Saturday, June 25, 2005

Back when I had hair

Way back when
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
This is me when I was in first grade. A more complete explanation of this picture appears on Flickr. Meanwhile, it serves as proof that I really did have hair at one time, although in this picture much of it is hidden by the red baseball cap. (My father used to comment that I had "more hair than Kennedy," but today I appear to have less of it than did Eisenhower.)

Monday, June 20, 2005

A day in the life of Garry

:) For those of you not too familiar with me, I am Garry's younger sister and was able to spend some time with him and his family this past week. I'm very grateful for that opportunity! :) I got to go see how Garry's day works at the office and had a very enjoyable time! :) (Tell Deborah HI for me!) Too bad there wasn't any fireworks to see. ;) I'm glad that we were able to visit and I'm glad for all your insights, Garry - both those you share with all of us here on this blog and those on a more personal level. Thank you for that!

Have a great day!


Friday, June 17, 2005

The books of God

I found this article in today's Meridian Magazine, and post it here as proof positive that there are other people in the world who actually think the way I do. (With regard to some things, at least.) In support of his thesis that divine truth is taught and passed on primarily through symbolism and multiple shades and levels of meaning, the author of this article cites Don Quixote and Dante, which of course quickly caught and retained my attention. I agree with what he says, which perhaps helps to explain why a picture of a sunset that I posted a few weeks ago reminded me of a little-known passage in Isaiah, or why I saw a spark of the divine in a picture of a young woman talking on her cellphone -- and why one of my favorite passages in the Book of Mormon is 2 Nephi 11:4, which tells us that "all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Agnieszka: A joy to behold

Good news?
Originally uploaded by Agnieszka.
I stumbled across this picture yesterday while visiting Flickr, and immediately fell in love with it. This is a young lady named Agnieszka, who lives in Poland. Through the message board on the Flickr site, I have exchanged some interesting and worthwhile correspondence with her, and she has graciously given me permission to post this wonderful snapshot on my blog. (Her English is excellent, by the way, which is good because I am entirely ignorant of Polish.)

This photograph of a young woman talking on her cellphone is simple both in concept and in execution, but if ever a picture truly spoke a thousand words, it was this one. Agnieszka told me she hesitated to post it on Flickr, believing it would simply become "one more boring self-portrait," as she put it. Instead, I regard it as a gift, and the reaction of others to this picture suggests that I am by no means alone in that belief. She exudes goodness, decency, and virtue, all of which are capped off by that zillion-megawatt smile. I was not at all surprised to learn, by the way, that Agnieszka is apparently deeply religious, and attends church regularly. Somehow, I was able to sense that just by looking at this picture, which provides a glimpse into her very soul. This should be enough to brighten up just about anyone's mood, be it ever so dour, which is why I wanted to share it with the people who are important to me.

This image provokes another thought as well. Agnieszka is 25 years old, which means she was born while Poland was still behind the Iron Curtain, but is not old enough to remember the 1979 visit of Pope John Paul II, the Solidarity movement, the Jaruszelski regime, or the threatened Soviet invasion that dominated the news back in 1980 and 1981. I've paid tribute in these cyber-pages to Pope John Paul and Ronald Reagan, in part for the role they each had in bringing down the Iron Curtain; and in this simple image of joy and goodness, we see -- in my view, at least -- a sort of microcosm of the fruit of their labors. This is not, after all, the image of someone who fears a midnight knock on her door by some shadowy secret-police organization.

I hope all of you enjoy this picture as much as I have. And as for Agnieszka, I hope she receives oodles of "good news" over the course of her lifetime, by cellphone or otherwise.

"Beato, anima bella, chi ti vede!"

-- Dante, Vita Nova XXIV.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Christ and the Samaritan woman

Several years ago, in the Ensign, I saw a wonderful picture of Christ with the woman of Samaria, based on the story found in chapter 4 of John's Gospel. I have never been able to track down an online version of that painting, but this one comes close to being as good:

In the course of today's online wanderings, I found this image as well:

I share these with you today for no particular reason, other than the fact that I often reflect on this story, as well as on Dante's allusion to it:

"La sete natural che mai non sazia
se non con l'acqua onde la femminetta
samaritana domando' la grazia
mi travagliava . . . "

("The natural thirst that never can be quenched
except with that water the woman of Samaria
begged to be given as a special grace
tormented me . . .")

