On Trials and on How We Respond

A Brief Comment on the Plight of Gays in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, But Mostly on Trials and on How We Respond to Them More Generally

By Ken K. Gourdin

I recently contributed the following to a thread at Mormon Dialogue & Discussion about a gay Latter-day Saint young man with job troubles who committed suicide. I wrote:

I empathize with this young man’s plight.  That said, about 10 percent of life is about what happens to us, while 90 percent of it is about how we respond to what happens to us.  I get the urge to say, “Forget it!  Chuck it all!  I’m done!  I haven’t had very good luck (good fortune, many blessings, frame it however you want) in this life; maybe that’ll change in the next!”  I really do.  I’m not necessarily judging this young man.  His plight and his fate are between him and his Savior.  I’ll let them work it out.

That said, I can either (1)(a) bemoan, eternally, the fact that I seem to have attracted the collective indifference of the fairer gender in its entirety (“Tsk-tsk-tsk!  Not the same thing, Ken!  You’re not gay!” OK.  Except functionally, with the chances I have of getting married in this life at this point, it pretty much is); or (1)(b) Say, “Sole possession of the remote control; the ability (subject to other constraints) to come, to go, and to do as I please; to eat what I want, when I want; to do or to watch what I want, when I want, without having to worry about what she will think of me for eating it, watching it, or doing it,” and so on.  Is the latter a poor substitute for finding The One?  Yeah, maybe, but I’m a pragmatist: I’ll take what I can get: if I can’t find anyone who truly can see what she’s looking at, not my problem.

I can either (2)(a) bemoan the fact that my most expensive degree isn’t likely to turn into a career and is, instead, likely to remain a very expensive hobby, along with bemoaning the fact that I’m now making $0.95 an hour more than I was making nearly 20 years ago when I left a similar job and then finally decided to pursue that degree … and now am back doing essentially the same thing; or, I can (2)(b) say, “Yeah, it sucks.  No, it’s not what I envisioned doing with my life.  Yeah, I hope to God I don’t have to do it much longer (will someone, somewhere please hire me to do something else?!!“).  But at least I have a job; if nothing else, it does pay the bills!  And hey!  $0.95 an hour more is $0.95 an hour more!  At this rate, in 20 years, I’ll be making a whole … $12.95 an hour!”

And so on.

Again, I’m not unsympathetic, but if someone is looking (through the wrong end of the binoculars) for reasons to chuck it all, guess what one is likely to find?  And if one is looking for reasons to stick around (or at least, is willing to question whether the images he sees while looking through the wrong end of the binoculars accurately reflect reality), guess what one is likely to find?  To borrow and to slightly alter something attributed to the infamous, inimitable Major Frank Burns of M*A*S*H, “I believe in the sanctity of human life, no matter how ugly or disgusting it gets!”  (He was talking about marriage.)

One of my fellow posters, a gentleman whom, although we’ve never met in real life, I respect enormously (and not simply because he’s a lawyer and, by all accounts, a dang fine one, although that might have something to do with it) responded, “And thus we see the heroic in the ignored mundane.” I appreciated the compliment, though I replied that it probably vastly overstates the case. Another poster, whom I also respect enormously, wrote, “Kudos to our dear Ken.”

I’ve written elsewhere on the blog regarding Hawkeye Pierce of M*A*S*H fame, who, in a conversation with the infamous Major Frank Burns when the camp is sieged by a sniper, says, “You wanna know what a hero is, Frank? Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a hero is someone who is tired enough, and cold enough, and hungry enough not to give a damn. I don’t give a damn.” Personally, I would trade any perceived “heroism” for changes in at least one, in some, or in all of the aforementioned circumstances—though again, I do appreciate the sentiments.

The thread’s originator wrote—and then later deleted—“Odd that you made this about you.” I responded to that thus:

Yes! That’s me! I’m exceedingly odd. I’m the center of my own (infinitesimally small) universe. I subscribe to dozens of periodicals and scour them daily, solely for any mention of my name. Simultaneously, my eyes are glued to a bank of televisions, each of which is tuned to a respective 24-hour news outlet for the same purpose! Self-centered, solely self-interested, completely self-absorbed! Careful, though. if I were you, I wouldn’t get too close: I’m a veritable black hole, and if you get sucked in, you will cease to exist!

Unlike the rest of you, who apparently are capable of considering infinite permutations of infinite situations from infinite points of view (and, hence, can readily put yourselves precisely into the shoes of the young man whose situation we are discussing so as to understand exactly what he felt), I, alas, lack that ability: I, by contrast, can only speak to my own experience, which is what I was doing in the foregoing post. I failed to realize how completely irrelevant it is.

