Sunday, April 30, 2006

4000 and counting

Every Sunday, whenever I can, I watch or listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's weekly broadcast, "Music and the Spoken Word." (I have always loved the Choir, and have attended several of its broadcasts in person, the first of them during a weekend visit to Salt Lake City in August, 1971.) I watched today's broadcast three times on the BYU Channel, which is twice more than usual on a given Sunday; but then, this was no ordinary broadcast, either. The weekly Choir broadcast began on Sunday, July 15, 1929, and has not missed a beat in the nearly 77 years since. Thus, today's broadcast was the 4000th in this well-established weekly tradition.

Today's commemorative broadcast featured guest appearances by several dignitaries, each of whom introduced the next number to be performed. The guests included TV and radio host Charles Osgood; President Gordon B. Hinckley of the LDS Church; former Choir director Dr. Jerrold Ottley; and President George W. Bush. The numbers included two of my favorite hymns, "How Firm a Foundation" and "Come, Come Ye Saints." (The latter hymn, incidentally, was announced by President Bush and was the last one performed during the half-hour program. It was an inspiring, triumphant arrangement of this beloved pioneer anthem, in which the final verse -- which speaks of dying before the journey's through -- is all too often played and sung as if it were a dirge. There was certainly no hint of the dirge in today's version of it!)

As I watched the broadcast, I reflected back on another Sunday back in 1986, when I skipped church. That is something I almost never do, but on that particular Sunday I felt I had good reason, and I have never regretted the decision I made that day. That was during the last year I was single, and at the time I was living in a basement apartment in the Federal Heights area in Salt Lake City. I walked from where I lived to the Salt Lake Tabernacle, a distance of perhaps 3 miles, and attended the Choir's 3000th broadcast in person. That one was great, but I think today's may have been better.

Meanwhile, speaking for myself, I look forward to hearing many more broadcasts "from within the shadows of the everlasting hills," as the narrator always says at the end of each week's program. If I am still around for the 5000th broadcast, I will be in my 70s then.

(Update: A Deseret Morning News story about the landmark 4000th broadcast may be found here.)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Middle-age reflections

I read this column by Tom Purcell in today's edition of Jewish World Review, and it mirrors some of my own thinking at this point in my life. Mr. Purcell reflects on turning 44, whereas I will be 53 in a few weeks, which puts me a bit further along on life's journey, at least from the actuarial standpoint. But middle age is one of the great equalizers in life, as I discovered when I went to my 25-year high-school class reunion back in 1996, when the surviving members of Greenville High School's Class of 1971 were all around 43 years of age. My outstanding impression of that event was that everyone in the class had, by that time, undergone some kind of serious, life-changing adversity, be it a divorce, financial struggles, health problems, wayward children -- or even, in one or two cases, the death of a child. And as little, heretofore-unknown aches and pains set in and establish permanent residence in my body, I, like everyone else who arrives at middle age, spend more time than before reflecting on the fact of my own mortality. Yet another reminder of it came in a different form yesterday, when death suddenly claimed one of our two pet cockatiels, which reminded us as well that even the most adorable of creatures do not live forever. Chances are pretty good that our other two birds will be gone within another couple of years or so; Oochie is now about 8 years old, and Elbie Jaye, the parakeet, about two.

Mr. Purcell makes a good point about the need to look ahead, but that is difficult for me. By nature I tend to be brooding and introspective, and the trail of my life is littered with the residue of foolishness and mistakes a-plenty. And the journey has been just plain difficult, as I have often observed in this blog and elsewhere. I have told several friends lately that I figure about 80 percent of my life just flat-out sucks, what with a chronically ill and severely depressed wife who clearly is never going to get better, a son about to enter (nominal) adulthood beset with plenty of troubles of his own and nowhere close to being ready for the great change in his life, and the knowledge that I have gone just about as far professionally as my abilities and circumstances are going to take me -- which, as I have said, means I am never going to be anyone's poster-boy for worldly success. But I have also decided that the key to maintaining my perspective, as well as my sanity, is to focus on the other 20% of my life, which is actually going very well: my involvement with my church, my array of treasured friendships, and my photography, to mention a few of its bright spots. I take a good deal of solace from the fact that I have a job I enjoy, and which also, by all accounts, I actually do well; better late than never, I say. And there is my marriage, too; in the most difficult of times Sheila and I have faced together, we have always been able to get along exceptionally well, and I am grateful for that. Apart from her health and overall well-being, there isn't much about her that I would really care to change.

