By Marvin Payne

This is Marvin Payne’s 101st column on Meridian.

Twice a year I get my column to the Meridian Editors on time. They are on the months that I’m assigned to write an article for the ward newsletter. The ward newsletter always appears on the first Sunday of the month, and Backstage Graffiti isn’t due until the second Wednesday.

It’s good to have this structure in our lives, these deadlines for service. I’m reminded of the guy who made his home teaching visits with perfect reliability for ten months of each year. His quorum president finally asked him why, with such obvious devotion to his families and respect for the monthly requirement, he would always miss two months. He answered that you can’t very well expect people to welcome a home teaching visit on Halloween or New Year’s Eve. Duh. (He belonged to that class of home teacher who sat, patiently listening, while another elder in quorum meeting bragged that he loved his families so much that he always visited them on the very first day of each month. Finally he had to speak up. “I love mine even more-I go on the night before he does.”)

So here it is. January’s article. But because I’m limited to one page in the ward newsletter, and on the Internet you can go on forEVer, I’m providing some extra inserted background information. Most of it is either self-serving or mere lily-gilt, but whereas the ward expects me to preach and then get the heck out of the way so they can move on to the page of preparedness hints, you have come to expect a certain measure of smart-aleckiness. (And preparedness hints in Meridian fill archives roughly the size of the library at Alexandria-a library which, ironically, was itself disastrously shy on preparedness hints.) These few exclusive-to-Meridian-and-its-googolplex-readers elaborations will be enclosed in brackets.

“Fifteen years ago I was a pirate. It was in a cheesy promotional film, but it got me and Laurie to Kauai for a week, so I buckled and swashed without complaint.”

[The project was full of adventure: getting blown up in a skull-shaped cave, taking my only helicopter ride ever along the Na Pali coast (go to the temple-you’ll see the very spot) to a lonely valley of pre-historic terraces built by a nearly-mythical race of tiny people called Menehune, swordfighting a slightly more swashbuckling hero than myself (played by a guy who’s now starring in “Hair” on Broadway, which, I think, is appropriate, given that the guy, Will Swensen, is downright hirsute ((not, as Isaac admitted of himself when questioning his mother’s scheme to impersonate Esau, “a smooth man”)) ) on the bank of a pool where dinosaurs roamed in Jurassic Park-stuff like that. (In our movie, the pool had lots more water than it did in Jurassic Park. This is because it’s just downstream from the wettest point on planet Earth and the Jurassic Park crew was there at a different part of the day, a dryer part ((now this may not be impressive to Meridian Readers who inhabit wetter planets than ours, but it means a lot to us earthlings, okay?)) ).]

“.Kauai is a place of awesome grace and explosions of beauty. Being there was a romantic joy.”

[Although when you go, I would suggest not wearing tall leather boots, a long high-collared red woolen coat, a heavy felt hat, and very long and scratchy false hair most of the time.]

“One of our souvenirs was, of course, a lei of luscious frangipani and other unnamed floral wonders. It’s still hanging from a beam in the ceiling of our cabin (the Hawaiians hang them in the branches of the trees when they’re done with them). “

[The leis are perfectly biodegradable. In Hawaii, cars are biodegradable.]

“.The blossoms dried rapidly, then began very slowly to fade.

“.My former mother-in-law passed away on this Christmas Day, 2009, early in the morning.  She was very old and had been fading for many years.”

[One of the last times I saw her was at my daughter’s wedding a couple of years back. I went over to her several times during the afternoon with the idea of just catching up, and each time she greeted me with warmth and surprise, as though we hadn’t seen each other in years. I sort of envied her ability to re-live and savor moments that the rest of us just wrote off as “past.” That very day, there were many new and pleasant greetings, tastes, discoveries, and sights that were already beginning to brown in the refrigerator of my mind, while she just enjoyed them over and over. One of the reasons I discourage word searches, image searches, and idea searches in the archives of Backstage Graffiti is that you may discover that I’ve begun to enjoy that ability a little, myself.]

[And hey, why does “fridge” have a “d” when “refrigerator” doesn’t? And “Frigidaire’s” “d” is way later. What’s up with that? Is it because then we’d have “frige,” which people would be tempted to rhyme with “oblige”? (We have plenty of temptations without that one, thank you very much.)]

“.But her life on Earth was one of quiet grace and occasional explosions of beauty. The quiet grace was always there, but the explosions of beauty blossomed subtly in words of praise, or bursts of flavor in food lovingly prepared, or less subtly in cascades of worshipful passion drawn with fingers and dancing feet from monstrous pipe organs. She made children. She made dinner. She made music. She made joy.”

[This cannot be overstated. She was a musical wizardess, a prize-winning kindergarten teacher, a genetically potent progenitor, and a wonderful enough cook that whenever we went to visit (usually at Christmas), I stopped off at Deseret Industries first and picked up some wider pants.]

“.I couldn’t get to the distant funeral, but I’ve been to others-seen the remains of loved ones hopelessly faded under the makeup, seen the washed out snapshots lined up in the foyer. Still, like the dusty lei, these fading souvenirs of their lives summon a rush of breathing memory and the fragrance of where we were when beautiful things happened to us together.”

[This next is the part I’ve been waiting for six months to share with my ward family, whom I love.]

“.I have a thriving faith that she is welcomed and cherished by the Master she served so well. Elder Merrill Bateman suggested to us in general conference a few years ago that in Gethsemane our Savior engaged each of us individually somehow, that each of us had his full attention for some appropriate period of time during his suffering there. Elder Bateman didn’t go farther than that-I got the feeling that he didn’t think he could-but that thought electrified me and humbled me. We might well ask how such a thing could happen in a single night-so many millions of Father’s children, so many million moments in the lives of each, so many million choices, so many million wounds, so many million tears, so many million colors in the hearts of each of us. But the Savior is the Master of Time, not its servant. Joseph Smith said that all periods of time-past, present, and future-are a single “now” to the Lord. He could make it work, if He wished. Perhaps the length of the Savior’s atonement far exceeded the lengths of his apostle’s naps. He could have met with me in the garden for as long as it took, and with you. Or, if his atonement required understanding the depths of some pain or promise between the two of us, He could have met with you and me together. Or with our quorum, or our ward family. Or our nation. The miraculous mechanics of the atonement are light years beyond us.”

[So what else is new?]

“.Ultimately it’s Ruby Mattson Pappas alone with her Savior, both in Gethsemane and at Judgement. But because He loved her in Gethsemane, she will not be a stranger at Judgement. And because He cried with her in that dark yesterday, He can laugh with her in a bright tomorrow. Or, since early Christmas morning, in a bright today.”

So happy New Year. And as we launch recklessly into the next hundred columns, thanks for your grace, patience, and kind words. (I guess I’m talking to the earthlings, here, because when my inter-galactic readers email me, I can’t understand a thing they say. Thank heaven for ” :).”)

Return to Top of Article


    Daily news, articles, videos and podcasts sent straight to your inbox.