Some time ago my family and I went on a short vacation over a long holiday weekend. Some wonderful friends invited us to their cabin near Lake Tahoe. This beautiful Sierra mountain setting provided a peaceful yet exciting place to rest a little, play a little, and take some time to renew our perspective on life.
One afternoon we wandered through an art fair, visually sampling the wares of talented artists and artisans. Contemplating the exquisitely hand-carved birds, well-thrown pots, and perfectly framed paintings and photographs provided an almost spiritual experience. Besides being incredibly talented, most of these vendors of art had obviously put heart and soul into their creations.
After seeing what we could, we boarded a little shuttle bus for a ride back to the cabin. Another family boarded with us. They appeared to be three generations-grandparents, children, and grandchildren-out for the same rich experience we had enjoyed. Everyone was in a good mood, so it came naturally to sing along with the Beatles tune that was blaring a little too loudly from the speakers mounted in the ceiling of the bus.
It wasn’t a contest, but it seemed the louder we sang, the louder the other family sang. The grandparents seemed to know the song best, but the children and grandchildren were definitely getting into it, and offered smiling approval of their parents’ attempt to harmonize with McCartney and Lennon.
Soon the bus stopped, and the three generations clambered off. As she entered the doorway of the bus, Grandma turned, looked with a pixie grin at the rest of us, and said, “Those who sing best get off first!” Before we could reply she was gone, just leaving us to think of what we might have said and didn’t. She won!
Soon after we arrived back at the cabin, I received a telephone call that caused my lightheartedness to dissolve quickly into sadness. A good friend, only recently diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, had suddenly passed away. He was a relatively young man and truly in his professional prime. Just a few weeks before, he had seemed so vital and enthusiastic about his work, his family, and his faith. He was gone too early.
It brought back memories of my father, who died of cancer at age fifty-six. He had so looked forward to the retirement he almost lived to see. My father was as good a man as ever there was and didn’t deserve to go at such an early age. Nor did my mother deserve his departure from this life and the companionless years that lay ahead for her.
I thought of the daughter of some dear friends, taken in her fresh-faced adolescence. I remembered a beautiful baby boy, placed in the arms of a loving adoptive couple who had waited so long for him to come into their family. The next time I saw him, he was lying in the silk folds of a tiny casket.
It often seems that the most wonderful, the most innocent, the most beautiful people are taken from us before we are at all ready to let them go. Maybe they were too good for this world or had a mission to perform in another sphere. Like the family on the bus, sometimes those who sing best get off first, leaving us thinking of things we might have said or wish we could. They win.
Time doesn’t dictate the fullness of a life. Sometimes life is shortest for the best of us.
Don H. Staheli holds a bachelor’s degree in history and master’s degrees in international management and social work. He has lovingly assisted thousands of people in his work as a licensed clinical social worker and trainer. He has served for over 37 years with the Church Educational System, the Family History Department, the Missionary Department, LDS Family Services, the Office of the President, and, currently, in the Office of the Quorum of the Twelve. He is the author of the bestselling children’s book The Story of the Walnut Tree, It’s the Principle of the Thing, Just Hold Me, and (with Lloyd Newell) The Healer’s Art, and frequently writes for Music and the Spoken Word. Don, with his wonderful wife Cyndy, presided over the France Paris Mission. They have five children and 14 grandchildren and live in Bountiful, Utah.