Merry Christmas from Tom and family!
This summer, I was sitting in a nice chair on the beach in Florida, thinking about how I could have been a great wide receiver or fighter pilot. I can catch a football really well, and I built models of a lot of fighter planes, so I’m sure I could have figured the rest out, like Rooster and all of them. But, I do like being a professor and I think it’s been a good thing for me. At some point, though, you get sick of the thing you teach and practice, and as time goes on I seem to become less interested in typography and user experience and just wish I was maybe a clown, or a Churchill historian or a cartographer, or maybe a Florida meteorologist, or an air crash investigator or possibly even a pastry influencer. Is it too late? I mean, lately I’ve truly run into that strange time in just-post-mid life when you realize that, no, it actually IS too late for me to be chosen to perform ballet at a very high level or be tapped to take up lead for Van Halen or make it through a morning of Navy SEAL hell week. It’s just not going to happen. It’s a bizarre wake-up call and must be rumblings of an impending mid-life crisis. As I think about it, maybe the late 40s or early 50s are the just-about-to-explode-with-diarrhea phase of life, and you totally sense it coming and start frantically looking for the proverbial facilities. That’s weird. Still, it’s not impossible that I could do community theatre, join one of those awkward kickball leagues, or learn to respect pickle ball or start whittling, I don’t know. I’ll try some new things. I still very much hate the thought of going streaking, though, and I will not, will not, do it.
One life lesson we learned this year is that you can mistakenly push the car’s engine start/stop button while going 75 on a highway, and, in fact, the engine shuts off. Not everything stops at that point, though. For instance, we observed that as soon as the car’s engine shuts off at high speed, while being followed closely by a semi, a scandalous detonation of cursing erupts from all the adult mouths. Previously, I had thought that most car-related cursing occurred when the car’s bluetooth steals the mother-loving phone call at the worst times, but now know it’s the sudden lack of an engine sound while moving at 75 mph. This two-lane Arkansas highway experience was some sort of parable or life metaphor, or whatever, and we got the point, and I’m not ever going to magnanimously purr to Adriane the driver, “Hey, press the hazard lights button real quick to thank the semi for letting us pass,” because in the moment all the buttons look kind of the same, and the soap we would need to wash out our mouths after that would probably kill us.
My posture is continuing to get worse, and I shuffle along pushing the cart in Walmart behind Adriane like a reanimated Marty Feldman. She has subsequently bought me a series of medieval straightening harnesses and a tiny back taser and I wear them occasionally, which will totally help. Most importantly, I continue to see my main job as Adriane’s husband as helping her fly and be who she needs to, while at the same time saving her from herself. It’s a complex juggling act of sometimes doing what she says, pretending to consider things she suggests, discerning what I should hear and pretend to hear, and when, employing a savvy tone of voice per scenario, and when to gently suggest things like maybe just settling in for some occasional “reading time” with “some of those good books we have.” Recently, during the fourth evening party in as many nights, DURING IT, she said, “Honey, we need to have some parties!” somehow not sensing the dozens of people pin-balling around the kitchen with bowls of soup and funny sweaters. She has been going to bed really early (which she justifies by calling it “reverse sleeping-in”). She is always declaring that she needs “more white space” in her life–you know, that mythical idea of having that blank canvas of time with nothing to do, as she fills every minute of every day purposefully, usually thinking about all those pesky people in society and what they need. She has this old, weird notion that “self care” can occur by just focusing on other people. I blame all of her Mormon Pioneer ancestors who sold their houses, put everything on carts and pulled them across the country in bad weather, then formed choirs, built temples or left to do mission work in the South Pacific – nothing could stop them, and she’s one of them through and through.
