18 May 2011

11 Commandments

The old story has it that Moses went up to the top of Mt. Sinai and came back with 27 commandments written on five large stone slabs.

“Holy goat snot, Moses,” said Aaron, “I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count that high!  You gotta take those back and ask for something else!”

“No way, brother.  You’re not getting ME to haul those things back up there, no siree, “ said Moses.

"Well, leave 'em here, then, and just go ask for the Readers Digest version," said Aaron.

After a lot of arguing, Moses found himself on the losing side of an ever-widening argument. Reluctantly, and with a lot of grumbling, he trudged back up the mountain.  The Children of Israel watched while black clouds swirled around the summit, and there was periodic lightning and thunder.

Finally someone yelled “Hey Look!  It’s Moses!”  Sure enough, Moses appeared, with his face covered with soot and his beard singed.

“Children of Israel, “ called out Moses.  “I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that now there are only Ten Commandments.”

“The bad news is that this set includes adultery.”

During a weak moment last night I sat still through several minutes of the so-called “History Channel” (aka the “Thin Content Channel” or the “Fill-In-50-Minutes-With-Fluff Channel”) on TV.  I heard a passing reference to the fact that Moses brought over 600 commandments to the Children of Israel.  I’m sure someone was counting every second verse in Deuteronomy and Leviticus (“Don’t seeth a calf in its mother’s milk...”, “Scrape that stuff off your sandals before you walk onto the carpet in my tent...”, etc.).  OK, I made that one up.

Nevertheless, it bears thinking about: how many commandments are there, and how many must you absolutely, positively, definitely obey?  Ummm, I think the intent was all of them.

Most Latter-Day Saints understand that there is an Eleventh Commandment.  More?!??  I thought we all settled on TEN!  (I'll challenge you to find the specific references.)

Most of you can also probably quote the last words of someone (See the “On Considering Death...” blog entry earlier).  Some of you may even be old enough to remember hearing about a great man named J. Rueben Clark.  (I’m always suspicious of initials for a first name... it usually implies that someone is a Junior and the Mom got tired of having two people respond when she yelled one name.  However, it also implies that someone’s parents in a giddy moment inflicted them with “Johnny” or “Jumpy” or “Juicy” or “Jeffrey”...).  Oops.  Now you understand why the title of this blog is so short.

However, J. Rueben was a highly educated man, a famous judge I think, an attorney in the U.S. Department of State, and even Under Secretary of State at one point (that would be Executive Level III these days...).  He also served as US Ambassador to Mexico, and was a counselor to President David O. McKay.

J. Rueben’s last words were “I hope I can endure to the end.”

I’ve remembered that expression for decades, and pondered its significance.  In a way, this may be a more difficult commandment than the other Ten combined, because it’s a measure of not only your enduring power - but how far you’ve gotten as a person in life.  Except for a small percentage of cases, death is neither slow nor painless.  Why do you suppose that might be?  If you gave a set of keys for a tricked-out 2011 Honda Accord to a 3-yr-old child, the child may play with them for a few moments, and then drop them as something else caught her attention.  If you gave that set of keys to an 18-yr-old who had walked to school and back for the previous four years, I’m pretty sure that they would be valued far more.  It's human nature.  We all tend to take our health for granted, for instance - until we have recovered from something really terrible.  Then health means something considerably more to us.  It’s more valuable.

My personal journals are ‘way too full of entries starting with “I nearly died again today...”  This was especially true while living and working in the Venezuela jungle.  Most of these were sudden - a near-crash of a helicopter, and close encounter with a Bushmaster, things like that.  Whew!  Well, that was close. Maybe I should be more adamant about refusing that loony as my helicopter pilot in the future...  Probably shouldn't mention this to Louise....

However, twice I nearly died in the Venezuelan jungle - but both times very slowly.  Shigella takes awhile to come on to you, but you can get to a point where you are literally bleeding from both ends and the physical agony is terrible.  It can soon take every bit of your attention.  I got to a point one night where I became convinced that I was going to die.  Hours later I arrived at another point where I actually feared that I would NOT die - that the agony I was undergoing would just go on and on and on.  Dimly I worried about what would happen to Louise and my kids, and how my compadres would deal with my body when a helicopter wouldn't be able to get in for three or four more days.  I recovered of course - you are reading proof of that right now - but Louise later told my Mom over the phone when I got back that “...he looked thin, gray, and filthy...” I lost about 14 lbs in 8 days, but I don’t recommend it as a weight-loss miracle diet.

However, I’ve appreciated and savored every evening of my life since that time.  I’ve never feared death since then, either, though I sometimes do worry about being a poor example to my children when it's my turn.

Death, as I’ve said, is rarely painless, and it is never, never, dignified.  If it weren’t this way, we would never really be able to truly appreciate what awaits us.

I've got those keys now.

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