Monday, February 18, 2008

Small Plates

There have been many things occupying my thoughts lately: health care, a stubborn six-year old, an independent Kosovo and the proper care and feeding of husbands. Instead, I wanted to turn my thoughts to something more, well, spiritual. I was reading this week about Nephi making his small plates and I remembered a friend who once kept a seperate journal for her profound spiritual experiences. She called this second journal her "small plates." We would sometimes refer to experiences, the really special ones, as "small plates experiences."

I liked the idea. Very much. But I must confess to never creating a set of my own small plates. That would be a good thing to do one day. Instead of small plates, I think I'll share my thoughts here instead.

On Saturday, Plantboy and I scrambled around all afternoon in order to make it to the adult session of stake conference: we were able to go for just one hour. Part of the reason I felt so compelled to go is because a neighbor of ours had been asked to speak. He and his wife live just two doors up and they have loved and loved us. They are about the same age as my parents and their own children and grandchildren all live far away. Our mutual need has created a very special bond between our families. I shall hereafter refer to husband as "The Irishman" (he is one) and the wife as "Grandma Goodie" (a play on her name and she always brings the boys treats).

The Irishman is one of the funniest men I have ever met. His jokes are entirely deadpan, and he will go on speaking while the entire room erupts in laughter as if nothing happened. His talk was one of the best I have heard, outside General Conference, in years. And it might be the most entertaining talk I've ever heard over the pulpit. He had everyone laughing one minute and then in near tears the next as he spoke of family: both the difficulties and the joys.

He said two different things that have stuck with me through the weekend. The first is a thing I've never thought about before. He said that in the Old Testament and in Jewish culture, we read many stories of parents dedicating a child to the Lord by giving him over to the temple elders as a small child to be raised out of the world, immersed in a life of scholarship and spirituality, and thereby become men of God. But not Jesus. He was given a fine mother and a devoted step-father. He was given brothers and sisters. And he was left there. This perfect soul in an imperfect family. If this simple fact doesn't tell us something about the power that our Father in Heaven believes resides in families then nothing will. As these innocent, tender souls are placed in our families, let us not forget from whence they came and what their potential might be.

The Irishman told about growing up in a tiny branch in Belfast. His father was the branch president for years and years. He also became a single father when our neighbor was just 11 years old. He said that was nothing in their family that would have ever put them in the pages of the Ensign, but he spoke with tenderness of a father who taught him the gospel in every interaction and a mother who gave him enough love in just 11 years, that even now, fifty years later, he still weeps for her tender memory. He also told about his mother-in-law and the many years she struggled as a single parent, pulling her kids to church every week in a little red wagon after her car broke down so that they would have the blessings of being raised in the Church.

He then said the thing that has been unable to leave me. "But my dad, as great as he was to me, is nobody to you. He is just some guy living the gospel. You will never know his name. The world will never know who he is. And my mother-in-law, you'll never know her either. She is just some lady who lived the gospel and did the right thing." This may not seem profound to you, but it was important to me. You see, I've had a very overactive imagination since I was a small child. And I've definitely read a lot of books. I think I'm still hanging on to so many romantic ideals from my childhood: wanting to change the whole world all at once with my words or my courage or my actions. I've always been fascinated by THE ONE person who changes the course of history (either real or imagined) because their force of will was so strong and their bravery so compelling that people followed . . . .

And though I've grown up a lot, I think I sometimes feel a vague discontent because I want to do something truly great. The Irishman's words pointed out to me that my chance for something truly great is passing me by if I'm forever looking beyond my role as a mother, a wife, a friend, a neighbor, a daughter of God. Perhaps it is time to admit that perhaps there is no great novel inside of me, there will be no speeches that inspire nations, blog entries that get 100 comments (or even 20) and my name will only be known to those inside my (newly realized) very small sphere of influence.

At this point some of you are probably thinking, "You can't be serious STM; you cannot possibly believe that you would have really been one of THOSE people whose names are widely known for the influence they exert on others. You seemed so sane!" Well, I'm sorry to say, I think I have been one of those people. Some time ago, I either posted or commented something like, "you wake up one day and you realize that your life is not what you thought it would be." A friend emailed after reading that, almost incredulous. After all? What more could an LDS woman want for than three beautiful and healthy children, a generous and communicative husband, a college degree and a job I've loved and will love again, a home, all of life's necessities, the gospel, etc, etc.

I struggled to put my thoughts into words as I replied to her, and although that was some months ago, I think I've finally done that here. Anyway, The Irishman's comments helped me to realize again that it is time I stopped looking beyond the present.

The sister who spoke after The Irishman DID have an Ensign family, or at least went to great pains to put across that image. After her talk I mostly felt like a failure of a mother. I'm not sure that wasn't her purpose: she said several times how much better we all needed to be doing. I wish they had given The Irishman 40 minutes instead of 20.


Yankee Girl said...

I lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland for over a year and dying to know the name of the Irishman--but I won't press; besides unless he still has family there I wouldn't recognize the name or family. Anyway, your post was very touching. I love reading your posts taht delve into gospel insights.

Desmama said...

STM, thanks for your thoughts here. I've been pondering them all day, and in fact, they've kind of dovetailed into other things I've been mulling over, making it a pretty rich blend of interesting things to contemplate. ;) Thanks.

EmAndTrev said...

I'll echo Desmama's thoughts--what an incredibly thoughtful post. Isn't it wonderful when we meet and are influenced in such a positive way by "The Irishmen" in our lives? It makes me want to start being a better person right this second!

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Exactly emandtrev--but without the guilt! Just a wonderful feeling of uplift and hope and renewed purpose.

The Divine Miss A said...

Thanks so much for your thoughts. I think I'm one of those people too--you know--the one who has a novel in her or who wants to change the world. It helps to know that there are others out there that feel the same and that it's okay if I don't change the world in that way. Maybe the way I disturb the universe is by focusing on one person at a time and focus on being one instead of THE ONE.