Meanwhile, the clock of my life keeps ticking. I recently got another haircut, which I am doing about once every three months now; and every time I have it done, I notice more and more gray among the clippings that fall on my chest and shoulders. I don't really mind that part of it, though, as I figure I have earned my right to every one of those gray hairs. And as sparsely inhabited as my noggin is, I am grateful even to have enough hair that people actually notice the graying!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sad Sunday-afternoon duty

Sad Sunday-afternoon duty
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
I returned home from church this afternoon and found one of our two pet cockatiels dead in her cage. This picture and the accompanying description, posted on Flickr shortly after I buried Ceci, tell the complete story. It has been a sad Sunday for me, and for my wife and daughter as well. Colin has not yet been told of this, but the news will sadden him, too.

Friday, April 21, 2006

I'm buying this book!

In today's edition of Meridian Magazine, I found this review of a book I most assuredly am going to purchase, and then read thoughtfully, probably more than once. The book was written by Ann Madsen, and is reviewed here by her husband, Dr. Truman Madsen. I wish I could supply a copy of it to my young Iranian friend, who I suspect would feel very much at home in the company of the twelve women who are the subjects of this book.

(Update: I ordered the book a few hours after posting this entry. Also, Barney has brought my attention to another link, which features some reviews and comments about this book. It may be found here. )

Friday, April 14, 2006

He is risen indeed!

Christus statue
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
I thought this image, which I captured during a visit to Utah about six months ago, would be appropriate for posting here as we go into Easter weekend.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The sunset I almost missed

The sunset I almost missed
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
Read the story and see how I almost missed this beautiful sunset. Almost -- but fortunately, not quite!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Sunrise on the Peralta Trail

Sunrise on the Peralta Trail
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
Another image captured during our ward campout. I arose at 5:40 in the morning after an uncomfortable night (spent in the backseat of our car), and set out to get some good sunrise photos. This opportunity presented itself, and I was immediately reminded of a similar image I captured on Thanksgiving Day last year. (See my archives for November, 2005.)

Postcard photo

Peralta Trail landscape 2
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
I took this picture about two hours before sunset, shortly after arriving at the site of our annual ward campout, accompanied by Vanessa and her friend Haley Jensen. I thought the result looked almost like something one would see in Arizona Highways magazine. I was very fortunate because of the time of day -- tones are warmer just before sunset -- as well as the fact that I put my circular polarizer to good use in capturing this image.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

New permanent link

This morning I added a new permanent link to this blog. The site is called "Florence Live!" and, if nothing else, it will probably keep Erika and me occupied for hours on end. I learned about its existence only night before last, after I purchased the paperback edition of Heloise & Abelard, by James Burge, at Border's in Mesa. After I arrived home and started browsing through the book, I was delighted to learn that (1) the same author is about to publish a new book, titled Dante & Beatrice, and (2) that the first chapter of that book had been inserted at the end of the one I had just purchased, enabling me to have a sneak preview of it right there on the spot. I was up until nearly midnight reading that chapter, from which I learned of the existence of this website, one of whose features is a live webcam view of the north end of the Ponte Santa Trinita'. That location is traditionally held to be the site of Dante's fateful meeting with Beatrice and her two friends sometime in the year 1284. (Henry Holliday's famous, though inaccurate, depiction of this encounter may be found here.)

The chapter, by the way, concludes thus, offering some consolation to a Dante enthusiast who himself has had a rather checkered life:

"He ends the Vita Nuova by saying that from then on it was his intention to write about Beatrice in a way that no one had ever written about a woman before. Despite the fact that he was destined to lead a life that, for all his undoubted genius, was to be characterized by a pattern of repeated failures and disappointments, nobody could deny that he did indeed achieve that."