-- Purgatorio XXI:1-4

Saturday, June 04, 2005

We still miss him

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the passing of former President Ronald Reagan. To mark the occasion, I have uploaded the mass e-mails I sent to friends and relatives at the time, which included my reflections on the man, his legacy, and his impact in my own life. I knew nothing about blogging at the time, of course; otherwise, my musings would have been posted here to begin with.

As in the case of my Italy e-mails (which appear in the February archives), these have been slightly edited, and one of them includes some information I added today, which appears in brackets. They appear in reverse chronological order, based on the date and time of day they were originally sent. In other words, the first one I composed and sent appears further down the page, the later ones closer to the top. Two of these were sent on the same day.

I hesitated at the time to mention the fact that I wore my Sunday best while watching Reagan's funeral, as I was afraid it would be looked upon as an eccentric gesture; but apparently it had a very different effect, and a number of people told me later that they found it to be rather touching. In fact, one friend even informed me that he told the story in a talk on the subject of reverence, which he had given in his ward's sacrament meeting.

Barney Madsen suggested some time ago that I post these on my site, and I decided to wait until the anniversary before doing so. I hope they are enjoyed by one and all, and that they do justice to the man they were intended to honor.

Reagan, once more (6/11/04)

I was up until midnight last night, which is about three hours past my normal bedtime nowadays. Just before I went to bed, I asked my wife to go to our closet and pick out the best set of clothes for me that she could, and I told her why. (I'm a moron when it comes to personal attire, and I have absolutely no sense of things such as color coordination; but she is good at that, so on important occasions I always ask for her help.) I then went into the living room and spit-shined a pair of black shoes, the same ones I normally wear to work. When I finished, I looked them over and decided that, no, they simply wouldn't do -- not for this occasion, anyway. The leather was cracked. So I returned to the closet and got a pair of maroon-colored Italian leather shoes that I love but seldom wear, unless I know I will not have to do much walking in them. I then spent about 15 more minutes spit-shining this pair to a high gloss, then carefully laid out the entire ensemble so it would be ready for me first thing in the morning. This was, of course, a gesture of affection and profound respect. I was doing it for Ronald Reagan. I think it was the first time I have ever found genuine pleasure in the mundane act of shining a pair of shoes.

The funeral service in the National Cathedral was simply splendid. I was touched most by Lady Thatcher's recorded remarks, prepared well over a year ago, when her doctors told her she should not make any more public speeches and she replied that she was going to give this one, come hell or high water. She moved me to tears, the only one of the speakers to do so (although all were excellent), as much for the circumstances under which she gave the eulogy as for the remarks themselves; and I knew this former British prime minister would understand why a court interpreter in Arizona would stay up spit-shining his shoes until past midnight, in preparation for a funeral he would watch the following morning from an easy chair in his living room. I also noted that she, Reagan, and Pope John Paul II all arrived to destiny within a couple of years of each other, and that all three had had an enormous impact for good in the world. And I sensed that sometime in the near future, Lady Thatcher and the Pope will likewise enter the paradise of God, there surely to be greeted by the man she was honoring today.

And of course, in Ronald Reagan's case, even a funeral would not have been complete without a good dose of humor, and I loved the story President Bush told, which I will summarize for the benefit of those who were unable to hear it. Reagan was a prolific letter-writer, and even when he was President a number of ordinary citizens would check their mailboxes and find in them handwritten letters under the White House letterhead. One such recipient was a young boy of perhaps six, who had written to the President asking for federal aid in helping him to clean up his room. Reagan wrote back, in longhand, and told the kid that federal funds for such cleanup projects were running "dangerously low" at the moment; that the boy's mother had nevertheless done the right thing in proclaiming his room a disaster area; and then suggested that perhaps this might be a good opportunity for him to organize a neighborhood volunteer project.

I am spending the afternoon running some errands, and then I will go home to watch the burial later today. (I will change back into the church clothes for that.) The author of an article in this week's Newsweek made a touching observation, which I will try to paraphrase here. He noted that Reagan's grave will be on a hill overlooking the Pacific, on the westernmost edge of the continent, where the sun sets after the rest of America is already dark. And, he continued, that was so much like Reagan -- to bask in the light, to make the day last, and to relish it right up to the very end.

