Robin Williams

I can’t get Robin Williams off of my mind; I feel just sick about his suicide. I was watching Happy Days that night in February, 1978 when Fonzie opened the door to Mork from Ork. Robin Williams and I overlapped for seventeen years in the San Francisco Bay Area, and he used to buy his rainbow suspenders at the same Aardvark’s Used Clothing store where I shopped. We lived the same hard-partying life at the same time, although my ride was shorter and less intense. Like everyone else who admired his talent, who watched him in interviews, stand-up, and unforgettable movie roles, I was shocked to learn how much he was suffering all along.

Elder Holland knows that so many are suffering in the same way and talked about it in his October, 2013 Conference talk, Like a Broken Vessel. He specifically refers to “ . . . a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively . . . .”

My favorite line from Lord, I Would Follow Thee is “In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.” We never know what someone else is struggling with, and despite all the publicity around Robin Williams’ suicide, all the exhortations, as Jimmy Kimmel put it on Twitter, to “tell someone if you’re sad,” it’s probably not going to happen. Some people will be more willing to reach for help, others will be more willing to offer it, but the crater in the mind is more complex than that.

The impact I hope for, the lesson I hope is most accessible to the rest of us, is to remember the hidden sorrow in others, to hold a mindset of compassion toward others whose behavior annoys, displeases, or offends us. We never know what they’re struggling with, and if we did know, I believe our compassion would rush out to them the way it does, belatedly, to Robin Williams.

I for one am going to give more people more benefit of the doubt more often.


Talent on Loan From God

Who knew watching America’s Got Talent could be so dangerous? My eleven-year-old sees 3,000 people cheering wildly for a nine-year-old card thrower and suddenly wants that talent for himself. Not a deck of cards is left intact in my house. Then he sees cheers for a magic trick, and he’s a magician. In his eleven-year-old mind, his talent is whatever he sees other people do that gets them the attention he wants.

It’s not easy to explain to an eleven-year-old what talent is. And what it isn’t. It isn’t what he sees someone else doing; it’s what he was born to do. He wants to know how to find it.

I tried to boil it down to three things: 1) true talent comes easily to us; 2) true talent gets exponentially better with practice; and 3) most important, true talent moves us and the people with whom we share it.

Tiger Woods could hit a golf ball at three, well enough that his father poured time, money, and energy into making him better. We all know the end result. Millions of people watch Tiger Woods play golf because his talent is thrilling. The thrilling part is what interests me the most.

To be thrilled is as much a transcendental experience as joy or love or awe; in fact, an argument can be made that thrill is the combination of all three. Another way to define joy plus love plus awe is God. True talent, whether expressed or experienced, brings us closer to God because it is from him that the gift emanates. I would argue that when we are thrilled, we are closer to God, whether we realize it or not.

My son wants to discover his talent so that he can be admired and applauded, and true talent will earn him that if it happens to be public, lucrative talent. Most talents, however, are private, quiet, and personal, like faith. It is a talent (gift) to have strong faith in the face of any adversity. Most people will never be acknowledged for it and certainly never paid for it, but the feeling of unshakable faith is better than fame, better than money. It is thrilling. It moves us. It moves others.

If you watch someone express true talent, they become absorbed by it, whether Tiger Woods in his concentration on the green, or a top-tier singer whose emotion is indistinguishable from the notes of her song. Few of us would deny the lure of money and fame, but it you watch the truly talented, the ones who are doing what they were born to do, it’s clear they would do it even without fame and money. They would do it for the thrill.

That’s the key to finding your talent, I told my son. Follow your thrill. Follow what moves you. Follow God.


Am I Wrong Not to Pray for My Son?

Like the mothers of many eighteen-year olds, I imagine, I wonder whether my son will serve a mission, whether he will continue to stay active in the Church. I had assumed all along that the answer to both questions was “yes”. When I learned that it was more of a “maybe”, in fact, a leaning toward “not” at the moment, I went through a range of emotions.

I was shocked, scared, disappointed, embarrassed, and guilty. What had I done wrong that my son didn’t want to continue—passionately—in the gospel I love so much? Had I failed to teach him the right things in the right way? What would other people think? That last one, the Mormon curse, faded the quickest, fortunately. A good friend gave me a way to balance of lot of my emotions when she said, “Missions are great, but they’re not for everyone.”

Since then, I’ve thought a lot about where to go from here, what to say to my son, how to strike a balance between gospel principles, namely agency and testimony. Ultimately, I’ve come to a lot of peace with both—his agency and my testimony.

Whenever I have questions or doubts about the gospel, I always start with what I know to resolve them, so I ran over my list: 1) Heavenly Father loves all his children unconditionally; 2) He gave us agency to choose for ourselves, starting with Adam and Eve; 3) Only he can judge a person’s heart and know truly what we understand about the gospel; 4) Missions and the decisions to serve them do not define a young man’s worth or, in all cases, testimony; 5) Family and its bonds are the most important thing in mortality (that last one I infer from everything I know about the gospel—others might argue that obedience or humility outrank family, but I don’t think anyone would disagree that it’s right up there with the whole purpose and pattern of existence).

Then I move to what I believe, though I don’t know it with as much certainty: 1) It is better for my son not to serve a mission, than to serve and return home only to turn away from the further light and knowledge he has gained; 2) Serving a mission does not guarantee lifelong activity in the Church; 3) I will never know whether his calling and election is made sure even if he serves a mission and remains active at this time; 4) I will never know that he won’t return to activity—passionately—simply because he doesn’t remain active now.

I decided that while I have a preference that he serve a mission and remain active, a preference I have communicated to him clearly, I also am neutral on his choice, meaning I won’t try to influence it one way or the other. I couldn’t be more an advocate for the gospel having lived the other way for most of my life. Like Lehi, I want to share the sweet, white fruit with my family most of all.

What matters to me more than anything is that he be a good person, live a good life, marry a woman who loves him and is good to him, be a good father and citizen. Those things I know he can achieve, even without Mormon Church membership, because I know so many people who fit that description outside the Church. And, I also know that I’ve raised him with Mormon values, the best values there are, so he is already ahead of the game.

I wonder if I’m wrong for not praying that he will serve a mission or remain active. I hear stories of parents who’ve prayed for years finally to have their prodigal children return to the fold. Am I supposed to pray that he do what I think he should do, what the Lord says he should do? I can’t bring myself to do it.

If anyone, especially my friend who baptized me, had pressured me to join the Church, I wouldn’t be here today. II anyone, as above, had communicated to me that I was less than for not being a member, I wouldn’t be here today. If anyone had warned me or counseled me that I was doing wrong, or condemning myself in the eternities, I would have been so turned off, I would probably be anti-Mormon today. It was my friend’s total—and I mean total—acceptance of me and my right to choose for myself that opened my heart to what mattered to him.

I’ve decided I’m excited to see my son progress in life no matter what he chooses, and to let Heavenly Father judge him and his choices in the end. I trust Heavenly Father completely so I know whatever he decides to do will be right, even if he judges me for not praying that my son serve a mission, because above all, Heavenly Father knows our hearts and knows that mine is at peace.

Honoring my son’s agency, trusting in Heavenly Father to sort it all out, gives me a lightweight heart, one that is excited to see who my son becomes, one that honors his agency as I wish mine to be honored at all times. I’m surprised and quite pleased to discover—given the circumstances—that it’s a great feeling.