Truer words, in my judgment, have never been written.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Unretouched sunset

Unretouched sunset
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
This image of today's sunset was not run through Photoshop or any other photo-editing software. This is exactly the way the camera captured it, in other words. For this one, I used my Quantaray 70-300mm zoom lens, set at 112mm. It was taken from the street directly in front of our house, and those two giant palm trees at the corner are by now a familiar sight to those who view my Flickr photostream.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Reagan's Finest Hour remembered

This past Thursday, March 30, I noted the 25th anniversary of the failed assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, who had taken office only 10 weeks previously. I remember the day well. I was a first-year law student at the time, and was having lunch in the BYU cafeteria with an old missionary buddy when one of my classmates interrupted our conversation to tell me the news. I skipped the rest of my classes for the day, and spent the entire afternoon riveted to a television set in the old Memorial Lounge in the Wilkinson Center, watching the late Frank Reynolds of ABC as he anchored the network's coverage of this latest in a long string of national traumas. At first it was thought that Reagan had escaped injury, and I remember the look of shock and horror on Reynolds's face as he was handed a report confirming the worst.

Or not quite the worst. It must have been a couple of hours after that when Reynolds told his viewers that Reagan, while on the operating table and about to be put under anesthesia, had quipped to his surgical team, "I hope you're all Republicans!" As I recorded later that evening in my journal, at that moment I knew the President was going to survive and recover. And did he ever, as later events attest.

I am posting this a few days after the anniversary because it is only today that I have found an appropriate link to include with my own reflections. Read this piece in National Review, which says what needs to be said about this event far better than I could express it myself.

To raise a mensch

I have expressed elsewhere on this site my fundamental desire to be a mensch. Jeff Jacoby presents some thoughts on how to create one, in this column, which he submits annually in the form of a letter to his son.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Conference sunset

Conference sunset
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
For those who have read my previous post, you will want to know that I was able to participate in the Madsens' post-Conference gathering in real time after all. For much of it, I sat in our backyard patio, next to our swimming pool, watching the sun go down as I listened to the discussion over the phone, adding comments of my own from time to time. Being the sunset lover that I am, I couldn't resist capturing an image or two, which enabled me, in effect, to enjoy two spiritual experiences at the same time. I remained on the line through the very end of the gathering, after the group had sung "Love At Home," and Truman Madsen offered the benediction.

This photo is affectionately dedicated to Barney and Cindy and their extended family, who have effectively made me a part of it as well. Click on the image and read the descripton which follows.

Day 2 Conference reflections

About an hour and a half ago as I compose these lines, the 176th Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to an end, although we always know there will be another such Conference six months later, which gives us time enough to digest it before we need to be spiritually recharged by the next one. This one is just a little sad for me, however, because tonight, for the first time since they became a regular part of my spiritual life about nine years ago, I will not be participating in real time in the Madsens' post-Conference wrapup. I attended both of them in person last year, and up till now, when I have been unable to be present in person, I always took part through a cellphone connection, with the phone being passed around from one person to another. Barney and Cindy have decided, however, that the cellphone is a bit of a hassle, which I understand; and when Barney and I tried earlier today to see if we could do this by means of a Yahoo Messenger voice connection, we learned that this was impossible because Yahoo does not have the Messenger voice software available for Macs. So unless things change in the next half-hour or so, they will simply record the gathering on a CD and mail it to me, and my e-mails with my own Conference reflections will be read aloud to the group when my normal turn comes up in the rotation. (They always start with the youngest person in the group, and work their way up to Truman Madsen, who closes the discussion, and always holds everyone's rapt attention as he does so. He is about 80 now.) This is all right with me, actually, because now I can look forward to getting that CD in the mail; and since I will be taking this entire week off work, I should have plenty of time to listen to it. Besides, audio quality should be much better than it was with that cellphone anyway.

I sent Barney an e-mail this morning, in which I wrote down my impressions of the Conference up to that point. Because it included some material that I feel should only be shared with that group, I will not say anything about it here, except that the talks given by President Hinckley and Elder Dallin H. Oaks in this morning's session are the two that left the strongest impressions on me. They are the ones I am least likely ever to forget. Nearly every Conference includes at least one talk which affects me in a profound way, and these were the two which did so this time.

