Unafraid

October 22, 2014

I’ll be turning 50 in a couple of weeks. Turning 30 wasn’t a big deal, and 40 came and went with little more than a shrug. 50 doesn’t seem that big a deal, but a couple of weeks ago, a dear friend suddenly passed away, and her death has caused me to reflect on life and where I am in it.

She was 79 years old and a delightful person. I didn’t realize she was that old because she was always so active and cheerful. She volunteered as an usher at her church up until the Sunday before she died of a sudden and massive stroke. My wife and I both agreed that she went the way we would like to go: mentally sharp and physically active until the end, with no long, lingering illness or loss of mental or physical capacity.

They say I’m middle-aged, but that would only be true if I were to live to 100, which I doubt I will do. The life I have left is shorter than the life I have already lived, and according to some people, that should cause me to worry about death and what comes after it. But I’m not afraid of death, and I don’t spend much time thinking about it. Life is to short, after all, to spend it worrying about its end. I don’t even fear getting old and losing my health, mental and physical. I’ll just deal with it as it comes.

This year people seem to want us to be afraid, and sometimes it does seem like there’s a perfect storm of trouble going on in the world today: Ebola, continuing global economic stagnation, DAESH (I refuse to call them “ISIS”), and a host of other problems have a lot of people in a bit of a lather.

Not me.

The likelihood that Ebola will break out in a worldwide pandemic is very small. The last time we saw anything like that was the influenza pandemic of 1918, which of course killed around 50 million people and infected one-fifth of the world’s population. But this is not 1918. In almost every part of the world, living conditions, sanitation, and medical care are much better than they were 100 years ago. And Ebola is not spread through the air, meaning that it’s much easier to contain, as long as one is careful. Even the mistakes made in Dallas not only haven’t resulted in a widespread outbreak but have been a much-needed wake-up call for better procedures. So, yeah, I may get Ebola at some point, but I’m not going to worry about it. I have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Yes, the economy still sucks. The unemployment rate is down, but much of that is due to people dropping out of the workforce and others taking jobs that pay less involve fewer hours. My company could disappear at any time,  but then I’ve been unemployed before and, given the nature of my industry, I may well be there again. I’ll survive.

A few years ago, if you’d told me that an armed death cult of thousands of religious sociopaths would take over large parts of two countries, I’d have thought you were pitching an idea for a horror film. People talk about dealing with “root causes” of such things, but I don’t believe any of the supposed factors (imperialism, poverty, alienation) explain a group that boasts of its desire to murder, rape, and enslave the rest of the world. Root causes or not, these are not the kind of folks you can negotiate with.

Do I worry about these Islamo-fascists killing me or my family? No, not really. I know, they say they want to kill Westerners where we live, and I suppose I can’t really stop that. They could show up at my house tonight, and that would be that for me. But I don’t worry about them, simply because, no matter how well-armed or powerful these folks become, the non-sociopaths will always outnumber the sociopaths. Right now a coalition of countries is doing a sort of half-assed job of containing these nutjobs, but if and when they become an existential threat to any of the regional powers, they will not be long for the world. They’re unlikely to ever hoist the black flag over the White House or Buckingham Palace if they can’t even manage to take a lightly defended Kurdish town. Perhaps on the plus side, they’re doing us a favor in concentrating the violent nutwads in one place.

So, I could be worrying about these things. There’s a lot I could worry about: race relations in the wake of Ferguson, climate change, same-sex marriage, health care, Vladimir Putin, Mexican drug cartels, who Alison Grimes voted for, the Export-Import Bank, “Meet the Mormons,” shingles, and  Canada, to name a few.

But I choose not to.

 


Depression

August 12, 2014

This post is probably going to come across as incredibly narcissistic, but I don’t care.

Last night I was getting ready for bed when my wife told me that Robin Williams had died, but she hadn’t heard the cause. I had my laptop, so I looked it up and read that it was probably “suicide by asphyxiation.”

That hit me hard, as 7 years ago last month I attempted suicide by asphyxiation. Things were very bleak in my life at the time, and one evening after my wife cried herself to sleep, I decided it would be better for everyone if I weren’t around anymore. I got out of bed, walked into my closet, and tied one end of a tie around the clothes rod and the other end around my neck. Then I relaxed my knees and let all my weight pull on the tie. Just that quickly I went from feeling depressed to wanting to die to actually trying to kill myself.