Meanwhile, I learned recently that I’m a direct descendent of William the Silent, the Netherlands’ Prince of Orange (you know, still seen in those guys in monstrous orange jerseys that blew the US out of the World Cup), and I know with the moniker “the Silent” that Adriane isn’t much thrilled, or surprised. There are times that I don’t speak too much, because I’m thinking about something, or nothing, and now I have someone to blame, which puts me so in vogue. Even though I descend from him through my Mother’s side, my Dad has always believed that people should be assigned a certain limited number of words they may speak per day before the duct tape team is summoned, and I tend to agree. I am seeing that William was the first head of state to be assassinated by handgun, so at some point he must have said something to someone.
Olivia drives with a permit now – our most recent and now final donation to the utter destruction of the environment, the planet, all of humanity, and soon a gift to any drive-thru with nuggets and smoothies. But I’m soon to be completely deprived of my favorite one-on-one time of taxi-driving around with my girls, submitting them to ELO, Styx or Queen depending on mood and trip duration. She even, inexplicably, has entered the halls of our Fayetteville High School, the latest and final Hapgood girl to be a Purple Bulldog. As much as I want, I can hum to myself “Oh darlin’ don’t you ever grow up, don’t you ever grow up, just stay this little?” and I can try to hold it all back, but time just pushes into my Poland on a summer morning with overwhelming armor and dive bombers, and that was weird to type, but sometimes I hate the onslaught of time. She thrives as a soccer attacker, and as this soccer style of high school years gets more physical and aggressive I love the symbolism of yanking an opponent’s jersey to drop them to the ground to clear them out of your way as you head to the goal. It builds tough people, because they also pull each other up off the ground at some point during the match. She’s the cutest, and so motivated, and caring, yet time is not on my side.
As I write this, I think about Julia being a junior just past that fabled edge of seventeen celebrated by Stevie Nicks, the age of myth and wonder that sees us simultaneously looking backwards at childhood “cozy parties” and being stalked by the tickle monster, and forward in life to parent-less travel to waterfalls and sunset cliffs, and then work and marriage and kids, and, maybe this is that “liminal” age of transition in life more than any other. I remember it well, while I’m coming to grips with the fact that I almost certainly peaked at that age in 1987, I see the endless potential in Julia for days ahead. But I think of that tiny girl with the bowl haircut we would send out into the front yard to run in circles to expend energy, who, for years, pointed to Washington Regional Hospital as we drove by and declared “that’s the hostible where my body was born!” And as the song goes, “And the days go by like a strand in the wind,” and I think of the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob writing, “…the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream,” and I understand, and don’t, and then all of a sudden there’s a deafening Mamma Mia-themed birthday party happening and there were girls, and boys, doing that weird jumping-up-and-down dancing thing and the house was literally shaking you see those moments for what they are, at the moment they’re happening, and you love your Julia more than life itself because she’s good and she’s smart and she’s empathic and has such a future ahead of her.
Eliza, who insisted on dressing up as Santa Claus for Halloween when she was little, is 19 now and lives as a missionary in the Canary Islands. And that’s a sentence I never imagined typing. Recently, sitting in a Burger King in Segovia she turned her phone to show me the giant Roman aqueduct right outside, and while she used to gather all the purple things in the house to host a purple party for her little sisters, she now has another year in Spain as a missionary for our church, helping people, and herself, draw closer to Jesus Christ through his teachings. The fact that this little girl who used to ask things such as, “Mommy, could all of the mosquitoes in the world pick up the Statue of Liberty?” now is engaged in service full-time across the world just proves that this time thing, while necessary now, is so unnatural in the Big Pic. You also start to understand the Apostle James’ musing on the fleeting nature of this mortal life. “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” She’s loving this life of full service, and getting to know new people, and follows in her mother’s footsteps so willingly, though I imagine still notices unintentionally funny things about people, which puts her also in my footsteps, the lucky girl.
