For Spring Break this year we went to Southern California. The trip was a long time coming. We spent time with my parents at a resort-type place they own a share in that is basically next door to Lego Land. We dodged the Disney bullet, but Lego Land was pretty great. We also spent a day at SeaWorld, right at the heart of the controversy over the captivity of large cetaceans at such places. Shamu was still appearing then, but in the spirit of things-my-grandchildren-will-never-do, I'm glad I saw them one last time. Sort of. Even then my feelings were fairly mixed. Still, that is another story.
The two things I want to journal about from the trip were definitely lesser moments and certainly not expected, though their profundity has stayed with me through all these months. Both experiences were while we were traveling home.
Though March, southern California had a beastly hot spring and summer. We'd had lovely weather the whole time we were gone, and spent the last morning on the beach in San Diego. We drove through some really terrible traffic as we crawled our way north. Tired and stressed, we finally cleared the mountains north of Los Angeles on I-5, hours behind schedule. As we drove, late in the afternoon, finally making time toward our destination, we passed a stranded car.
A young man was standing with a sign reading, "Please, we just need a jack." I am not sure who suggested first that we stop, but it was only seconds later that we crawled to a stop. Plantboy and I looked at one another. The stranded motorists were certainly young. And brown. We nodded to one another, Plantboy turned on the hazards, grabbed the jack, waited for a gap in traffic and sprinted back to the car. I watched in the rearview mirror with a prayer in my heart that we had done the right thing.
After several minutes I could tell there was some conversation taking place on the side of the road. At the very least confident that there was no ploy to rob and murder my dear, generous-hearted husband, I grabbed a bag of oranges we had purchased that morning in San Diego and walked back to the car.
It wasn't a jack problem after all, the car was high-centered and the young men had done everything they could think of to extricate themselves from the problem and change the tire. Plantboy's broader experience, handy and creative thinking, and added muscle finally did the trick and the tire was changed. While working, one of the young men told me that they had been standing out there for three hours . . . two of them with the sign. They were from Arizona and road tripping to San Francisco when their tire blew.
Grateful for Plantboy's kindness, they offered us $20 for our help. The young man seemed apologetic that it wasn't more, but I'm sure it was nearly all they could spare. Plantboy said "no" and I told them to drive safe for the sake of their mothers and to help the next person they found in need. There was much friendliness and camaraderie all around. I've seldom seen such gratitude in teenage boys.
Three hours. Because they were young? Brown? People are busy? Afraid?
Fast-forward 24 hours. We went to Muir Woods in San Francisco. On a Saturday. If you you know this place you know why the Saturday thing is significant. I've never seen a national monument so crowded. For years, Plantboy has touted this place as one of his favorites, and our timing worked out to go there. However, as we battled difficult traffic for some miles and waited in a traffic jamb on a winding road to get into the park, only to have to park nearly a mile away . . . well, admittedly there were many times I re-thought our decision.
And then we got into the park.
To say it is lovely is a gross understatement. It is sacred, touching, vast. Its founding was a hat trick of conservationism, private ownership, and federal governmental power. For a couple of amazing hours I could almost imagine what parts of the west would have looked like before people came to it. There is one particularly remarkable stand of trees called Cathedral Grove. Signs on the trail ask for quiet within that particular stand of trees where people might meditate, ponder, and experience a degree of reverence.
What I didn't realize until I read the plaque in Cathedral Grove is that the UN charter was actually signed in that spot. Delegates had met in SF to hammer out the charter and then culminated their conference with a visit to Muir Woods.
Here is the text on the plaque commemorating the event:
Here in this grove of enduring redwoods, preserved for posterity, members of the United Nations Conference on International Organization met on May 19, 1945 to honor the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, thirty-first President of the United States, Chief Architect of the United Nations, and Apostle of Lasting Peace for all Mankind
Roosevelt had died just weeks before the delegation met, and the event was meant to both honor him, and for those who met to pledge their sacred honor to a world where peace might be possible.
I read the plaque and cried. It had been a long week, and a very long 24 hours. As I stared at the large, overhead, monochromatic picture of the delegates--weary from war and desperate for hope--I felt overwhelmed by emotion I couldn't explain. "And in despair, I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth, I said."
I thought of those boys waiting three hours on a hot and dusty highway. A thousand cars must have passed them. Those delegates had hoped and prayed that the horror of the Second World War would not soon be forgotten, that we would find a way to be global citizens and to understand that damage and pain to one is a blight on all the rest of us. But they have failed. Miserably.
We have all failed miserably.
This is not about a UN thing. It is about a humanity thing. Our capacity to love and give is balanced in a most unsavory way by our capacity to inflict pain and act selfishly. In that moment, I despaired of the dark side of human nature winning.
I don't always feel this way. In July I spent a week at girls camp. For part of their week they spend an hour in our camp that is designated as "The Sacred Grove." The girls read scriptures, journal, pray and read a letter from their parents there. Near the end of our hour in the grove, some of the girls got a little bit restless and I felt impressed to speak. I told them about my experience at Muir Woods in halting words, the feelings of that day are still raw and painful when I think of them.
And then I told that that for all that many good men and women had tried to use the institutions of the world to make change, it could be that they were looking to the wrong grove. The grove of Joseph Smith is the place where we learn that God is personal--that He knows us as His children. In that other sacred grove we learn that the Savior died for us, and that peace only comes by knowing him and seeking truth. I knew in that moment, that if more people would go to the sacred places--in nature or those built by man, and truly seek to know God and do His will--the world would be really different.
I know this post should have been written in March; or at least July. But all these months out, it still stays with me. Particularly in this season of such joy mingled with such heartache. My Christmas lights and keeping my family huddled close are helping to keep darkness at bay. But I sense it, just outside my safe circle I have built for myself. There are those that would flaunt the rule of law and reject their Father in exchange for watching the world burn in a silacrum of true worship. As they do so, they wreak havoc and destruction on the children of the world, marking generations with their vilification of freedom and peace.
I want to act. I want to pull my car over and offer assistance without fear. I don't want to be one of the ones that just drives by while others suffer. But there are just such big problems--problems that cannot be fixed with the loan of a jack, a handy husband and a bag of oranges. The bit I can do seems so small compared to the scope of the thing.
My gratitude for the life I've been gifted with overwhelms me, even as I seek to understand how the inequities in the world can ever be made right.