In her remarks this morning, Lady Thatcher quoted a line from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, with which I am familiar, and about which I myself had reflected throughout this long and historic week. But she did not have time to quote it more extensively, so in concluding my own cyberspace tributes to this great man, I will herewith fill in the gap myself. Like the well-tailored suits or Western clothes he always wore, this passage fits Ronald Reagan splendidly:

"This river has been a terror to many; yea, the thoughts of it have also frighted me. But now, methinks, I stand easy. My foot is fixed upon that upon which the feet of the priests that bare the Ark of the Covenant stood, while Israel went over this Jordan. The waters indeed are to the palate bitter, and to the stomach cold; yet the thoughts of what I am going to, and the conduct that awaits me on the other side, doth lie as a glowing coal at my heart.

"I see myself now at the end of my journey; my toilsome days are ended. I am now going to see that head that was crowned with thorns, and that face that was spit upon for me.

"I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith, but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with him in whose company I delight myself. . . .

"I am going to my Father's, and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who now will be my rewarder. When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the riverside, into which as he went he said, 'Death, where is thy sting?' And as he went down deeper he said, 'Grave, where is thy victory?' So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side."

Reagan: Some more reflections (6/11/04)

I did a couple of things this week that were a bit unusual for me. First, I called my boss Tuesday to ask if I could have this Friday off. I said it was for a "personal matter," without specifying what it was, but added that it did not involve any kind of crisis or emergency, and that if the calendar was heavy and I was really needed at the office, I would gladly come in. About half an hour later I got a text message on my pager, informing me that my request had been approved. My sole reason for requesting the day off was that I wanted to watch Reagan's funeral. Such was my regard for the man that I felt I simply could not be doing anything else that morning. Moreover, when I do stay home tomorrow morning and watch the proceeding on TV, I plan to wear my best shirt and tie, and a pair of spit-shined shoes. I was impressed to learn several years ago that throughout his Presidency, Reagan so revered the Oval Office that he never even set foot in it without wearing a coat and tie. (As we all know, one of his successors apparently didn't wear much of anything as he conducted a kinky affair with a twentysomething intern in a hallway adjacent to the same office.) This will simply be a token of high respect on my part, although I do not intend to wear a coat or jacket. After all, I do live in Arizona, and I think Mr. Reagan would understand that.

The other unusual act involved a favorite piece of classical music which I rarely hear, but which had been buzzing around in my head ever since I heard the news that the 40th President had expired. It fit my mood so perfectly that I decided I simply had to have it, so during my lunch break on Tuesday I decided to go over to Border's and look for it. It wasn't there, so after work I tried a Wherehouse not far from where we live, again with no luck. Finally, that evening I took Vanessa over to a Barnes and Noble store several miles away, and this time I found a CD with the coveted piece on it, and I purchased it on the spot. It is the only music I have been wanting to listen to all week, and I have played it over and over again, mostly while driving. The piece in question was Aaron Copland's "Our Town."

I think I have read just about every written word about Reagan that has appeared this week in newspapers, magazines, and the Internet, and on occasion I have even spent up to a half-hour at a time watching his lying-in-state on C-SPAN. It was the closest I could come to actually being there, and it has been deeply moving to watch ordinary people pass his bier by the thousands and tens of thousands, all of them quietly and respectfully. Moreover, I love pomp and ceremony and ritual, and have always had a very strong sense of history, of connection with the past -- a sense which, in my case, was already quite well-developed by the time John F. Kennedy was assassinated 41 years ago. I was all of 10 years of age then, and although numbed by the tragedy, was mesmerized throughout the long weekend by the precisely-choreographed rituals associated with the state funeral. I recall being impressed at the time by the fact that Kennedy's caisson was the same one used in Franklin D. Roosevelt's funeral procession in 1945, and that the boots reversed in the stirrups of the riderless horse -- the symbol of a fallen warrior who would never ride again -- was a tradition dating from the time of Genghis Khan. Again, the link between the present and the past. Jackie Kennedy was justly credited with managing to convert this traumatic event into a moment of great dignity for the nation. Reagan's funeral procession yesterday was equally marked by dignity, but I was struck by the differences between his and JFK's. Kennedy, of course, was struck down unexpectedly in the prime of life -- he was five years younger than I am now -- whereas Reagan had served two full terms as President and died at age 93 after a lengthy and ravaging illness. In his case, there was a spirit of celebration -- or rejoicing, even -- for a life well and fully lived. One of the marching bands yesterday played "God Bless America," an almost cheerful tune which would have been unseemly in Kennedy's funeral, but which seemed entirely appropriate in Ronald Reagan's. I noted the number of people who applauded yesterday when the cortege passed, in contrast to the hushed crowds that lined Pennsylvania Avenue during that November weekend in 1963.