My one outstanding overall impression has been the emphasis so many speakers put on our need to be good neighbors, and to avoid the contention, exclusivism, and nitpicky, hair-splitting arguments which so often characterize religious discourse. It was reassuring to me to hear in a Conference setting about something which, by just about all accounts, I have actually already succeeded in doing quite well. My own religious convictions, as I have said here and elsewhere, are what they are, and I make no apology for them; and I am also conscious of the need to share them with others in a positive, nonconfrontational way. But if anyone ever questions whether I am a Christian because of my particular church affiliation, I hope I will at least give them no reason to ask that question because of my personal conduct, or the way I treat others -- particularly those who do not agree with me. Which, of course, includes the vast majority of the world's population.

Whenever a General Conference ends, I always feel as if a glorious symphony or opera has just concluded; but it is reassuring to me to know that there will be another performance in a mere six months, and that it will be every bit as good as this one was. The gospel well never runs dry. Meanwhile, I think I will start a new practice with this Conference, by purchasing a set of the CD recordings of it as soon as they become available at Deseret Book, or the Distribution Centers. They could thus provide me with hours and hours of spiritual feasting between now and that eagerly-anticipated first weekend in October.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Some thoughts on General Conference, Day 1

I watched both of today's general sessions of the Conference at home on the BYU Channel, and was starting to prepare to attend the priesthood session when my wife told me there was a rather puzzling phone message for me. She had me listen to it, and to me it was not puzzling at all, so I immediately returned the call and was on the phone for perhaps 20 minutes. It was a friend of mine who needed to vent about the way she had been treated by an LDS couple with whom we are both acquainted, and after hearing her story, I had to agree with her that she had been treated pretty horribly by the people in question. She felt safe about venting to me, and assured me that she had high regard for Latter-day Saints in general, so the conversation ended on a positive note. I then swam some laps in our pool, got into my Sunday clothes, and headed for the stake center, where the priesthood session was to be shown on closed-circuit television.

Last year I was in Utah during both General Conferences, and I wish I could have been there for this one as well. I missed being with the Madsens, who practically are family to me. At about 5:30, as I arrived at the stake center and started reading my scriptures for the day as I waited for the session to begin, I knew Barney, his dad, and the other priesthood holders in his extended clan would just be ending their traditional pre-session meal and starting the walk down the hill from Truman Madsen's home to the Marriott Center at BYU, where they would watch the same telecast I was about to see. Later they would meet again at Dr. Madsen's for the banana splits that are also part of their Conference tradition. (They eat the banana splits while discussing their thoughts about the session.) I was present in spirit, as I always am at this time of the year; and I knew that although I could not be present with them physically, we were still sharing a wonderful spiritual experience, which of course was the really important thing anyway. Besides, in one sense it may actually be better for me that I was not there for this Conference, because at the beginning of this year I decided I needed to lose about 15 pounds, but unfortunately have instead gained 7 more since then. The banana splits would not have helped, since I have a definite weakness for ice cream and cookies. (I'm not giving up, though; now that the days are getting longer and our backyard pool is finally warm enough to start using every day, I will be swimming and riding my bike again regularly.)

It's late at night as I compose these lines, and I will have more to say later about Conference. But my outstanding impression of the priesthood session was that President Hinckley, who spoke in it for the first time in this General Conference, appeared in fine form, although he looked older and had visibly lost some weight since his cancer surgery a couple of months ago. (I wish I could send him a few of my extra pounds!) In his talk, he denounced members of the Church who ridicule or otherwise mistreat people who are not LDS. He told the story of a teenager who grew up hating Mormons for ridiculing him and his beliefs, and vowed that he would never have anything to do with us, or with our church. Needless to say, President Hinckley did not commend the people who had treated this young man so shabbily; but fortunately, the story does have a happy ending. This same young man was later befriended by another Latter-day Saint who set a much better example for him, as a result of which he was baptized, and at last report had recently been married in the temple. Most of us mean well, but there are some real turkeys among us, too.

