It’s about hope, in a word.
My grandpa (my Dad’s Dad) is one of my very favorite people in the whole world. He died when I was about 10 or 11, I think. He was quiet, and brilliant, and artistic. He had a gift with things that grow. My mother, who has the opposite talent, would bring him her dead houseplants and watch as he raised them from the dead, tiny green Lazaruses testifying of his skill and sympathy.
I miss him (and my maternal grandmother) even more now that I’m an adult. I believe in a vibrant afterlife centered on familial ties, so I don’t feel so much bereaved as I feel lonely. I know this is crazy, but I feel like my grandfather and his sisters are my best friends, and they’ve just moved to Australia or some crazy time zone where we can never be awake at the same time to Skype or something. I wish they were here for me to talk to. I wish I could get their advice on certain matters. For example, I have very aggressive squirrels who keep stealing from my garden. What should I do about that? I know that’s not a major life-issue, but our lives are built out of these small bricks, and sharing these small things means you build your life-buildings together (ok, I know that’s an awkward analogy– just go with it this time?). Anyway, I miss my grandparents and I wish we could know each other as adults.
Because of that, I appreciate anything I hear about my grandfather. Today, my uncle gave this talk (like, a short sermon) about my grandfather (his father) to his stake (a gathering of congregations in one region). I thought it was worth sharing with you. Now, my uncle’s no writer (he’s a geologist), and I haven’t changed his words or anything. I’m trusting the beauty of his ideas to make up for any slight roughness in his delivery. Comments or changes by me are marked by [brackets]. Obviously, this talk was given by a Mormon, and is addressed to other Mormons, and is about God. If you don’t want to read that, that’s cool, but maybe skip the rest of this post, ok?
I love my grandfather, I love my uncle and my father, and I feel so blessed to have so many good men in my family. I hope you’ll enjoy my uncle’s words, and where there’s truth, I hope the Spirit will testify.
“The point of this discussion [is] to demonstrate that the Lord can take a very bad set of circumstances and make something good out of it.
“My father [that is, my uncle’s father] was born in 1906 in Schenectady, NY and moved to Cleveland as a young boy. After finishing high school, he worked in the Ohio oil fields and attended Ohio State and Case Western Reserve Universities. Work for landscape architects was tough to come by during the Depression, so he went to work with the CCC to earn money for his brother to attend college. The CCC sent him to Hot Springs, NM to work on buildings and so forth near the new Elephant Butte Dam.
“When the draft started up in the mid-1930s he joined the New Mexico National Guard to avoid being drafted. He served as the company sergeant of the Headquarters company of the 200th Coast Artillery regiment.
“A good idea with poor results.
“In the summer of 1941 his National Guard unit was activated and in September they boarded a steamship and sailed to the Philippines.
“Then, on Dec 8th, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and, within an hour or two, the American bases in the Philippines. The fighting continued in the Philippines and on the Bataan Peninsula until April 1942, when the remaining Americans surrendered to the invading Japanese. My father, along with the other American prisoners, endured unimaginable horrors during the infamous Bataan Death March, after which they were imprisoned in POW camps in the Philippines.
“As the war progressed and the American forces moved closer to the Philippines, the Japanese began to transfer these POWs to Japan. They packed them into boats, literally, and shipped them to various parts of Japan to serve as slave laborers. Some of the ships, which were unmarked, were sunk by American submarines. My father’s ship ended up in northern Japan where he worked in a coal mine until he was liberated by the American Army in 1945. He weighed less than 80 pounds when he was liberated, and suffered from malaria and other tropical diseases that plagued him for the remainder of his life.
“Not much good to see coming from this, except that he survived. The story continues.
“After recuperating for more than two years, he slowly began to put his life together. One of the things he had done while a POW was to keep a diary of those boys that died, and when and what those circumstances were. one of those boys was Robin Brown. Bobby, as he was known, was from El Paso, TX, and was in my Dad’s company as a Warrant Officer. He earned a battlefield commission as a lieutenant during the retreat on the Bataan Peninsula, where he was awarded the Silver Star for heroism. He, too, was in the Bataan Death March and imprisoned in the Philippines. Bobby was also put on a boat to Japan, but his ship was torpedoed and sunk by an American submarine. While helping other prisoners as the ship was sinking, Bobby was killed by the Japanese guards.
“My father went and visited with Bobby’s parents to tell them of his experiences with their son in the Philippines. He had visited with the parents of several of his fellow [former] POWs, but this time he met a girl, Bobby’s sister, Jane. A courtship ensued and my mother and father were married in February of 1948.
“This is how my parents met, and out of that union came three sons, two of whom have served missions and were married in the temple. [NB: This is Mormon shorthand for “spiritual success.”] And yes, later in life, my father was baptized, shortly before his death. And a few years later, he and my mother were sealed in the Dallas Temple, where I was privileged to be proxy for him during that sealing. [NB to non-Mormon readers: This means that everyone lived happily eternally ever after, and is A Big Deal and A Very Good Thing.]
“I am not saying that being a POW was a good thing. I’m not saying that suffering, for any reason, is a good thing. But suffering in this life does happen, for a variety of reasons.
“What I am saying is that no matter what the circumstances, whether they are caused by the actions of others or by [our] own, or are simply the result of mortality, the Lord will use those circumstance for His own ends and He can, truly, make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear in ways that we do not expect and cannot imagine.
“What I can tell you, and what my father would tell you, is that you can always have hope.
“Yes, there will be moments of despair. Yes, the night will seem never-ending. Yes, tomorrow can be worse than today.
“Hold on, no matter how dark it gets. The morning will come. I promise you that. My father promises you that.
“Our Heavenly Father will not forsake you. He will make all things good in the end. So if it is not good yet, it is not the end. Be patient and wait on the Lord. His promise is sure. This is my testimony and promise to you, in Christ’s name, Amen.”