I like to think that I stopped myself short of “success” because I realized I didn’t really want to die, but it was more just that it was a lot more painful than I had expected, which probably means I didn’t want to die enough to be willing to endure that much pain. So, I got back on my feet, untied the tie, and went back to bed.

I’m telling that story because I realize that for someone to go through with that and endure that much pain, it means they really want to die.

Since last night, just about every news item has been about how Robin Williams must have been hiding a lot of pain under the “mask” of his comedic performance. That’s bullshit. He was pretty open about his problems with depression, mental illness, and addiction. It’s true that, more than a lot of performers, Mr. Williams always seemed to be “on” when in public, and I used to think he was probably more interesting when he stopped performing. But we’re all performing, to some extent. Every human being must of necessity get up every morning and try to project normality, even though there’s at least a little crazy in all of us. We have to look like we’re functioning at least at a minimal level; those who can’t project that image end up in an institution or on the street.

But depression is something way beyond everyday problems. It’s not a problem of being sad all the time. It’s not a lack of self-esteem. It’s not feeling hopeless or worthless or dead inside. It’s all of those things and much more, and it almost always seems to come from no reason. It’s like a shark in a feeding frenzy, mindlessly and efficiently tearing apart everything that makes your life worth living. If you look into the cold, black eye of depression, you see no emotion, no compassion, nothing but a machine designed to kill you.

And depression isn’t something you can “beat,” like going into remission with cancer. You learn to cope, you take medication, you get therapy, but it’s still there. Like many people I know, I did very well with a combination of therapy and drugs, but I got overconfident and got off the drugs. I did fine for several months and then earlier this summer, I was fortunate enough to recognize the signs that the depression was creeping back, so I’m back on the drugs and doing fine again.

The reason so many of us think we can beat it and do without drugs or therapy is that, despite knowing it’s a medical condition with known biochemical causes, we still believe somewhere deep inside that it’s “just sadness” or some kind of personal failing. We think we should just be able to suck it up and deal with it. And we can’t.

Suicide is an extraordinarily selfish act, but in that moment, it is impossible to think beyond yourself. The shark circles in ever-tightening rings until you can’t see anything beyond your own misery. When you most need help, it’s beyond your capacity to even think of reaching out to someone else. It’s self-centered not because you have an inflated ego, but because you feel totally empty, totally alone. You just want it all to stop.

Whatever you think of Robin Williams, he was a very gifted man. I have to admit that, although I liked his humor much of the time, I thought it was better in small doses. But it was his dramatic roles that I found amazing. My favorite is the obsessed film developer in “One Hour Photo,” which to this day still creeps me out. And his work in “The Fisher King” and “Good Will Hunting” were brilliant and heartbreaking.

On NPR this morning, they said that he occupied a huge part of our culture and touched countless lives. I know that’s true, but in the end, he was probably like me, believing that it would be better for everyone if he were no longer around.

It isn’t.

I wish there were some brilliant thing I could say that would help people who are struggling with depression. There isn’t. I just hope people learn to recognize its symptoms and get help before it becomes a crisis.


More missionaries going home?

July 25, 2014

Interesting article from Russell Arben Fox (his writing is always thoughtful and well-written, so I highly recommend him):

Are More Missionaries Returning Early?

I have no idea if more missionaries are coming home early or not, as I’m not really plugged into the culture anymore. My nephew is on a mission in Europe and has not suffered from any of the issues Fox mentions; of course, he left at age 19. I have a few friends and acquaintances with sons on missions, and I haven’t heard anything from them that would suggest higher numbers of missionaries going home early, but for this discussion, it doesn’t really matter. (I should note that my wife and I have good friends whose daughters returned early from their missions for reasons similar to those Fox describes, but he’s specifically talking about young men, so I’ll stick with that.)

When the church announced the change in age, my first thought was that the church must have seen increasing numbers of young men abandoning mission plans in the year or so between high school graduation and reaching age 19. That was just a guess, as I have no evidence, not even anecdotal, to support that initial impression. But it stands to reason that the cultural pressure to serve a mission combined with living under their parents’ supervision would increase the odds that a boy would choose to serve a mission. I have said before that I thought the numbers of young men leaving on missions would spike the first couple of years after the change and then fall back to a number that is still higher than it was before the change; the main increase will be in young women deciding to serve.

Not long after the announcement, my parents visited us, and they mentioned that one of the young men from their ward in California was heading out on a mission within weeks of high school graduation, and this got them talking about the age change. (I should mention that my mother is a very devout member of the LDS church, and my father is perhaps less an orthodox believer than most members, but he is nevertheless a believer.)

