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The Heart of Life

The Heart of Life: November 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010


The day of my high school graduation I asked my classmate to take a quick look at the speech I was giving that night--I planned to tell a story about her and a few of her friends and wanted to make sure they would be ok with that.

As she read through she pointed out a particular part to me. I had mentioned a few potential hardships that our class could face in the future, and one of them was, "We may make mistakes that will forever change our lives."

"That's me," she told me matter-of-factly. She had recently become a teenaged mother. The father wanted nothing to do with her or the baby. While the rest of us were trying to figure out where to go to college and what to major in, she was trying to figure out how to raise and provide for a child single-handedly.

She then pointed to the end of the paragraph. It read, "One thing is for sure: we will all be victims of hardship. And although we cannot pick and choose which hardships will be our own, we can control how we will react to them. It is our choice!"

"I believe this 100 percent," she said with conviction. "I've made some pretty big mistakes, but I know I have to have a good attitude about it. I want my son to have a good life."

And she did have a good attitude about it. On the top of her graduation cap she wrote in bold letters, "For my son!" And although one of the teachers made her cover it up for the ceremony, the words, "For my son," were still visible in her smile. Her life was complicated, but she was not conquered.

Three years later she was the mother of two little boys and had another baby on the way. She was unmarried and putting herself through nursing school. Things were not easy or simple for her, but she loved her kids and was making it work.

Three months ago Nicole was involved in a car accident. Nicole was in a coma for about a week and passed away on September 2, 2010. Throughout the week following the wreck, I checked her facebook profile regularly for her family's updates on how she was doing. Each time I looked at her profile I was touched by the sheer amount of beautiful and sincere posts her facebook friends had left for her. The day after Nicole died I went through and counted how many people had posted on her facebook wall since the day of the accident, and the number was well over 200. Her family and close friends still write on her wall frequently--her mom writes to her almost daily to give Nicole a report of how her boys are doing.

The life Nicole lived was not a glamorous one. And yet there are hundreds and hundreds of people who truly believe that Nicole's life was worth living. Hundreds of people were praying for her. Hundreds of people encouraged her to get better soon. Hundreds of people were concerned about her two little boys. Hundreds of people were sorry to hear that she had passed away.

Had Nicole recovered from the accident, I think she probably would have been a little surprised by the number of people who have been thinking of her. I know I would be. I think we all greatly underestimate our sphere of influence in this world. We find ourselves believing that the only people who care about us are our family and friends. This isn't true.

If you were to come across a person you had never met before who wasn't breathing, you would do everything in your power to save him. But why would you do that? You don't know him. Your life would not be different if he died. Your life would not be different if he lived. But you'd try to save him anyway, and not because of some legal or moral obligation you felt. You'd try to save him because something deep within you cares about this person you've never even spoken to. You'd do it because somehow you know his life is worth something.

Sometimes I forget that one of the greatest blessings in my life is to be alive. After all, there are billions of people who are just as alive as I am. It is the universal blessing shared by all who inhabit the earth, and this creates an incredible bond between all of humankind. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part this bond causes us to want the people around us to remain alive--whether we know them or not. Regardless of how we each choose to live our lives, there are hundreds and thousands and millions of people out there who sincerely want each of us to simply live. And that is a beautiful thing.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cutting Corners

A few days ago I rolled through a stop sign without coming to a complete stop.  I had a momentary flashback to my high school days when I was all about incomplete stops.  While cruising around the rural countryside, other cars on the road were few and far between, and thus I saw stop signs as a situational recommendation.  If another car was approaching the same intersection as me, I would gladly stop.  But if a quarter-mile before the stop sign I could clearly see that there were no cars for at least a half mile to the left or right, I simply slowed down as I went through the intersection.  Why would I take the time to stop completely when I knew there was nobody to stop for?

One day I picked my dad up from a field to drive him to where he'd left his pickup.  I rolled through a stop sign.  He asked why I didn't stop.  I sheepishly mumbled that I had slowed enough to completely stop if I needed to.  He asked me, "If someone was hanging a cinder block over your head and started lowering it, would you want them to completely stop or almost completely stop?"  Although I stubbornly thought to myself that nobody would ever hang a cinder block over my head, I understood his point.  He wanted me to obey the law completely, regardless of whether or not I thought it was necessary.

There have been several times in my life where I have cut corners and suffered the consequences, but one experience in particular haunts me to this day.  When I was 17, I awoke one summer morning to move my wheel lines and found that my brothers had gone out without me.  I was left with a four-wheeler I was unfamiliar with.  I rode out to the field, but by the time I was out there my brothers were almost done.  I sent them to go turn on the pump while I stayed out in the field to make sure all the lines looked good.