For Halloween in 2007, Amelia dressed up as Queen Elizabeth II, and we were sad to see her pass away this year. The queen, of course – Amelia is alive and well in Provo, Utah, with husband Tyler. One of my favorite authors, Joan Didion, wrote “Marriage is memory, marriage is time. Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time.” With our belief in eternal marriage that expands beyond time and into eternity, I love to see Tyler and Amelia sitting on each other’s lap and joking around together and buying a house and fixing it up, and kicking off a life together. Any time you get two people together from different backgrounds, and pledge their lives together it’s a stew of magic potential beyond really anything else life offers. Tyler is doing great at Workstream – an app that facilitates hiring through texting, which seems like a genius solution for a generation who grew up with mobile phones. We really lucked out with Tyler. His arrival has really put the pressure on the other three girls, hasn’t it? Amelia has been working several jobs and internships and is close to completing her degree, and is taking BYU’s slogan to heart with the concept “Enter to Learn. Go Forth to Serve.” But, most thankfully, earning a college education hasn’t evicted her love of word play, puns, quality writing, and a love of ancestry, history and positive potential. That tiny girl, our very first, so tiny when born, who we then latched into the middle back seat of our little silver Nissan Sentra after they somehow just let us leave the hospital with a baby, we couldn’t love more. And, it seems like yesterday but in another life.
In 2023, I’ll model for you my endless and abject vulnerability by declaring that I’ve listened to the LinkedIn prophets and therapists, that I’m going to be so mindful of being mindful and intentional of being so un-chart-ably intentional you’re not going to know what hit you. There’s going to be an outbreak of intentionality detonations wherever I go, and apocalyptic eruptions of mindfulness before you even step out of bed in the morning. You’re going to be kidney-zen sucker-punched every time you think of me, with intention shockwaves that actually rearrange your mindfulness atoms like those little shape-shifting drones in the sky. The people on LinkedIn are going to spontaneously explode into colorful streamers and pink smoke every time I talk about how I mindfully and intentionally helped the poor person behind me in line at the pharmacy, and how “we all” need to change lives through love, like I just did, and … you just wait – 2023… I might even start posting selfies to show how mindfully we should all focus on me!
But, otherwise, I watch the time pass, and I then start to look into the mystery of any efficacy to what I have done, where I am now, and then look at the remainder of an upcoming life. A science fiction writer 100 years ago wrote, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once,” and when I read this quote I understood a little bit more about our eternal nature and why we’re all here. If there’s no time in the pre-mortal life or in the life hereafter, then while we’re here there would be no building on experience, with the chalked-up losses and the ever-sweeter successive joys, and the evolution of love and that ever-ascending depth that grows us as we try to change. We don’t accept “who we are” in some ways, but we should rock on through chosen evolution. It doesn’t make any sense to us now, and it must be part of the plan, but somehow, whatever happens in life, the three simple words of Jane Austen are comforting beyond reason, because they’re true: “Time will explain.” We all know, whatever happens, that those words are true and someday we’ll grasp them and it. All the same, though, it’ll never explain how Henry Kissinger is still alive and doling out geopolitical insights – how is that possible?
I’m grateful for 2022. But, weirdly, a few times during this year when something really good happened, it maybe didn’t have the same height of reward that it may have had in the past, what with context of 2022 and all. You try to decide the value of something and talk yourself into it being really good. Maybe it’s like mistaking Braum’s for Brahms, or it may have sort of been like the comfort and privilege of being the first person to use a freshly placed port-a-potty. Very, very welcome in context. But every now and then, looking around, I find myself wanting to just lie on the floor in the dark listening to Bizarre Love Triangle or I dream of falling asleep hunched over a tabletop Defender game, a gathering mix of drool and Domino’s Pizza sauce beneath me, or hanging out with my friends watching barges go down the Rhine, all without a care in the universe, but here we are where we are. And, but, 2023 is going to be a banner year. Merry Christmas everyone – Christmas is real, Jesus died for us and is our Savior, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Adriane wants to have you over for a party, no matter how far away you are, whatever the holiday. And I, totally, do, too! Hearts.