a friend to interact with for years to come. It had to be the right fit. 


    Among book lovers, there is a newer debate of preferences between digital books, audio books, or “real” hardbound or softcover books. I was, at first, skeptical about Kindles when they first came out, holding fast to traditional books. Then, a few years ago, while waiting hours for Jury Duty to begin, I noticed one of my fellow jurors reading on a Kindle. I asked her what she thought of it, and her response was positive. She let me hold it, heft it, and look at the appearance of the writing on the screen. “Humph…,”I thought, “It’s OK, I guess.” But I wasn’t sure I could get used to such a thing. There’s something about holding a real book, the weight, the feel, the sensory experience. Flipping pages. Those things aren’t possible on a digital screen.


    My sister, Karen, and I attended several educational conferences together many years ago. Before each conference we packed up boxes of encyclopedias, reference books, and resource materials with which to work while we were there. We lugged those heavy boxes up and down flights of stairs to and from our room each time we went for the sheer joy and anticipation of what was to come! On more than one occasion, we skipped less appealing activities (such as rafting on the Truckee River, or going on a “field trip” into town) in order to pursue more exciting prospects (such as sitting in our room pouring over encyclopedias while writing curriculum for home school)! A notepad or laptop would have made our lives much simpler and less burdensome in those not so long ago days of the late 80s and early 90s.    


    After considering the many conveniences of a notepad, I invested in one a couple of years after seeing the juror’s Kindle. I have since read many books on a digital screen, and am convinced the technology opportune and valuable. There are advantages to the notepad format. Just as a pianist carries an entire orchestra in a portable digital keyboard, the notepad carries an entire library in a very small, lightweight package. (Not to mention the multiple other uses and apps included in its convenient and compact form.)


    However, after having read several books digitally, I’m convinced that there is nothing better than a good, old-fashioned book to soothe the eyes, and to enjoy a more satisfying, sensory experience with reading. 

    Old Books: Flawed on the outside, but what’s inside remains of value

    A digital screen poses the same problem as the silk rose and the digital piano: no apparent flaws. The well-lit, non-glare screen is bright and easy to read even for a passenger riding in a car at night. (Note: I said “for a passenger,” not for a “driver!”) Pages turn smoothly, and have easy bookmarks. It’s possible to make notes and to highlight words and passages. Perfect. Yes?


     No. Not quite.

    A local church leader recently challenged members in our area to reread the scriptures during the following six months on an inexpensive, paperback copy, and to make marginal notes of impressions and inspiration received during the reading. I dutifully bought said scriptures and began reading and making notes. It has always been my practice to make copious notes, and to record impressions and inspiration while reading the scriptures—even when using my laptop or notepad. However, while reading the paperback text, I discovered something unexpected. I was profoundly impressed with the difference in my experience rereading the bound paper book, instead of the digital screen. 

    Isaiah 7: On my Android


    Subtleties of light and shadow falling on the page, the character of the paper, and the appearance and selection of the words may all be incidental to one’s study. But after reading from a monitor or screen for a period of time, I couldn’t help but notice that these physical elements caused certain words to stand out, catching my eye and my attention, and leading to further thought and sometimes to new understanding. The sensorial experience far exceeded any experience I’ve had staring at a flat, brightly lit screen, and helped me to “listen to” the layers of meaning within the written words, to understand and relate them to my own life in a more personal way. The ease of writing notes and impressions in the margins was not only simpler when done by hand, but it was almost as if the personal inspiration I received became one with the physical book of scripture in my behalf.

    Isaiah 7: My scriptures

    All this was not possible to the same degree on a digital screen. Why? Because of the absence of flaws. The irregularities in the printed text, the wrinkling pages, the layout on the page, the play of light all influenced how I saw and felt the words. I didn’t just read, I poured over the words. I studied, I reviewed, I basked, I feasted. My fingers could rest on the paper without accidentally turning the page or inadvertently causing some other kind of action to happen. The feel of the thin paper was a tangible connection to the written word.

    And what of the flaws in people? We all know they exist, and sometimes we aren’t particularly thrilled about those others may have, not to mention our own . Once, when I was bemoaning the behavior of my children, Karen shared an insightful comment. “What if, every single day, every one of our kids got up and came in like perfect little grown-up automatons, sitting on the couch without doing or saying anything out of order. Wouldn’t we be shocked if they acted like that? Would we really want it that way?” 



    As I pondered this, I realized that, though challenging at times, their variety of behaviors—good and bad—were extensions of precious personalities; part and parcel of growth, development and becoming. No, I wouldn’t want little automatons any more than I would want them all in comas. I was happy with the little people I loved sharing everyday life with. Hindsight has shown that those seeming flaws were building blocks to some profoundly important traits and gifts, needing time to channel and mature.


    One day, when my oldest child was only four, we lived in a cute little rural community where we spent most of our free time in the garden, and visiting friends. One day, I took my little ones and walked the several blocks to the home of a close friend. As I approached the door, I accidentally heard through apparently thin walls my dear, laughing, seemingly perfect, never-raised-her-voice-above-a-whisper friend yelling at her children! I stopped in my tracks. I certainly wasn’t going to knock on her door at that telling moment, when it would have been impossible for her not to recognize I had heard through the walls. We backed up into the street, waited a respectable length of time, then returned and knocked on the door, cheerfully gained entrance, and had a wonderful visit. The point is, from that day forth, I felt an extra special bond with this friend. She was like me: flawed. It wasn’t that I didn’t already know that she had imperfections. Who doesn’t have them? It was that I hadn’t witnessed them before. Etiquette, good manners, propriety all summoned imperfect, flawed beings such as my friend and me to be on one’s best behavior when in one another’s company. It wasn’t dishonesty; it was decency, respectfulness, politeness. If those walls hadn’t talked that day, I would have missed perspectives I sorely needed—to know I wasn’t alone in my own flawed life; that other “good” people were also flawed, while striving to be better each day. Flaws don’t make a good person bad; they just make them real, and interesting, and familiar. 


    The scriptures teach us to be perfect. Here are just two examples of this commandment:
    James 1:4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
    Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
    Flaws are a part of nature, including human nature. We are all flawed, but not hopelessly so. Each soul is on a journey, and walks at a different pace, occupying a different location, along the path. All face obstacles on the path, and must learn to dodge, hop over, climb above, or wade through them. Flaws are among those obstacles and are necessary parts of the journey. Through them, we grow stronger, more humble and teachable, and if we desire it, filled with more faith and hope and trust in God.


    A *wise man once shared the following story:
    When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is. [W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis (New York: Random House, 1974), p. 37]



    How true of us all! Certainly our development not only encounters, but invites flaws and mistakes. When a baby is learning to walk, it falls over and over again. But we wouldn’t say the baby is flawed! We recognize the baby is just young, just learning. We think the baby cute, sweet, and tenacious. We are all like the baby, like the rose. We may sport gray hair and wrinkles, but we are still in process of development and growth. And that’s OK.

    After all, aren’t the rough edges of a rolling stone merely flaws that will wear away in time, producing a refined and polished gem? The flaws, instead of becoming scars, will add depth, interest, and flecks of lasting wisdom and beauty. The very flaws we once despised may become vehicles toward perfecting our natures. 

    Rough Opal
    Polished Opal
    Turquoise: Rough and Polished

    And then, there’s always the rose—in every stage of development…perfectly beautiful, and “perfectly all right as it is.”




    * The wise man who gave the talk entitled “The Authority of Personality, Competence, and Character,” that included this quote, was Marion D. Hanks. The talk can be found at http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1970.

    © November 7, 2014