Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lessons from My Son: Sometimes Being Nice Isn't So Bad

Warning: This post may contain more antics of proud LDS parents.

I've learned many things this year watching the growth of my third son, Benjamin, a senior in high school on his way to BYU this fall. He's had an amazing year with successes in academic competitions, music, and tennis, in addition to early morning seminary and being active in Church activities and service. What has given me food for thought is how he has managed to succeed in some things with the Lord's help in spite of limited time that he has freely sacrificed to do his duty and help others. Sacrifice doesn't always lead to loss -- sometimes there are blessings that clearly compensate for what has been given up. An example of this has been the honor he received recently as a soloist in the Appleton area Annual Commencement Concert, where soloists perform with the orchestras of the three high schools in the Appleton school district.

Several months ago when he auditioned for a highly sought-after slot in the concert, we were worried. The piano concerto piece he would play, Schumann's piano concerto in A minor (first movement), was demanding and had to played from memory (10 minutes long). With all the demands on his time from so many school and musical activities, plus seminary and Church, he hadn't had all the time he had wanted to prepare. In fact, during the previous week when his practicing should have been most intense, the demands of AP classes and a variety of commitments were especially heavy. But he kept his commitments, including a service project at an elementary school. A day or two before the audition, a fellow student learned that her accompanist for her vocal audition for the concert was no longer available, and asked Ben if he could fill in to help her. Being the kind person he is, he didn't hesitate in offering to help. But this offer would mean that some of the last few hours he had to prepare would go to helping out "the competition." There were still some rough spots, but we just hoped and prayed that he would do his best. My wife came back from the audition almost in tears: his performance had been the best he had ever done on that piece. She was simply amazed, and we were truly grateful. A few days later we learned that he had been selected as a soloist.

As we approached the big concert on May 20, a similar story unfolded. There were so many demands on his time - tennis competitions, many AP tests, huge projects, service, Church, friends needing help, etc. Saturday, May 19, was to be a day where he could really focus on preparing. My wife and I were in Chicago for most of the day for our Stake Temple Day (plus some photos at the Chicago Botanic Gardens), expecting that his day would have been focused on preparing, but when we called at 8 PM on our way home, we were worried to learn that he hadn't had any time to practice yet. He had participated in tennis with a group of friends in the morning, had carried out chores like mowing the lawn, had practiced several cello pieces with a friend for a very kind musical service project they were doing in two days for senior citizens, and then had been asked to do some service for some good friends in our ward to help with their move. He had done a lot of good, but hadn't been able to practice. We were again quite worried, and I regretted the lawn mowing chore we had given him and wished I had thought more about shielding his time.

I know how some critics on this blog will respond, so let me save you some trouble. With all the gruesome problems in the world, I should have been praying and working for world peace, an end to poverty, and the healing of polar ice caps. But at the moment, in a few seconds of quiet prayer, I was focused on the challenge that my son would face the next night and my desire for him to avoid disaster and to feel like he did well. He had the piece down well, but so much could go wrong in the pressure of the actual performance and the difficult opening was beginning to get a bit rough at times. Insanely narrow in my focus, I prayed for his well-being and for the avoidance of disaster, noting how heavy the demands had been on him and how much he had sacrificed to help others and do his duty over and over in the previous weeks. I may have put in a plug for world peace and the ice caps, but that part is cloudy now. I know it is terribly offensive to some of you to think that God - or anybody, for that matter - would care about a tiny little moment in any one individual's life when our list of Great Big Demands remains unfulfilled, but it is often in the tiny details of individual lives turning to God where we can seek and find traces of His occasional gentle influence, rather than in the massive statistics of life and death in this crazy mortal realm. If it helps, I have my own list of Great Big Demands, nearly all of which seem to be ignored (though the half-degree of global warming is a step in the right direction for us Wisconsites).

When we got home and heard him practicing, our fears began to fade. He was bringing things together pretty well after all. And the next night, at the critical moment, the last of nine soloists, he strode onto the stage with confidence and performed the best we had ever heard him play. The orchestra did remarkably well also - the piece is very challenging for them as well. It went beyond my hopes, and the crowd seemed to love it, giving him a standing ovation (they stayed on their feet as all the soloists were brought back for a bow - they were all magnificent, I thought, and all deserved it - being at the end of the program probably helped). And through all the praise that followed from many people afterwards, including a big crowd of sweet girls, he stayed his own good-natured and humble self, as far as we can tell.

When we discussed the event with him later that night, it seemed to all of us that the Lord had blessed him to do his best, helping him to serve as a good example. He had been quoted in the newspaper (part of being recognized as one of the "Academic All Stars" in the area) as saying that a key reason for choosing Brigham Young University was its wholesome Mormon environment, and is widely known to be LDS. And perhaps with all the negative flack about Mormons that some people are facing, it will help to see that a nice young man with some great things going for him is LDS and not ashamed of it. And perhaps it will help me and others to appreciate that the sacrifices we make in serving and doing our duty won't always be real sacrifices, and that sometimes the Lord will help us compensate and do better than we could have on our own. Or perhaps the real lesson is that we should get out there an patch up the polar ice caps. It's your call.

Goodness, I have become one of those bragging parents. I've tried to keep it down but it is quite difficult. Each of my four sons gives me similar reasons to want to brag and tell you how cool they are. The interesting thing is that I can clearly see that the things they do and the skills they develop are theirs, not mine, and I can sit back more as an observer now and sometimes just watch with wonder. There are sorrows at times, but the joys make up for all that. My wife and I feel so blessed to have had the privilege of raising and getting to know four unique and fascinating young men. How rich our lives have been because of that - far more rewarding than anything involving my work with technology and intellectual property.

I've got a nice VHS tape of Ben's performance, which I may be able to convert to a digital format later. (I've got to buy a digital recorder, I know. Have been too cheap.) For now, all I can offer is a crummy recording from my Olympus digital camera, with a tiny, tinny built-in microphone. After being further compressed for YouTube, it really doesn't do justice to the performance, but here it is.

5 comments:

Dan the Man said...

BYU this fall? I'll be out there as well! Maybe I'll meet him.

Marc said...

>I know how my critics on this blog will respond, so let me save you some trouble.

Sad you had to even mention that part...I think anybody who criticizes people when they talk about their kids' achievements is just a jerk. You don't need to apologize to them - they need to visit a shrink.

...anyway, congratulations!

nathanielmacrae said...

Your son is an accomplished musician! I can but sit in awe!

mcewen said...

newbie [so I don't know the history but]

>I know how my critics on this blog will respond, so let me save you some trouble.
I'm with Marc.
I like to celebrate the big things and the little microdots too.
Best wishes

Shadow Spawn said...

I think I hated over-achiever kids like that when I was in highschool. = )

Just kidding! In all sincerity, looks like a promising young man. Congrats!