Monday, November 4, 2013

Words That Move Me - Thinking Generationally

It must be November. I feel it rising - that feeling of thanksgiving. It was this month I entered the world almost 32 years ago. I woke this morning many hours before my alarm with thoughts of gratitude. I come to the computer to write words that flood my mind, but before I do, the Little Red Poem Book calls to me from the glass table next to the sofa. What was it we read the other day? Ah, yes. I'll include you, too.

       Heaven is not reached at a single bound;
      But we build the ladder by which we rise
      From the lowly earth, to the vaulted skies,
      And we mount to its summit round by round.

I look at the rung my hands are holding this morning. I don't have to look far to realize I did not get here in one single bound. But it doesn't always make sense, the way the rungs twist and turn beneath me. Because of Clair Rasmussen's death on a motorcycle, his daughter would make course corrections that put her on the path to meet my father. They raised us (five little climbers) upon the values they had learned from those before them. Because of Barbara and Clair, my mother raised us with a passion and determination for strong relationships. Because of Mary and Chuck, my father knew how to work hard to provide for his children, but he also made sure to genuinely enjoy when there was time to play - his father's illness having taught him what it was like when your dad couldn't. Because of my mom's childhood of moving we were taught at home so a move wouldn't hurt so much. Then, ironically, we only moved two blocks our whole childhood.

Together, they chose the soundtrack to the "Circle Game" of our lives - Grand Canyon Suite, Peer Gynt, Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and a little James Taylor and Joni Mitchell sprinkled in. It was an idyllic childhood.

I count this thing to be grandly true:
      That a noble deed is a step toward God,
      Lifting the soul from the common clod
To a purer air and a broader view.

I look and see the rungs that race down through the ladder of time and I am struck by the realization: I stand on the choices of generations before me. My mom calls it a football game. Each generation takes the ball down the field a little farther. Some lose ground, the next generation picks it up and moves it down the field. Some generations make touchdowns - there are many that need to be made. We can't see how far we've come unless we see where they started; can't appreciate another's success if we don't realize the "yard" where their journey began.

 We rise by the things that are under feet;
 By what we have mastered of good and gain;

Under my feet are the rungs trod by past generations. Anything I master is because they first mastered the "yard" before. Any gain, is a gain built upon their gain or loss.

      By the pride deposed and the passion slain,

"Pride" triggers a story as I glance downward through time: Great-Grandpa Ras (I've posted about him before HERE) was being interviewed by Bruce R. McConkie before the latter was an apostle. McConkie asked him what he would do if he were given a certain position of leadership. Ras answered sincerely what he'd try to do and be. McConkie quickly cut in with something like, "Well, I didn't say we had called you, brother, don't assume the position already!" I listen to McConkie's talks now and can imagine the tone of voice.  My grandpa's reply? "Well, you know what you can do with that, bub!" and he walked out. 

Rulon Rasmussen ("Ras"), second from the left.
Ras told the story later in life, regretting his pride. I think of where he started. How he worked for his own clothing and necessities when he was as little as six years old. How he mastered the trumpet so well, he was invited to live in California to study with a renown teacher and performed in popular big bands. How he gave it up to come home and marry Velma before another man could snatch her away. How he became a top manager of Sears Roebuck. He had pride, yes. But he learned. He moved the ball down the field. He gave all he had to his wife, his son and grandchildren.  I carry the memory of his smile and grateful hug each morning when I'd give him his breakfast he humbly let me make for him.

 And the vanquished ills that we hourly meet.

I look back another rung. Ras married Velma. Velma's father, Charles, struggled with depression. I see the dates on the family pedigree and go back farther. Charles' mother had died giving birth to him, her mother had died giving birth to her while crossing the plains. Two generations of entering life with that kind of loss - severed from the one who could have suckled you, nurtured you. Who filled in that hole? Or did the hole remain? How does that affect you? Where did you start on the "generational football field," Charles? 

     We hope, we aspire, we resolve, we trust,
      When the morning calls us to life and light,
      But our hearts grow weary, and, ere the night,
     Our lives are trailing the sordid dust.

When you hung yourself on Christmas Eve, Charles, leaving your four children and your wife pregnant with great-aunt Sally, leaving my great-grandmother fatherless at an age younger than my youngest now - how far had you traveled before you chose to lay the ball on the field? It might have been quite far. I cannot know.

 What ills did your wife, Mary Elizabeth, hourly meet that Christmas?  Did she find courage in the fact that her mother had managed being a widow with nine children ages 2-19? 

(Widow) Mary Ann Berrett Chard with her nine children. Mary Elizabeth back row far right.

Or did that make it harder to bear knowing the challenges that awaited you? Neither Mary or her mother ever remarried from the records available to me. How did they do it alone?

We hope, we resolve, we aspire, we pray. . .
      We may borrow the wings to find the way —
      We may hope, and resolve, and aspire, and pray;
But our feet must rise, or we fall again.

I have walked the ladder of my history this morning. I have examined some rungs below my feet. There are still so many ladders that branch beneath me, though. I feel I stand on holy ground, this rung in my hand, that one under my feet. I have not come to this rung on my own.

Only in dreams is a ladder thrown
      From the weary earth to the sapphire walls;
      But the dreams depart, and the vision falls,
And the sleeper wakes on his pillow of stone.

 "And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. . . and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee . . ." (Genesis 28:10-15)

Heaven is not reached at a single bound;
      But we build the ladder by which we rise
      From the lowly earth, to the vaulted skies,
And we mount to its summit, round by round.

                                     "Gradatim", by Josiah Gilbert Holland

As I look down the ladder and see the game of life that has played out before me, there are only very small words that fail to describe profound feelings: Curiosity. Awe. Love. Gratitude. And a new perspective. I begin to realize that the rungs on the ladder are relationships. Jacob was on his way to find a wife when he had that dream. Also, I see how I bring into this life spiritual and physical traces of my ancestors. I worry like Barbara, Alice and Luna. I look like the Pedersen side - especially Luna and Mabel. Get my allergies from Velma. My joint pain from Luna. I play like Martin? Like Ras? I compose like Olof? I analyze like . . .? I teach like. . . ? I love like . . . ?

It isn't so mysterious then, why when conquering a weakness, I feel almost as if someone unseen rejoices with me. Do I carry the ball they carried on the field years ago? Or maybe we carry it together; feel relief together when that ball finally reaches a touchdown?

What will I hand to my posterity? Where were my ancestors climbing to? Am I moving in the right direction? Were they? I'm finding answers . . .

"And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."

" . . . For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect . . . the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children . . . For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died . . .  How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion:
Behold, thy God reigneth!