Silly me. I thought this was a discussion board. I didn’t know that I had wandered into a heretofore unknown (to me, at least) sub-forum called [Screen Name Redacted]’s Echo Chamber. Now that I’ve been apprised of the existence of [Screen Name Redacted]’s Echo Chamber, I will be much more circumspect about my participation henceforth.

My apologies.

Another poster, who is gay and who has determined that compliance with the requirements to remain in full fellowship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not compatible with what he feels he must do to remain true to himself (he is, from what I understand, in a relationship), responded to the above. (I don’t agree with his lifestyle or with his choices as a result, but I understand the paradigm through which he views the issues involved, and I cannot say that, in a multiverse of infinite possible scenarios, I would not make the same choices he has or wouldn’t feel the way he does if I were under the same circumstances.) He once flamed me mercilessly for my defense of the position of the Church of Jesus Christ on traditional marriage, but, since, has mellowed considerably. He wrote:

Your struggles are just as real and just as deep as the young man in the [opening post]. They are very real issues that you struggle with. I wish I could do something to help you find peace. Sometimes life feel overwhelming for all of us, despite the brave face we may put on for the world. Don’t loose faith. You deserve a wonderful life just like everyone else. We all have pain. Some are just better at hiding it.

I responded:

Thank you for the kind sentiments.  I appreciate them.  One thing I’ve learned, though, is that true peace seldom is the absence of trial or struggle (how would it be?! )  Peace can be found even in the midst of trial and struggle, ambiguity and as-yet unanswered questions. Were it not so, no true peace could be had, for trial, struggle, ambiguity, and unanswered questions are the very stuff of mortal life.  

In addition to replying, posters can signal that they find a certain observation particularly sage, apt, humorous, and so on, by awarding reputation points. A later contribution of mine to the thread received 8 points. I wrote:

I have a theory. If we were all to gather in a giant room, in the center of which stood a giant table, for a “trials exchange,” and each of us were to bring his respective trials to pile upon the table, many of us would opt to leave the room with the same trials we had when we came in. (While this is not a judgment against those who have taken drastic measures in an effort to alleviate their tremendous pain, I believe that’s even true of some gay members of the Church of Jesus Christ.)]

I’m reminded of when my family and I went to Spain in 2013. Unbeknownst to my poor parents before they booked the tour, the company that hosted our tour has options with varying levels, from “leisurely” to “active” with other options in between. Our tour was an “active” one. I probably did more walking in those eight days than I’ve done in the entire three years since. ;) Not a few members of our group asked me, in essence, “How do you do it?” My response was always the same: “The same way you do: I simply keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

I don’t think that’s a bad metaphor for life.  

In a similar vein, I commented as follows on another thread:

Agency [how members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refer to free will]1 is about choices … and  consequences.  Too many people, including members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, forget that second part. We want the freedom to make choices without suffering any adverse consequences, and that ain’t the way mortality works.  Yes, an angel appearing to me wielding a drawn sword would portend grave consequences if I were to refuse to obey, but that still doesn’t take away my ability to make a choice2, any more than I lack the ability, in my current situation, to say either:

  1. No, I didn’t envision making $12 an hour answering phones when, nearly 20 years ago, I decided I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life, left a job making just over $11 an hour doing the same thing, and eventually decided to go to law school.  Yes, it sucks.  Yes, I’d prefer to be doing something else.  No, I don’t really like any of my choices at the moment.  But that still doesn’t take away my ability to make choices (even when all of my choices are less-than-ideal alternatives), and I’ll simply do my best to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation for as long as necessary until my circumstances, choices, and outlook improve; or

  2. I hate this; it sucks; it’s not what I signed up for; I didn’t spend years in law school sacrificing untold amounts of blood, sweat, tears, and pounds of flesh, spending tens of thousands of dollars, going through scarcely imaginable intellectual and emotional turmoil, so that I could simply come full circle back to where I was nearly 20 years ago answering phones.  Forget it.  I’m done.  Chuck it all!   [Imagine gruesome ending here.]  (Or, less drastically, I could simply pull the covers over my head one morning when the alarm goes off and start singing to myself, “Make the world go away, and get it off of my shoulders …” and/or, “One less … phone to answer …”)  As Dr. Phil always says (he may be something of a publicity hound, if not a bit of a quack, but he’s absolutely right here), “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

Just because someone doesn’t like any of the alternatives doesn’t mean he lacks agency.  Gotta go!  There are phones to answer!

NOTES

1

See True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference (2004), Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints s.v. “Agency,” 11-12, available on line at the following address and last accessed August 28, 2016:

https://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/content/english/pdf/language-materials/36863_eng.pdf.

2

Regarding the visit to Joseph Smith by an angel with a drawn sword, see the following address, last accessed August 28, 2016:

https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng.

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About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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