I'm teaching Gospel Doctrine, and my lesson Sunday is on the Creation. Earlier this week I actually reviewed the lesson manual, which is different for me as I often hold off until the Friday-Saturday before I teach. I remembered something my dad had read to me in a book a few years back about some man's near death experience in which he was able to hear the energies of the plants and animals, and even things we'd classify as no longer living, such as a wooden desk, but he "walked" among them and could hear how grateful they were to be of use to man, how happy it made them to be part of this Plan.
It's stuck with me, in the back of my mind, and it struck me that I should share that with the class, that though the man's account isn't necessarily "doctrine," it would be worthwhile to share for the sheer sake of perspective. So I made a note to ask my dad about the book.
My dad is your stereotypical father in the sense that he sits in his Lazy-Boy and does everything from read to watch TV to sleep. His chair's in the corner of our living room, right next to our wood-burning stove. Over the years he's adopted that area as a second office, and often has a hoard of books and magazines stacked on the hearth like a library overflow. My mother, being the stereotypical mother in terms of cleanliness, doesn't like the mess, especially when company comes over, because to Mom even if someone is quickly dropping by to hand off a birthday card, this place better shine like the top of the Chrysler building.
One evening I had a moment, and he didn't look too busy, reclined in his chair, so I asked him about the book.
"I threw it out." He said matter-of-fact.
"Why?" I asked, taken aback.
"I was cleaning up for the last party. I just threw it all out."
My dad's always been a little on edge my whole life. There was a time when we were kids that he was depressed, and he wasn't necessarily a sulky kind of depressed. He pulled out of that eventually, but it seems to have never been an easy road for him. He's struggled with headaches most of his life, and within the past few years they've increased in length and pain, to the point that he now as a constant debilitating headache, the kind of headache that I can only cope with by lying down and napping it away. But you can't nap away your life.
I don't want you to have the wrong idea of my dad. He's a wonderful man, and from the time I was a preteen to present he's been my best friend. He's my Number 1 fan in theatre and writing, my greatest confidant and my idol. I've always had this overbearing love for my father, regardless how difficult and strained this have been in the course of my life. I am always proud of him. I always cherish his opinion. And when I find someone I love as much as him, I know I'll have it made.
But like in the Book of Mormon where the Nephites spin in the endless loop of the pride cycle, going from prospering to thoughts and actions of pride to sinning to repenting and prospering and on, my dad's life is coming full circle. He's starting to be the way he was when I was young. He's withdrawn, he's angry more readily, he's less patient with me and interested in my stories. I've had to go back to gauging his mood before I approach him with more than a sentence or two. I've had to go back to toeing the line in order to avoid pushing him over the edge.
And I'm out of practice. I've been stung a few times already.
But the book kept bothering me. Mind you, I don't think about my lesson as much during the week as I should. I get caught up in my school work and social life and thoughts of making my lesson worthwhile don't creep into my mind. But this book, this account of that man's near death experience, wouldn't leave me alone. And I hated the idea that I'd been prompted to find it only to not be able to act on the prompting and use it. It didn't seem fair that this brilliant idea would be swung in front of my eyes only to be forever behind bullet proof glass, out of reach. Something I'd continue to see but never be able to get at.
On Thursday I decided I wasn't going to take his word for it. We have a large cabinet in the living room across from his chair that we use as a bookshelf. It has a lot of different church books, but we often don't go inside it. I concluded the reason the book kept bugging me was that it must be in that cabinet, and he doesn't remember because he's too much in pain to think back that far to when he moved it from the hearth to the bookcase.
When I returned home from campus sometime after ten that night, I spoke with him briefly and then started going through the cabinet.
"What are you doing?" He asked.
"I don't believe that you threw that book away. So I'm going to look for it in here."
He told me again that it was gone, but I kept scanning spines, having absolutely no idea what I was looking for. As this notion dawned on me he told me to go turn the main lights on. As I came back from the lightswitch he was slinking out of his chair and kneeling down before the lower portion of the bookcase. He started looking.
"I know which one you're talking about. It's about that kid who died."
"Do you know what it's called?" I asked.
"No." He partially snapped, moving books to see past them.
After a moment he gave up and stood, returning to his chair. "I'm pretty sure I threw it away. Actually I know I through it away. I purposefully threw that one away."
"Why?" I asked him, beginning to be irritated that he'd do that. Why would I think I wouldn't be interested in looking at that again? It had been a few years, and lesson aside, I never even got to read the book in the first place.
"I was cleaning up for the party." He said with a note of bitterness.
I continued to scan the spines of the books in the upper portion of the bookcase, looking now for anything that might have something to do with the Creation inside. I told him he should have run that by me first and he retorted back the simple, slightly biting phrase "Okay Karl," a reference to my pack-rat grandfather. His tone was different that time, and I knew I was too close to making him furious. I dropped it and kept looking for something I could use. I found a book by Bruce R. McConkie that was in essence an encyclopedia of Church doctrine, and figured that was good enough.
I told Dad, when he asked, what I'd found, expressing it was a shame I couldn't find the other book. How I hated that I'd been so strongly prompted to find it but then not be able to act on that prompting. To try to lighten the near accusatory tone I'd just displayed, I shrugged and said "Who knows. Maybe I was supposed to look for it so I'd find this one." I jerked the McConkie book to show what I meant.
"No," Dad said. "You were meant to look for it because it has my testimony in it." His eyes started to grow watery. "That's why I threw it away. I don't care anymore."
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I don't know God's plan. I don't know God's thoughts. I don't know where I'm going or where He sees me. I don't know how He plans to help my father, how He worked things for my brother to bring him back to the fold and back to a more docile and loving persona. I don't know why I needed to find that book, why I needed to hound him about it. I don't know what this experience will do. But I am so beyond grateful that in whatever way I could, I did something. That's all I know. God asked something of me, something that evidently had more dire effects than I'd anticipated setting out, but that He was able to use me for what He needed of me. He was able to use me, I hope, to extend another nudge my father will come to terms with eventually, and stop pretending he's angry with God. Because I'd very much like to live with both my fathers when I pass back through the veil.