Two more observations, and then I will close. The first, offered in the same spirit as Peter Robinson's book, which I mentioned the other day, is personal, and might be summed up as what I myself have learned from Ronald Reagan. I have previously noted the similarities between this funeral and Eisenhower's, but there are others. Both men were perceived as embodying the small-town virtues of Middle America, and neither was born to wealth. (Reagan's father was an alcoholic, and I think Ike's was a bankrupt, although I am not certain of that.) Both came to the Presidency via unusual routes. As recently as the 1941 fall Army maneuvers, Ike was identified in a newspaper photo as "Lt. Col. D. D. Ersenbeing." (Ike noted that they at least had the initials right). Twelve years later he was President of the United States -- the only elective office he ever held. Reagan was a B-grade movie actor who once co-starred with a chimpanzee, and who was past age 50 when he entered politics. And most importantly, at the time of their deaths, both men were thought of as representing a sort of throwback to a simpler, more comfortable era.

It was never really so, of course, which brings me to my point. Reagan, for all his virtues and accomplishments, did not do everything right. None of us ever does, yet we somehow expect our Presidents to be something more than human, and refuse to allow them a courtesy that we want others to allow us. When Reagan took office in January of 1981, I was in my late 20s, still trying to figure out who and what I was, while only gradually managing to jettison some of the baggage left over from my past, which of course included a tormented adolescence. I have always been my own harshest critic, and I tend to brood more than I should over past failures and mistakes, whether real or imagined. Yet now, at age 51, I have learned a great deal, and in my more reflective moments realize I have perhaps done better than I have given myself credit for, and against rather formidable odds at that. I have to remind myself of this again and again. To try is occasionally to fail. Life is that way.

I owe some of this insight to Ronald Reagan. The era we are viewing with such nostalgia today, at the time of his passing, was sometimes not all that pleasant when we were living through it. The world is complicated and imperfect, just as are our individual lives. The '82 recession is not a pleasant memory at all; neither are the controversy over the Pershing missile deployment, the visit to the Bitburg cemetery, the budget deficits, the Beirut bombing, or Iran-contra. But Reagan did not dwell on his mistakes, nor did he waste time brooding over them or lose his essential optimism. We all make mistakes, and in an ideal world, we simply dust ourselves off, learn what we can from them, and move on. His attitude had much to do with the fact that his successes far outweigh his failures, in terms both of number and quality. I am only now figuring that out for myself, but Reagan knew it all along, and was able to accomplish great things because he knew it.

The other observation stems from an oversight in my previous one. I know next to nothing about the entertainment business, but acting was obviously an important part of Reagan's career. Thus, I realize now that famous statesmen would not have been the only ones welcoming him into Paradise: more specifically, I am sure Bob Hope was among the greeters as well. And a three-way conversation between Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, and Winston Churchill -- can you imagine that?

In remembrance (6/8/04)

I went into the past weekend believing much of my free time would be taken up with reflections on the significance of D-Day, and watching as many TV specials on the great invasion as I could. The only other things I had planned during those two days were to work a few hours of overtime on Saturday, and attend church in my ward on Sunday. My plans changed somewhat at around 2:30 Saturday afternoon, as I was pulling out of the parking lot of the Southeast Juvenile Court in Mesa, and on my car radio heard Dan Rather and a few other newspeople talking about Ronald Reagan. I assumed he had passed away, and of course learned a few minutes later that I had surmised correctly.

Thus was I left with much more to ponder over the historic weekend than I had anticipated. I arrived home and told my wife the news, and then remarked how appropriate it was that the 40th President should pass away on this particular weekend. June 6, after all -- the following day -- would be the 60th anniversary of D-Day, as well as the 20th anniversary of what I have always believed to be the finest speech Reagan ever gave, this one commemorating the 40th anniversary of the same event. Some who were present at that occasion -- as well as others, including myself, who viewed the proceeding from afar -- were moved to tears by his simple, yet majestic and poetic, words. ("These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.")

