Hinges of History
I love Thomas S. Monson. Latter-day Saint or not, he is a true inspiration.
A few years ago he gave a speech at BYU which touched me tremendously. His address to young people my age was about life and decisions, and this gem touched me in an acutely singular way:
The gate of history swings on small hinges, and so do people’s lives.”
– Thomas S. Monson; 14 November 2006 at a BYU weekly devotional
In my overly-visualistic mind this sent a chain of thought processes going. And of course the inevitable “What Ifs” of life. – What if my parents hadn’t divorced when I was young? What if my friend had never sent Mormon missionaries to my door? What if I had followed through with my plans to become an Army Chaplain after my mission? – Considering the inexhaustible What Ifs of life can be depressing, damaging, and downright dumb.
Of course, especially as overly spoiled Americans, we always consider the grass to be greener on the other side. This is never more true than reviewing our mental What Ifs. In our minds we can make even the smallest of trivial life decisions seem like great and terrible life choices. On the other hand, we can also take the most trivial of life decisions and overthink them to death. Of course if I had invested all of my childhood savings into Apple’s stock while in high school I would be a multimillionaire by now. In fact, I’m sure Steve Jobs and I would have been great friends and Mark Zuckerberg would be collaborating with me on his next big project. But hindsight is 20/20.
Instead of dwelling on the Bad What Ifs of life though, President Monson’s words have always made me happy for those small decisions I made years ago that have blessed me immensley. But of course, hiding in the background, are always those little What Ifs that come back and gnaw at the tracks of my tangent-filled train of thought.
In the Spring of 2007 I purchased a book by Jack Canfield at the local bookstore (back when Jasper, Alabama was still blessed to have a bookstore). The book, “The Success Principles”, like so many other self-help/motivational/You Can Do It! kind of books that I had read as a sales professional, was highly enjoyable. But it was different. It was highly personal. Jack had a way of being intimate in his teachings, and making me think deeply on all of the personal relationships I was having in my life at the time.
Jack wrote, for instance, in his book about his own mother, a Negative Nancy type of individual, who had this magical way of putting down even his smallest of dreams. When Jack went to work for Norman Vincent Peale in the 60’s Norman told him to write down all of the peopel he interacted with his life and put a Plus or Minus sign next to each of them. People who were positive and made Jack feel good were to get a Plus sign and more time should be spent with them. People who were dream killers, negative, and always needing something were to get Minus signs and were to gracefully be dropped out of daily interactions. To Jack’s own surprise his mother got a big fat Minus sign. When he asked Mr. Peale what he should do about it the answer was even more surprising. “See her only on Thanksgiving and Christmas.” – Harsh, but highly effective for Jack Canfield in his own life. – And I ate every word of that book up.
Coupled with President Monson’s admonitions, and Jack Canfield’s candidness, I decided to make my own list of people, and was shocked by the Plus and Minus signs in places I hadn’t expected them to be. It led to me breaking up with a long-time girlfriend, changing career focus, and physically moving to another state. It was a good thing. And I credit some of the greatest learning experiences in my life to that time period.
Those doors of history are tricky though. Some times, despite knowing which way we should be pushing the giant doors, or in which way we should be greasing the hinges, we push the wrong way and use the wrong lubricant against our better judgements.
Luckily the Atonement covers all mistakes. Jesus Christ can fix our doors. The Savior can fix our hinges. Yes indeed, our Redeember can even take down the Door of the History of our Lives and give us a new one if that is what’s required. His grace and mercy covers all as we hearken to Him, and He makes the What Ifs of life irrelevant as we follow Him.
The trick is to live as prophets have taught…
Of course there will always be the What Ifs of life. What if I had kept taking piano lessons? What if I had studied harder in that course I took? What if I had not lost my phone and that beautiful girl’s phone number five years ago? What if I hadn’t been too shy to ask for that phone number again? And what if I really had invested all of my savings into Apple’s stock?…Some things we’ll never know.
The doors of history swing on small hinges. So make sure that you’re swinging in the right direction and making the small and important decisions today. Decisions determine destiny.
Happy Sabbath friends.