Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Do Know Jack!

I called my friend Jack Christianson this morning about 7:30. He was getting ready to play a round of golf. I had already spoken with his wife earlier and she had given me his cell phone number. I think he was eating breakfast with "work related" companions before hitting the links. We exchanged pleasantries and then I told him why I had called.

I have known Jack personally for about ten years. He and I were colleagues at the Institute at UVSC for the last four years of my career with CES. For two of those years he was the Director of the Institute and was technically my boss. I never once felt that he considered me an underling or an inferior; in fact, it was quite the reverse. He always seemed glad that I would call him friend. In 2004 I retired; a year or so later he took advantage of some rather interesting opportunities which now allow him to play golf as a work-related activity. He seems to have prospered.

The reason that I felt impressed to call him was that I had a dream about him this morning, a rather fanciful dream as dreams go, but one that taught me something; actually two somethings.

The earliest scene of the dream that I can remember was that Jack and I had met incidentally in the middle of town somewhere. He was the President of the United States, with the black cars, the secret service agents, and all of the rest. He was his own affable self and invited me to go with him for a while. He was not playing golf, but there was some sort of sporting activity involved, if I remember my dream correctly. In any event, we spent a couple of hours together and then he had to attend to other commitments and our paths separated.

A short time later, as I was walking along the street, I happened to meet Nancy Polosi whom I knew for some reason. We began talking about Jack and his administration, but she seemed just a little smug about him. Her air was such that I assumed that Jack must still be a Republican. Something was said or inferred in our conversation that I thought it was really important for me to see Jack again. I knew where he was staying, a hotel in the middle of town, and I went there as quickly as I could.

I went into the main lobby and asked for him, but he had not yet arrived. About that same moment there was a hustle and bustle off to my right and Jack and his men came into the building through a small door. Jack was in body armor and most of his face was covered by a ski mask, but I could see his eyes and hear his voice. His hands were tied in from of him. He shouted out to me "Run! Get out of here!" Just at that second the entire hotel shut down. Large metal doors covered the entrances and windows of the building and all of the lights went out.

I sat there in the dark for a while trying to figure out what was going on. After a few minutes a voice close to me said, "Do you know Jack?" I said that I did. The voice said "Is he your friend?" I answered in the affirmative. The voice then said, "You are never going to see your friend again!" I was stunned in my dream and, then, something happened inside of me.

I asked "Is Jack alone?"

The answer was "Yes".

I continued, "Is he going to die?"

Again, "Yes".

Then I said, "Can I see him now?"

"If you go to him now, you will die as well. Do you still want to see him?" I said that I did. That is when I woke up.

When I came to myself I had two deep impressions upon my mind. The first was, that for the first time in my life I thought that I really understood the sentiments of John Taylor in June of 1844 as his friend Joseph made his way to Carthage, Illinois, for the last time. John could not bear the thought of being anywhere else other than with his friend when Joseph lost his life. I had felt the same way in my dream. I could not bear the thought that my friend Jack would die alone if I did not go to him, even if it meant my own life hung in the balance.

The second insight that I had this morning was that I suddenly realized that I had never felt that way about anyone during the sixty-six years of my life, that I was willing to die so that a friend would not have to depart this world alone. What an odd and sobering revelation. It was somewhat bitter-sweet. One the one hand I was glad that I could have those feelings, that I was capable of them, even if it was only in a dream. On the other hand I wondered why I had not felt that way before about any of my friends, the good men that I had known over the years.

Jack Christianson and I do not socialize much. I have only seen him three or four times since I retired, so it seems odd that he would become the subject of my dream. Yet, I think I understand why. Jack and I shared a great deal independently. We had grown up in different parts of the world, served in the Church Educational System in differing ways, and yet our manner of thinking, our approach to resolving important issues were quite similar. It was as if we had been cut from the same bolt of cloth. We instantly enjoyed one another's company because of that which we had in common.

The lesson that I gained from all of this is that I do not believe that Jack Christianson is the only person on the earth for whom I would be willing to sacrifice my life. There are undoubtedly many others. I hope that I do not have to have a dream for each of them in order to realize their worth.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Change the World

Yesterday the world was glorious. It’s not so bad today. In fact, for the last few weeks there have been days when I just wanted to be outside doing anything but heading back indoors. I have been working on the planters in the front of the house, much to the delight of my neighbors. There are ranunculus, pansies, petunias, geraniums, violas, and a strain of dianthus that I hope decides to take over the whole front yard. I do not know how many hours I have spent on the three planters, but I know that I am well into double digits. Yesterday I started about two o’clock in the afternoon and did not finish until well after 7:00. Afterwards, I was as sore as a boil. The shower and clean clothes helped, but it was when I finally went back outside and sat in the glider on the front porch that I finally found out what I had been doing.

The sun was setting, far to the west. There were little pinks and blues still bidding for sky-time, but I closed my eyes to listen to the wind. Across the street, Gordon has a stand of musical river birches that catches the wind and fondles it until it moans. Next door Ron has a large conifer that does the same. Down the street my friend Vaughn has an elm that is tall enough to obscure thirty percent of the horizon and sways in rhythm with every whisper of a breeze. I cannot bear to be indoors when the wind is blowing.