Both of my parents said that they thought their bishop had acted irresponsibly in approving this boy for a mission, as he was quite immature and very dependent on his parents for emotional and financial support. They also said they thought that boys needed that year away from home to, in my dad’s words, “figure out how to live as an independent adult.” Without that year, they said, boys would be unprepared for missionary life. (To be fair, they tend to see LDS missions through the lens of my missionary experience in Bolivia, which of course is not the norm.) They predicted that a lot of these unprepared missionaries would return home early for the same types of reasons Fox mentions. I was probably too shocked at their opinions to really say much, so I don’t think I did.

I’m not sure what to believe about this. I look back on my own life and wonder if the 18 months I had between high school graduation (I was 17 at the time) and the MTC made much of a difference in my preparation. I think the main benefit of that time was that I learned to take care of myself and my responsibilities without being able to depend on anyone else. I couldn’t leave my laundry for my mom to wash, and no one was there to remind me to do my homework. I was responsible for myself. That said, my parents were paying my school and living expenses, so I just had to learn to live within the budget I had, though I knew I could count on them if I had a financial emergency.

These were important lessons for me, as on my mission I was equally responsible for taking care of my responsibilities as a missionary and my personal needs. I remember early on realizing that my companion and I were alone in a small town in the altiplano, and the only time we had any contact with other missionaries was at our weekly zone meetings. We had no phone or any other way of being contacted, unless the zone leaders decided to take the bus out to our town and visit us in person. I thought at the time that we could have done whatever we wanted, and no one would know. We could have faked our numbers (hours worked, discussions taught, and so on), and no one would have been the wiser. I thought it said something about me and my companion that we didn’t do anything like that. We worked hard, and we were disciplined, even when no one was watching.

Would I have done the same had I not had that 18th-month interval? Probably. So, as Fox mentions, it’s not sin, financial reasons, or disobedience that I learned to avoid during that period. I’m left to wonder if being on my own got the homesickness and the inability to handle stress out of the way before I served my mission. I don’t know, honestly. I had companions who had not had a year away from home before their missions, and they didn’t seem much different from me.

The other possibility, it seems to me, is that the numbers of kids coming home early is higher simply because the number of missionaries going out is higher. Only the church’s Missionary Department knows whether the rate of early returns is higher or not. I’ll simply say that I agree with my parents that a year of “adulthood,” such as it is, is almost always beneficial for a young man (or young woman) before committing to something as stressful as a mission, and the current practice probably does mean that boys are going out who are not prepared to live on their own, let alone deal with the stress of a mission.

I am happy to hear that these kids are coming home without the social stigma that was attached to leaving early when I was a missionary. Fox describes it pretty well:

Still, I suppose I can’t quite shake the attitude which shaped my own understanding of being a missionary as I grew up in the 70s and 80s, that understanding basically being summed up as “Come home honorably or come home in a coffin.” (I don’t remember every being told that in exactly those words, but I do recall my mother telling me quite straightforwardly that she wouldn’t acknowledge any son of hers returning early, since of course such a person would have to be an imposter–her real children would never give up.)

My parents never said anything like that to me, and I knew that my parents would have supported me had I come home early for any reason; in fact, my father was quite shocked when I decided to extend my 18-month mission to 24 months. When I called home to ask for their support, he said, “Why would you want to do something like that?” So, it wouldn’t have been bad for me among my family members, but I understood that, socially speaking, it would have been much worse to come home from a mission early than it would have been not to serve a mission in the first place. I will simply echo Fox in saying that if this new acceptance is a trend, I’m delighted. The last thing these kids need is to feel bad about recognizing that they weren’t a “good fit,” as Fox puts it. Perhaps this more accepting attitude means that a lot of members understand that many younger boys aren’t ready for missions and shouldn’t be judged harshly for it.

It will be interesting to see what Fox’s readers report about what they see in their wards and stakes.


Perspective

July 10, 2014

I found out yesterday that a friend of mine was killed in a car accident. We weren’t extremely close, but we’d had an ongoing friendship for several years. In some ways I could completely relate to him, as our experiences had been similar: large family, high-tech career, and a painful struggle to figure out how to proceed in the aftermath of the collapse of our faith. That was how we connected in the first place, as we were both in a tough place in our lives; he helped me with his support and kindness, and I hope I was able to help him in a small way.

