Recently my siblings and I met up Emigration Canyon near our childhood home to honor the life of our baby brother who died unexpectedly. As we sat under the pine trees listening to the familiar sound of the creek, I felt keenly that it was a heavenly blessing to grow up in Emigration Canyon surrounded by cousins and God’s magnificent and sprawling creation.
I felt a pang of melancholy that those experiences are gone forever. The canyon has changed. We have grown up. Nature has often been crowded by homes. Shangri la is gone.
I wondered if there was another place as magical. A suspicion arose inside me. Maybe all that I knew—and more—are available to people who are willing to create experiences in their minds.
I decided to travel again to the pond down the canyon around the big curve. A pleasant pond surrounded by trees. Hundreds of dragonflies skimmed the surface of the pond. Tadpoles darted. Water skeeters skated. Years ago, while wandering around the pond, I discovered an alcove in the hillside where a mother owl was raising four of her young. Magical!
I wondered, what would I do to make my time at the pond even better now? My heart knew the answer. I would invite my dad to join me. Suddenly dad was sitting with me next to the pond wearing his work clothes: tennis shoes, khakis, and a white t-shirt. It was great to have Dad with me! Dad always loved good companionship and lively gospel conversation. But, when he was alive, there were always dozens of tasks demanding his time. On this warm day in my imagination, Dad leaned back and asked me to tell him what I loved about this special place. I loved being with my kind, good, wise Father.
More invitations to create memories arrive at unexpected times. I am helping Nancy prune a neighbor’s wild yellow roses when I feel the call to revisit the exuberant tangle of wild roses next to my grandfather’s cabin in the canyon—a cabin that has now been gone for decades. As a child, I used to smell the roses as I played in the musty cabin. So, I pause today’s pruning in this far distant time and place, close my eyes, and bury my head in the neighbor’s roses. I go back to my childhood. And farther. I want to spend time with my grandmother who tended the cabin during the summers. I imagine Verna Wright Goddard coming to me. “Isn’t that a glorious smell, Wally! I love it as you do.” She paused and smiled. “Would you like some cold watermelon?” Grandma took my hand and led me to the kitchen of that rustic cabin. This new memory is especially precious since Grandma died when I was only a baby. I love creating shared experiences with Grandma.
When I studied Grandpa Wallace’s life, I felt a pang when I reflected that he lost the primary election for County Attorney after serving seven terms. I wondered what that was like for him. So, I decide to sit with him on that November evening in 1946 (years before I was born) when he realized that his term as the people’s attorney was coming to an end. Grandpa sat soberly. When he spoke, he told of the privilege of caring for the people of Salt Lake County. He expressed his love for them.
I like being a part of my ancestors’ lives. I think of other places I would like to visit. I would like to visit great grandpa Ben Goddard’s retirement social as he completed 27 years leading the Bureau of Information on Temple Square. I would like to see my tender grandma Wallace hold her firstborn daughter and say goodbyes before her little one died of pneumonia. The possibilities are limitless.
The invitation that beckons today is to spend time with my recently-departed brother. He may have been the purest person I have known in mortality. The teasing he bore as a child formed him into a man who would never knowingly hurt another person. So, I wonder, where and when would he want to meet? I think I know. I picture us sitting at a backyard barbecue at our parents’ house. As children laugh and adults prepare food, I ask him, “What do you love and admire most about each member of your family?” He radiates! “Oh, Wally! I love each of them!” He tells about the qualities he loves in his beloved wife—her faithfulness, goodness, and humor. He would like to continue to praise her but he also can’t wait to express love and admiration for their four daughters. “Each has amazing gifts! Our eldest has creativity and the ability to remain unruffled in tricky situations. Number 2 has gentle and insightful compassion. Our next endures with a heart full of peace and a joyful little tune. Our youngest has goodness and a delightful sense of humor.” I laugh at my brother. “They learned so many of those things from you, Brother!” My appreciation for my dear brother is brim. I can hardly believe that God has allowed me to know such an exemplary man!
I think it is too provincial to limit ourselves to the experiences that time, space, and budget have allowed. I think that God invites us to learn about people who are important to us and then create those encounters that will warm and enlarge our souls.
I have loved creating new memories with loved ones. A thousand joyous new adventures beckon.
(Descriptions of my brother’s children are adapted from a Facebook post by one of his daughters.)