As I rode along the side of the field looking for plugged birds, I noted that water was spraying out of the top of one of the valve openers.  This annoyed me.  I pulled right next to it, hoping I could lean over and fix it without getting off the four-wheeler.  I was not successful, and was forced to get off the motorcycle.  However, I didn't bother shifting down to neutral first.  I knew it wasn't a wise thing to do, but I felt that in this situation nothing bad would happen.  As I worked to fix the valve opener, it became apparent that I needed to move the four-wheeler a little farther away; it was in the way.  I remembered that I had left it in gear and smiled to myself.  I wouldn't even have to get back on the four-wheeler to move it.  I could simply walk the four-wheeler a few steps forward.  What a convenient little shortcut I'd set up for myself!

Had I left in in first gear, all might have gone well.  But I had left in about third or fourth gear.  I twisted the handle just a bit, wanting to keep it slow, but something unexpected happened.  The four-wheeler gave a sudden jolt forward (probably because it was in such a high gear), and as it jolted my hand involuntarily twisted the accelerator.  The four-wheeler hurtled forward with a burst of speed, and I lost my grip on the handlebars.  Had I been more familiar with this particular four-wheeler, I would have known that the accelerator sticks and has to be manually untwisted in order to slow down.  However, I was not aware of this feature until that horrifying moment when I was left standing alone in that field watching the four-wheeler speed off along the side of the field without me on it.

I began awkwardly running after it in my thigh-high irrigation boots, my mind screaming in prayer, "Make it stop!"  The four-wheeler plowed over a riser, and a miniature geyser gushed out of the ground.  The four-wheeler then veered to the left into the neighboring field.  As it raced toward a wheel line, I hoped the heavy, water-filled line would stop the four-wheeler.  However, the four-wheeler happened to collide where two pipes connected and simply popped off the clamp and continued forward at break neck speed, leaving behind a trail of destruction.  The collision with the pipe caused the four-wheeler to change directions and it was headed toward a small clump of bushes and trees.  It disappeared for a moment, and I closed my eyes hoping something had stopped it.  But then I heard the four-wheeler roar, and it emerged from the bushes unscathed.  The four-wheeler finally met its match as it smashed into one of our wheel lines and could go forward no longer.

The four-wheeler wailed in protest as I breathlessly ran toward it.  I jumped on it and stomped on the shifter until it was in neutral.  The four-wheeler sighed when I turned the key off.  I sat there for a moment, waiting for my brain to catch up to my body.  I turned the four-wheeler back on and tried to get it into reverse, hoping that would somehow undo the damage.  It wasn't going anywhere.  I surveyed the situation in dismay.  This was not what I had pictured when I had dismounted the four-wheeler five minutes earlier.

Although nothing was harmed that morning that couldn't be replaced, it's still a chilling memory for me.  My heart skips a beat when I consider what could have happened if that wheel line hadn't stopped the four-wheeler.  What if it had made it all the way to the house our field bordered?  Kids lived there.  What if it had hit somebody?  What if it had made it all the way to the road?  What if it had hit a car?  It could have killed somebody.  And all because I cut a few corners.

How much harder would it have been for me to shift down to neutral before getting off the four-wheeler?  How much more time would it have taken for me to climb back on the four-wheeler to move it a couple feet forward?  Even if everything had gone well cutting those corners, would I have gained much?  Not really.  There are many laws and rules that I think are a little unnecessary in certain situations, but do I really gain much from cutting corners?  Rolling through a stop sign rather than coming to a complete stop doesn't save me more than a few seconds of time, and coming to a complete stop isn't really that inconvenient.  And yet I still do it.

Perhaps it is my pride.  Perhaps a small part of me smugly believes that because I am so responsible and have such good judgment, I am above the law.  However, people who are truly responsible enough to be above the law have no desire to break the law.  Responsible people who make good decisions do not cut corners.  Responsible people do not roll through stop signs.


Friday, November 12, 2010


I know an inestimable number of good men and women.  I know many men and woman who will do good things with their lives.  However, I have one friend in particular whom I believe is destined to be something a little more than just good.  In every conversation I have with him, I find myself thinking, "This man is going to do great things with his life."

What makes a person great?  Some people become great because of a special ability.  Michael Jordan became an NBA superstar because he had an above-average ability to play basketball.  Albert Einstein won a Nobel Prize because he was a highly intelligent individual.  Audrey Hepburn won a Grammy, an Emmy, an Academy, and a Tony Award because she excelled in acting.

Other people become great because of a great adversity they overcame.  Helen Keller became deaf and blind as the result of a childhood illness, and yet overcame these obstacles to become a world-famous author and speaker.  Oprah Winfrey grew up in poverty and was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, and yet she became a very successful talk show host.  Aimee Mullins was born without shinbones and wears prosthetic legs.  She is now a successful athlete and speaker.