Whenever I sit by myself out there with all of those natural instruments in play, I cannot help but think of one of the final scenes in the John Travolta movie, “Phenomenon”. George, the character that has been deeply affected by an unidentified power, spends his down-time listening to and watching the wind in his trees. If I recall correctly, he says that he is listening to the earth breathe. I think that he also tells his love interest that when he is gone, that is, when he dies, that he will be like the wind, that he will always be with her. Again, I am probably remembering this poorly, but I think that the final scene features the girl, Lace, sitting with her two children on the front porch, watching and listening to the wind. If the movie didn’t end that way, it should have.

I thought about my experience last night and said to myself, “Well, if the movie was that memorable, particularly on a visceral level, the soundtrack must have been marvelous”. So, I went on-line to see what I could find.

Thomas Newman, one of the sons of Alfred Newman the composer, wrote the original score for the movie. Among many others, he also wrote the scores for “Reckless”, “Finding Nemo”, “Wall-E”, “Pay it Forward”, “Little Women” and “Shawshank Redemption”. For the last two movie scores, in 1994, he received a double nomination for an Academy Award, the only double nomination that year. He did receive an Academy Award in 2004 for “Finding Nemo”. When I finally located the soundtrack CD, I listened to all of the cuts trying to find one that had something of the spirit of the movie in it. There were pieces by Jewel, Peter Gabriel, Taj Mahal, Marvin Gaye, The Iguanas, and several others. I said to myself, “When did these come into the plot? I don’t remember any of this stuff. I hate this stuff!” I could not find anything composed by Thomas Newman for the movie, but I did find something that seemed to come close to the spirit of the film: “The Farm” from “Road to Perdition”.

Having dissed the rest of the non-Newman soundtrack, I have to say that there was for me one song that I liked: Eric Clapton’s “Change the World”. It does not and did not contribute to my enjoyment of “Phenomenon”, but it has a nice sentiment and his guitar work is wonderful. I will try hard to think of Clapton’s piece as I sit on the front porch tonight, trying to see if I can make it fit the birches, pines, and elms. I probably will not think about it long, even though I am trying to do that very thing he sings of. Sorry Eric......

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go

I had a jolt this morning as I sat at my computer. The phone rang and when the caller ID came up I said to myself, “Hmmm… That’s a little odd. Who would be calling me from there at this hour?”

When I picked up the phone a sweet voice said, “Hello. Is this Paul N. Hyde? This is Kristie calling from President Thomas Monson’s office. Do you have a minute or two?” A thousand things went through my mind in the nano-second before I responded in the affirmative. The real reason why anyone from the President’s office would be calling me never occurred to me; I had forgotten all about it. I wrote a letter last Sunday morning.

5 April 2009

Dear President Monson,

When I came home last night from the Priesthood Session of General Conference, my wife Pat asked me how it was. I said, “Let me tell you about the closing hymn…..”

My branch of the Hyde family joined the Church in Freedom, New York, in 1834, at the time Joseph Smith and Parley P. Pratt were recruiting members for Zion’s Camp. They eventually moved from that little valley to Kirtland, Ohio, and from thence to Missouri, Nauvoo, the Salt Lake Valley, Kaysville, Logan, and finally, Auburn, Wyoming. My wife’s family in the Church travelled half way around the world from England to Utah, with several stops along the way, eventually ending up in Beaver, Utah. During the Great Depression, my Grandfather, his wife, and his youngest son moved to Southern California. Just before World War II, that Star Valley boy met a girl whose immediate ancestors hailed from Missouri and Minnesota. They married in the fall of 1941; I was born into that inactive part-member family in July of 1942. About that same time, the Girl from Beaver met a fellow from Duluth, Minnesota, a French Canadian Swede, who swept her off her feet in Seattle, Washington. My wife was born into that inactive part-member family in August of 1945. Although I would stay in California for most of my childhood, Pat’s peregrinations would take her from Washington to Nevada, and finally to northern Minnesota where I met her during my tour of duty with the Air Force in 1963. After my mission to southern Mexico, Pat and I married in the St. George Temple; the officiator was her grandfather, David Heber Edwards. “I’ll go where you want me to go……”