I thought about that story in the context of my phone call earlier in the day, as well as another story of my own, which is worth recounting here. I know a young woman named Nicole Siqueiros, who works as bailiff in the Superior Court, to whom I recited a long passage of Dante when I helped interview her for a job several weeks ago. (She spoke excellent Italian and loved Renaissance literature, and she positively glowed as I recited the passage to her from memory. It was the first 15 lines of Canto XXIV of Inferno -- in the original 14th-century Italian, of course.) Not long ago, I had occasion to see Nicole again, and during our conversation, she asked me if I was a Mormon. When I replied that I was, she said she had had some bad experiences with Mormons after moving into an LDS neighborhood in Mesa during her childhood. The LDS children had not been allowed to play with her -- because she was Catholic. It offended me that my friend had been treated this way by people who clearly should have known better, although I also recognized that by the very fact that she was telling me this story, she was paying me a high compliment. It suggested that she trusted me enough to feel comfortable about discussing this with me, and that in addition, she was confident that her experience with this Mormon would be much better than her previous one. (I told her that if it wasn't, she had permission to give me a good, hard, swift kick in the backside, which in that case I would richly deserve.)

I complain about those who accuse us of not being Christian, and in fact posted something about that here only a few days ago. While I believe it is unfair to assert that Latter-day Saints are not Christian because we do not believe the Trinity is metaphysically one, or because we believe in extra-Biblical scripture, eternal progression, or some other doctrine, I have to agree that a non-LDS person who saw the kind of conduct President Hinckley denounced so vigorously tonight would have good reason to wonder about us. I hope his remarks struck their intended targets very hard -- especially the people my two friends denounced to me.

Meanwhile, the unretarded earth continues to roll upon its wings, and I need to get to bed. Conference will beckon again tomorrow, an hour earlier because at 2 a.m. Sunday morning, Utah will join most of the rest of the country in going on Daylight Savings Time. (Arizona, however, will not, which means Conference will start here at 9:00 a.m.)

Hef's "legacy"

A couple of observations are in order before I get to the main topic of this post. The first is that I am both deeply religious and introspective by nature, so at age 52 -- "gia' descendendo l'arco di miei anni," in the words of Dante -- and as I begin to have to deal with some of the aches and pains which I refer to as "gentle reminders of my mortality," I spend more time than I used to thinking about the meaning of my life, what I have accomplished (if anything), and how I will fare when one day I have to answer to God for what I have done with it. I already know that I am not, and never will be, anyone's poster-boy for worldly success, and that scattered along the course of my journey there have been foolishness, mistakes, sins, embarrassments, and assorted blunders a-plenty. But I can also hope, with some degree of assurance, that when I am gone, those I leave behind will at least give me credit for having been decent, kind, honest, well-intentioned, and willing to learn from my mistakes. I hope they will also agree that I appealed to the better and nobler instincts of the people I knew, befriended, and loved -- just as those people did for me, I might add; that I appreciated virtue, excellence, and beauty wherever I found them; and that I at least tried to be a faithful Latter-day Saint, and to do my duty before God as I saw it. If all of that happens, I suppose I won't have too much to regret, in spite of everything else. (Perhaps I should listen once again to Elder Robert D. Hales's General Conference talk this morning; according to him, I probably spend too much time wringing my hands over the past. But that's another matter.)

The second, which came to mind as I read the article I will be posting in a moment, is that for all the mistakes I've made, I have also managed to do a few things unquestionably right. One of these was that I reserved sex for marriage, even though I did not tie the knot until about three weeks before my 34th birthday. I told a friend once that this was not the easiest thing I have ever done, nor was it the most difficult; but it was definitely one of the best things I have ever done. (Parenthetically, I realize that a lot of people whom I hold in high regard are unable to make this claim, and I am not here to condemn or pass judgment on any of them. I doubt that I would have passed this particular test of virtue myself, had I not, at an early age, embraced a religious faith which incorporated a strict moral code. The possibility of excommunication or disfellowshipment has, in my case, acted as a very powerful deterrent, although I should add that my desire and appreciation for such things as trust, spiritual fulfillment, and association with women I could respect have also served as an equally powerful incentive.)

Yet another hat-tip to Julie, at Happy Catholic, is in order for bringing this article to my attention. It concerns Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, and his obsessions about his own personal legacy, such as it is, as he approaches his 80th birthday. My life has by no means been perfect; but even so, I don't think I would care to trade mine for his.

Misha and friends

Misha and friends
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
This image is really nothing more than a snapshot, but I had a lot of fun taking it, posting it to Flickr, and writing the description which follows it. There is a rather lengthy story behind this photo; to read it, just click on the image itself.