09 July 2011

Intelligence, Part II

1 Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.
 2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:
 3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3: 1-3)

When I was 11 years old, my mother remarried after 7 years struggling as a working single mom. I entered 7th grade shortly afterwards, and to my parents’ surprise (a bit after the fact; they were not asked beforehand), we were all given an IQ test upon entry.  I had no idea what that was, but did note that the Christian Brothers, who ran Garces Junior High School, used the results to divide about 60 of us 12-yr-old boys into two classes. It was made abundantly clear that the “other class” was for “dummies”.  In the class where I ended up, we were initially arrayed in five rows of six chairs each according to this IQ result. I decline to share where I ended up, but it astounded my new step-father, and led to huge changes in my life that would begin about two years later.

My new step-father badgered my mother for 20 months into letting me go to a public high school, and more importantly, THE public high school in Bakersfield, California, that had a college prep program (all grades had a “.4” after them), and an advanced college-prep program (called “point five). This was in the Elitist Age, before people figured out that it was probably not wise to discourage growing children by classifying them. It was also before educators really came to grips with the fact that there are many, many different forms or manifestations of intelligence.

Why did my mother resist? She had been taught from childhood as the daughter of an Irish Catholic dad (my grandfather) that if she didn’t raise her kids Catholic, she would go to Hell. She understood that to be literally the case. It wasn’t until after I earned a PhD in geophysics that my Mom confided to me that when she married my step-dad, they both thought I was mildly retarded. They correlated grades with brains. My worst grade was nearly always “Deportment”, where a good grade for me was a “C-minus” and a typical grade was a “D-minus.” Bored and always in trouble is the long version.

Over time I took other ‘qualifying’ tests; from one of these I gleaned a number off of a file on a counselor’s desk. I knew enough by then to realize that this was a good number. For a short while, I reveled in this number.

If a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience … , he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:19).

But the difference in intelligence between 11 years old and 27 years old could be measured in light-years. When my PhD committee came out of the discussion room, each shook my hand and said “Congratulations, DOCTOR Wynn.” The seventh and last one was Cam Mosier, who sauntered out of the conference room slowly, shook my hand with a smirk, and said: “Now you can finally start learning.”

Boy, ain’t that the truth.

As time went on, I realized that I was smarter in some things than most people, but dumber on most other things than almost everyone. My wife can zang through a word-scrambler or crossword puzzle before I can write anything on paper. My youngest son and I can tangle in Randori – the Jujitsu slow-motion random fighting used in training ground-fighters – and he moves like flowing water. I have to resort to dirty tricks (a distinguishing characteristic of Jujitsu) to have even half a chance with him. The comparison list grows asymptotically with time.

But here’s a secret: that intelligence initially gifted you can and will increase in quantum steps. The downside is that you have to go through the worm-hole to get to the next quantum state. That’s another way of saying you get there by spending months to years in Hell.  It’s called the Refiner’s Fire. You can delay some of this, you can even waste much of your life trying to avoid it, but a loving God will be very persistent in allowing you opportunities that, once past, you will be grateful for. If you’re like me, however, you wouldn’t willingly go back and go through those experiences again.

I once visited a mine in Saudi Arabia called Mahd ad-Dhahab. There I watched the hard-rock blasting, the ore transport, the milling and grinding process, the huge, yellow-hot smelter - and finally held a brick of Dore in my hands: a block of ~97% pure gold. It took both hands, too, because something the size of a red building brick weighed about 30 kilos (70 lbs). 

I traced back in my mind the process to get to this point and saw a metaphor for my life.  Every crucible I was poured from left me a better, smarter person: smarter in empathy, smarter in patience, smarter in science, smarter in parenthood.  

That last one has made me smarter at understanding who I am, why I am here, and Who will welcome me back Home.


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