I guess that I have always wanted to be a teacher, even from the time I was a child. I learned in school so that I could share with others the knowledge I had acquired. As a result of the inactivity of my father’s little part-member family, I was not taught that I should be baptized at age eight, but I was given rather extraordinary opportunities to learn about the Savior, his life and ministry, that were not part of the established curriculum of the Primary, the Sunday School, or the Mutual Improvement Association. Eventually, the members of the Church sought me out, and on the 4th of April 1959, I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My wife experienced a similar childhood in Minnesota, except that her faithful mother was the instrument by which she learned the fundamental principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She was nine years old when she was finally baptized, but still had but limited access to the formal organization of the Church until she graduated from High School. Before we were married, both Pat and I were fervent in our studies of the doctrines of the Kingdom, her library being as extensive as my own. I spent three years of my tour with the military actively preparing myself for my mission to Mexico. By the time that I left for Veracruz, I had read almost every LDS book in print, including the various Histories of the Church, the writings of the Presidents of the Church, and other Brethren of the General Authorities of the Church. From 1961 to 1964, I hitch-hiked from Duluth, Minnesota, to Salt Lake City, in both April and October, so that I could attend General Conference. There was a special place in the Tabernacle set aside for men in uniform. I sat there during every session taking notes, being uplifted. After those sessions I had the opportunity to shake hands with the likes of N. Eldon Tanner, Gordon B. Hinckley, Marion D. Hanks, and, yes, even Thomas S. Monson. I shared the insights that I had in Conference with those around me in Duluth. From August of 1964 to November of 1966, I shared those things, and many others, with my companions and the people of southern Mexico, having to learn another language altogether in order to do the latter. I found out about the Church Educational System while on my mission; I had never heard of the Seminaries and Institutes before then. I determined that that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I attended BYU, taking classes in Spanish and English Literature (a double major) and in the process picked up 30 hours of religion classes from the likes of Ivan J. Barrett, Robert J. Matthews, and many others on the faculty in the Religion Department. I began teaching Seminary in the fall of 1969 at Bountiful High School Seminary. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to teach Institute classes at Cypress College in Buena Park, California. During my 35 years with CES, I taught students at Purdue University, UCLA, USC, the University of New Mexico, and finally at Utah Valley State College. In all of this, my wife and I have tried to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in these latter days to the servants of God. “I’ll say what you want me to say….”

From the time that Pat and I became formally active in the Church, first as young single adults and then as a married couple, we have willingly accepted the various callings that have come to us by revelation and the laying on of hands. Pat has served in almost every capacity in every auxiliary in the Church; I have been blessed to serve in various callings in the Wards and Stakes in which we have lived. Each of the callings has required us to be better people than we were before we were called. For the most part, we rose to each occasion. As we have learned the principles and ordinances of the Gospel, we have tried to apply them directly to our daily walk and talk. Wherein we have been successful, we have been fundamentally changed, laying aside a portion of the natural man and slowly but surely partaking of the divine nature. We are not perfect by any means, but we have improved and are still improving. We have tried to raise our children in righteousness and in the attempt have become better ourselves. We have served the living and the dead, and we think that no matter where we may find ourselves, in this world or in the next, we will be somewhat comfortable with those who are like-minded, those who are trying to please God the Father. “I’ll be what you want me to be…..”

Last night I was silently celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of my baptism. I wanted the day to be a little different from the rest because I wanted to be a little different as a result of it. As I sat in the Stake Center waiting for the session to begin, I prayed that I might be particularly edified by what was said and done, that I might be more determined, more committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his Church and Kingdom here upon the earth. The speakers were wonderful; I might easily flatter you and your counselors. But the singular moment came, the capstone of the meeting, when the young men from BYU-Idaho sang the closing hymn. I like the sentiments of the song, but I have never really enjoyed the music for some reason. I will sing it when called upon, but I would not choose it if left to my own devices; I much prefer “Ye Elders of Israel”, written by my great-great grandfather, Cyrus H. Wheelock. But whoever did the arrangement of “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go” somehow got inside of the hymn; it was transformed into something glorious. The sentiments and music amplified each other and I could not have wished for a greater blessing than to have heard that hymn sung that way. If I may say so without being misunderstood, it was as if the entire Church were singing “Happy Birthday” to me last night. I came home a better man, or at least a man who more than at any other time in his life wants to “go”, to “say”, and to “be”, what the “Dear Lord” desires of me.

This has been a long letter. I hope that you have arrived at this point without having been wearied by my pile of words. But I do have a request to add, if it is not too unseemly. Would it be possible to communicate my feelings to the one who arranged the closing hymn last night and to the choir itself for their performance? I don’t know how I would go about doing that myself. I would appreciate any effort in that direction.

Today I will watch the Sessions of Conference with anticipation. It was fifty years ago to the day that I was confirmed a member of the Church. I remember standing in my first Fast and Testimony meeting, begging the saints in the Chino California Branch of the Church to forgive me for anything that I might have done during the first sixteen years of my life that might have brought embarrassment to them, that they might forgive me my weaknesses and follies. I believe that they did. I feel the same way today, that I might be at home with the people of the Lord, that I might not be a stranger or a foreigner to the Kingdom of God, but a fellow citizen every whit. I am grateful for those around me who have my best interests at heart, who love and cherish me as a member of their eternal family. I treasure the friendships that I enjoy in the quorums of the Priesthood, for the spirit of brotherhood that only those quorums can provide.

Know, President Monson, that Pat and I love you, and are willing to follow your righteous counsel, wherever it may take us, whatever we are required to say, whatever we may become as a result.


President Monson’s secretary had called me to ask if it would be all right for him to send a copy of the letter to the two men in Rexburg, Idaho, who had been responsible for the arrangement and the performance of the hymn. I said that it would be perfect in my eyes to do so. What a delightful thing to have happen as the result of a singular five minutes on a Saturday night in April! Little connections of joy and happiness, a little moment that changed my life and perhaps the lives of others. What could be better than that?