Still others are great because they dedicated their lives to a particular cause.  Mother Theresa spent most of her life serving the sick and poor.  Mohandas Gandhi promoted freedom in India with his ideas of civil disobedience.  Throughout her life Jane Goodall has been actively promoting the protection of an animal she loves--chimpanzees.

When I consider these incredible vehicles that have led to greatness in some people, I can't help but wonder where my friend fits in.  He is a fairly average guy with fairly average abilities.  He hasn't overcome a life-changing obstacle.  He isn't planning on changing the world.  Can greatness exist without great ability, great adversity, or a great life-long mission?

I think William Kamkwamba gives us the answer to this question.

William Kamkwamba was great long before he made an appearance on TED.  He was great before he received recognition for his windmill, before he built a windmill, and before he began reading books on energy.  Building a windmill did not make him great; he built a windmill because he was great.  Perhaps greatness stems not from a specific ability, adversity, or mission.  Perhaps greatness is something that occurs within an individual long before it is manifested to the rest of the world.  Perhaps greatness lies dormant--silent--within an unsuspecting person until the opportunity to act upon this greatness arises.

All around us are people like my friend who are silently and mysteriously great.  Some learned to be great, and others appear to have been born that way.  Most of them will never get the opportunity to become world-famous.  However, greatness is not measured by how many people know about that greatness.  It is not even measured by how successful a great person is.  Greatness is measured by how hard a person tries.

Whether or not you think you are destined for greatness, I encourage you to still try.  It is likely that William Kamkwamba was not aware of his greatness when he first began reading science books in a library.  It is even less likely that at that point he realized the incredible potential this greatness gave to him.  Yet, he tried.  And he made it.


Saturday, November 6, 2010


When I was in high school I had an amazing history teacher/yearbook adviser. Sometime during my junior year she hung a sign in her room that said, "HIAD." After asking her several times what HIAD meant, she finally told my history class this story:

"When I was at Ricks College in 1978-1979, I worked part-time on campus for two professors. One of them was an amazing woman who probably taught me more than any single person, with the exception of my parents. On her office door were the letters HIAD. I walked in and out of this office for the better part of two semesters before I bothered to ask her what it meant. She was very pleased when I finally did ask, and told me she never shares the story unless someone wants to know.

"This professor had a brother who was a doctor. He became involved in something he shouldn't have and with people he should have stayed away from. I was never sure exactly what the deal was there, but guessed it had something to do with illegal prescription drugs or bad adoptions. He came to her one night and told her that there was a contract out for his murder and he knew that it was just a matter of time. He asked a favor of her. He wanted her to put the letters HIAD on her office door so students coming and going through the years would see them. It stands for "happiness is a decision."

"The brother was dead in less than a week, and the letters went up on the office door where they remained until her retirement from Ricks College. The professor's brother had made some bad choices, but wanted us to know that if we want to be happy in life, we make the decision and then work toward that goal. It is an important lesson for each of us, and has become a guiding thought in my own life. Without a doubt, I know that happiness truly is a decision each of us can make."

I have my own HIAD sign hanging in my bedroom and another smaller one on the dashboard of my car. Like these two women, I only tell people what it means if they ask; this post is the only exception I am willing to make in that matter. But regardless of how prominently the letters are placed throughout my life, I only very rarely consider the meaning behind HIAD.

Just an hour ago I sat on my bed with my back to the wall where my HIAD sign hangs thinking about a few things in my life that leave me feeling discouraged. After I had exhausted every negative thought in my brain on those matters I thought to myself, "Well. I guess I'll just deal with it." Had I turned around while I was sitting there on my bed maybe I would have remembered that happiness is a decision.

The attitude of "powering through" the tough stuff isn't necessarily a bad outlook to have. As human beings, we are by nature resilient. We are built to work through difficult things. But is that really what my life is about? Am I here to simply put up with every discouraging thing that happens to me? I think the answer is no. Life isn't all hearts and flowers, but I believe it is meant to be enjoyed. But before I (or anyone else) can truly enjoy life, I have to first decide to enjoy it.

Deciding to be happy is an awesome idea, but how does one put that into practice? Happiness isn't something you pick up at the store. Happiness is an incredibly elusive goal, because it's one that cannot be obtained directly. It's much like the goal of having good health. You can't become healthy by just wanting good health. You must exercise, eat right, and take care of your body first, and then a healthier body will be a natural result of those actions.

Aristotle said that happiness is "an activity of soul in accordance with virtue." Much like good health is the natural result of healthy habits, happiness is the natural result of virtuous actions. These virtuous actions can be religious, but do not have to be. Virtues like honesty, respect, generosity, loyalty, and patience are valued by a vast majority of the world.

The challenge is to decide whether or not to act upon these virtues. In deciding this, you indirectly decide to be happy or unhappy. But it's a decision only you can make.