I think I can best summarize my feelings about Reagan with this story, which I shared with a few of you some time back. About five years ago, a co-worker asked me who I thought had been the greatest American President to serve during my lifetime, and without a moment's hesitation I answered, "Reagan." I then explained to my friend that I had not always felt thus. I have always voted Republican, and my political and social views are both profoundly conservative, and firmly entrenched. So I was naturally a member of Reagan's core constituency, and voted for him both times he ran for President -- with great enthusiasm in 1980, but with some reservations in 1984. In later years the Clinton scandals would badly undermine my faith in the mainstream news media, but in the 1980s I still trusted them, and throughout those years I heard a steady drumbeat of anti-Reagan sentiment being couched as objective news reporting. Reagan, I eventually learned, was an "amiable dunce," if not downright dumb. He was reckless, simplistic, jingoistic, and out of touch with the realities of twentieth-century realpolitik, to say nothing about the needs and aspirations of the American people. He simply did not understand how important it was that we learn to get along with the Soviet Union and live with them. At the time of the stock-market crash in October of 1987, and after a steady news diet of such morsels as the foregoing, I wrote in my journal about what a disappointment he had become in my eyes. Happily, though, I have long since repudiated that sentiment, and in my view, his stature has risen immeasurably as I, along with the rest of the world, have watched and marvelled at what this man of the supposedly "modestly-endowed" intellect and simplistic worldview was able to accomplish. With good reason, his portrait today graces the walls of innumerable homes and cottages in eastern Europe. (In this connection, I remember a speech he gave shortly after I was married. I watched it on the evening news. He was at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and against the backdrop of that famous landmark and the Wall that bisected the city, he said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" What an inspiring message, I thought; too bad there was no chance of that happening, at least in my lifetime. I was wrong, of course -- just as wrong as the newsmen and pundits who spent much of the '80s wringing their hands over the dire threat Reagan's numbskull ideas represented to the country, planet, universe, or whatever.)

For years I have been trying, without success, to pass along my children my sense of history, of the importance of appreciating the sacrifices others have made in order for us to have our freedoms and our way of life, and of the moral and spiritual values that have made America great, notwithstanding its numerous imperfections. I adhere to the hope they will eventually catch on. Ronald Reagan, of course, would want me to do just that. Colin is in Utah for much of the summer, and I doubt that he will pay much attention to this or any other news item while he is there. But over the years I have told him about Reagan, and what he meant to me, and how fortunate I reckon myself to have lived during his time. He was not perfect, of course, and some of the criticisms directed against him are, in my view, valid, even if Dan Rather and Peter Jennings happen to be the ones giving voice to them. But one does not have to be perfect to be great, and to paraphrase one memorable comment about FDR, I know there were many times when Reagan struck out -- but I know the batting average, too.

Just a few weeks ago, I read a wonderful book that I herewith recommend to one and all. It is How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, by Peter Robinson. I have been trying to encourage my son to read it. [A few months later, incidentally, he did.] I hope I will have better success with some of you. Please trust me on this -- the book is a treasure. You may even want to buy it. The final paragraph is especially moving and poignant at this time.

I am, of course, a religious man, and as such a firm believer in an afterlife with rewards and punishments. Saturday afternoon, shortly after 1 p.m. Pacific time, Ronald Reagan's long and remarkable journey ended, and his turn came to enter the paradise of God. I have spent much of this weekend wondering what kind of reception he got. I feel certain that he would have been greeted by a delegation of his peers, as it were: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, Truman, Ike. And perhaps Winston Churchill as well. With the ravages of Alzheimer's now behind him for good, Reagan would have entered with his mind fully restored, so in my mind's eye I picture him striding up to his greeters in that brisk, self-assured manner of his, and coming up with an appropriate one-liner for the occasion. There were probably some good witticisms exchanged between Mr. Reagan and Mr. Churchill.

As Edwin M. Stanton said of Lincoln, Ronald Reagan now belongs to the ages. I conclude with one final reflection. I think the closest historical precedent for this week's events was the death and funeral of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1969. Both men served as President at a somewhat advanced age, Ike being 70 when he left office, and Reagan 69 when he assumed it. Both were badly underestimated by their contemporaries, but lived long enough to see their statures rising with the passage of time and the gaining of historical perspective. Both passed away after lingering illnesses, and at a time when the nation was embroiled in a controversial and divisive war. When Ike died and was given an affectionate farewell by the nation he loved, Lyndon Johnson, who had recently left office himself, remarked that America would be a lonely land without him. I share the sentiment. After 35 years, I still miss Ike. And in the same way, I will always miss Reagan.