But in other respects he was way out of my league in terms of accomplishments. He was absolutely brilliant, had earned several degrees–one at Oxford–and was legal counsel at one of the most successful corporations in the world. In short, he was the kind of guy that inspired a sort of awe in me.

And yet he was as down to earth as anyone I know and never talked down to me or anyone else. That, I think, is what defined him: as well-read and accomplished as he was, he was always just himself, with no pretense and no need to remind people of how much more he had done in a relatively short life than most of the rest of us ever will.

Sometimes I think I want to go out and accomplish something big, and maybe I will someday, but really, yesterday’s news reminds me that the best thing you can do with your life is just to be a good, kind person with a loving heart.  The world lost someone who did just that yesterday.


Decision been made for you, LDS feminists

June 26, 2014

My good friend Bridget Jack Jeffries has a thoughtful and important piece in the Salt Lake Tribune:

Decision been made for you, LDS feminists

In case you don’t know her, Bridget is an Evangelical Christian who graduated from LDS-owned Brigham Young University and is currently studying church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I have always appreciated her insight and perspective into LDS issues.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard a lot of ad hoc rationalizations of why LDS women cannot have priesthood authority, from “men get the priesthood because women have to endure the pain of childbirth” (I’m not making that up) to “that’s just how it is.” Bridget’s piece asks a telling question: If not being able to exercise priesthood authority doesn’t make women inferior, why is it a punishment for men not to be able exercise priesthood authority?


Name Change?

June 19, 2014

So, I was listening to church PR spokesperson Ally Isom’s RadioWest interview with Doug Fabrizio, and I was intrigued by her suggestion that the problem with “Ordain Women” is that it was in the imperative mood, as if Kate Kelly and her colleagues were dictating to the Brethren what the church should do. Apparently, things would have gone much differently for Ms. Kelly had she used a different grammatical construction. Perhaps, “It might possibly be a good idea to ordain women, maybe.  I don’t know. I could be wrong, Whatever you want to do. I’m good.” Or maybe like Jeopardy it could have been put in the form of a question: “What is, Ordaining Women?”

Now I find that it’s not just Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, and Rock Waterman who are getting hauled in by their bishops and stake presidents. Jana Riess and a woman known only as “Dana” have been summoned to meet with their priesthood leaders on account of their online posting. Meanwhile, I keep checking my email, and nothing’s happening. When I go out to my mailbox, I’m finding pizza coupons and unimportant stuff like my son’s report card. What the hell does a guy have to do to get a disciplinary council?

Then it hit me: My blog name isn’t commanding enough. It doesn’t pop. Ally Isom isn’t going to read “Runtu’s Rincon” and think, “That dude’s got it in for the Brethren.” So, maybe it’s time for a change. I’ve thought of a few possibilities:

Follow Runtu. He knows the way!
Choose the Runtu!
Preach my Runtu
Praise to the Runtu
Return with Runtu
Any criticism of Runtu is wrong, even if it’s true
Beware the Runtu behind the smiling eyes

A friend came up with these:
#BecauseofRuntu
Come, Come Ye Runtu
Hold to the Runtu!
Oh, Be Runtu!
Bow Your Heads and Say Runtu
Raise Your Runtu to the Square

 


Top Ten Hints for Polygamy Apologists

June 18, 2014

1. A person’s consent does not make any action toward that person right.

2. A person in a position of authority has an unequal relationship with his or her subordinates. The consent of a subordinate to something they otherwise would not do does not indicate that the authority figure has not abused his or her authority.

3. It is not OK to conceal extramarital sex from one’s spouse to spare the spouse’s feelings.

4. Telling someone after the fact that you have done something deeply affecting them does not change the fact that you have done something deeply affecting them without their prior knowledge or consent.

5. A person’s acceptance after the fact of an action done without their knowledge or consent does not make the action right.

6. Threatening to destroy someone’s reputation if they reveal that you’ve made sexual advances on them is not acceptable.

7. Publicly trashing someone’s reputation after they have revealed your sexual advances is unacceptable.

8. It is impossible for a child to give free and informed consent to an adult authority figure when she is told that her consent will guarantee exaltation for her family.

9. Concealing something from one’s spouse and others is a good sign that you are afraid of the consequences of getting caught. People tend not to be afraid of the consequences of getting caught performing “dynastic” rituals that have nothing to do with sex.

10. Absence of offspring is not solid evidence that someone has not had sex.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 207 other followers