Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Ballpark Prayer

 


It felt like the worst kind of dream. One minute three-year old Eddie was playing on the playground, and the next he was gone. 

We were at Calvin's baseball game, and I had turned away just long enough to watch him bat. After he rounded the bases I turned back to Eddie, but couldn't see him. 

I scanned the monkey bars, but he wasn't there. The swings. The slide. The sandpit.  

I stood from the bleachers and walked closer, trying not to run, but my heart was starting to pound. What color was his shirt? Light blue. Light blue, light blue. I glanced back at the bleachers. Surely he would be there. The snack bar? The drinking fountain? 

I called out to Jack, who couldn't seen him either. It was getting harder to breathe. Has anyone seen a little boy? Light blue shirt? Now I'm running.  

Several minutes pass and I'm starting to cause a scene. Kind strangers get up to look. Little boy. Light blue shirt. 

Another several minutes, an eternity, and an announcement comes over the intercom. All games are suspended, says the voice. We need everyone's help. Little boy, light blue shirt. Players leave their positions. 

People are calling Eddie's name all around me, and I drop to my knees. Jack, seeing my panic, grabs our other kids and brings them to me. 

"Calvin," he says. "We need you to say a prayer." Little Calvin, fresh dirt on his baseball pants, removes his hat. Hurry Calvin, I think.

Instead, a long pause. "Dear Heavenly Father," he finally begins. "We are so thankful for this day. We're thankful for our many blessings."

I open my eyes and look at him. Faster Calvin, I silently plead.

"We're thankful for our health, and that we live in a free country." Let's be thankful for them later, I whisper. He carries on as though we're sitting around the Thanksgiving table, and not at the center of a frantic search.

"Please bless those who are less fortunate than us." WE are less fortunate Calvin. Get to the point I am begging you. 

Above his voice, I hear of chorus of voices calling Eddie's name. Cal, meanwhile, has suddenly become Enos.

Finally, after mentioning everything from the food we have to eat to his last inning, he concludes with a plea that Eddie be found. "Amen." he says. "Amen." repeat the other kids.

And then, a moment later, Eddie. 

A man is leading him toward us from an adjacent parking lot. It turns out that he had had wandered to the point he was lost, then kept wandering and wandering. There's panic in his face too. 

I am overcome. So relieved. So grateful. So embarrassed. 

The games resume and I pretend to watch but all I want to do is bury a hole under the pitchers mound and hide in it. 

It's days, in fact, before I can stop obsessively replaying the events and what ifs. What if things had turned out worse? What if we never found him? Why did I look away? What were people thinking? When I'm finally able to settle and reflect, an image emerges in my mind. It's not of Eddie, but of Calvin and myself on opposite ends of a continuum.

On the one side is Calvin. He is faith. On the other side is me. I am works. 

While I had put all my energy into the effort required to find Eddie, Cal had relied entirely on a higher power. I would love to have had his faith in that moment, but we both had good intentions and I believe that, ideally, we fall somewhere in the middle. 

I think that's what James meant when he wrote that "Faith without works is dead," or Saint Augustine, who said, "Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you." 

Before every game since that night, I said a silent prayer that Eddie would be safe. And then I never kept my eyes off him. 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

A Brother Like No Other

(Written by my mother Susan Foutz,
who would like to clarify that she actually has two brothers like no other )


If you lived in Arizona in the 80s, 90s or 2000s, Kent Dana was probably in your home every night at 6 and 10 p.m., reporting the news. To many he was a famous local anchor but to me, he was my beloved big brother. Being the fifth of seven children, I sometimes fought for recognition in a large family. Kent was definitely the antidote for that. 


Back row, left to right - Reed, Carol, Kent, Judy, Susan
Bottom row - Marilyn, Joe, Kathleen, Dora 

A favorite early memory of Kent, is of him at the helm of our family boat. I was always in the far back with the biggest, most reliable life jacket available, shaking with fear that any minute we would capsize and our family would be lost to Saguaro Lake. I have never been a lover of water sports like most of my siblings, and prefer hiking on solid ground in the mountains of Greer, Arizona, our family's favorite vacation spot. 

On one trip to the lake, Kent announced that it was time for me to learn to water ski. No thank you, was my response. But Kent was a master of persuasion, and when it came to teaching skiing he had a perfect record. Before I could resist, he was in the water with me, adjusting the skis. After dozens and dozens of tries, and me swallowing gallons of lake water, he told me we were not leaving until I was able to stay up. Lo and behold, I finally got up. My self esteem soared, and I have never stopped bragging that I can ski despite my water anxiety. 

Kent always make me feel important. When he was in Uruguay on a Church mission he would frequently write letters just to me. I still have each one. 


The following is an excerpt from one of my favorites - 

"I want to propose a plan. When I get home, you will be 16 and a half and well into your social life. From what I predict, you will be quite a beautiful young lady. As you know, your big brother will be quite out of it as far as dating manners, latest dance steps, where to go, etc., so I want to ask your help. I want to take you out before anyone else so you can correct me in my blundering. I will be a social left foot and will need up to date advice, will you do it?" 

He was always a loyal cheerleader in my life, and could bring light to any dark day with his contagious laugh and optimistic outlook. 

In April of 1973, Kent called me to announce the birth of his third child, a daughter, and said her name would be Susan. As tears flowed, my husband thought there had been a tragedy, when actually, I had just received the greatest compliment. 

In the early 90s, he was interviewed by the Arizona Republic.


The reporter asked him, “What is your most memorable meal?” and he answered -  

“A holiday meal at my sister Susan’s house. She invited all our siblings and their spouses over. She put on a feast and a demonstration that I have never even seen in a restaurant. She went above and beyond, she blew us away.” 

He may have been prone to exaggeration but he sure knew how to make his little sister have a good day. Actually, he knew how to make everyone have a good day. 

He even lifted me up on the very worst day of my life. On November 11, 2002, my beloved husband Jim suddenly passed away. Kent immediately left the news station and was the first to arrive at the hospital. I will never forget the bear hug he gave me and the tears he shed with me. I think that was the moment I knew that somehow I might survive. 

In the twenty years since, his phone calls and support have lifted me up and helped me go on. Kent’s compassion and kindness was unparalleled. I will always be grateful for the joy he brought to my life, and his unwavering love and support.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Remembering Uncle Kent


I always felt lucky to have a childhood hero who happened to be my uncle. After he passed away last night, I went through my memory box and found this.




It was a playdate at the park with my cousins that doubled as a photo shoot. Our smiles are genuine because we knew that time with Uncle Kent always ended with a trip to Baskin Robbins.


He was constantly doing favors for his nieces and nephews - all 37 of us. Visits to the studio, appearances in student government campaign videos, celebrity introductions. Once he even arranged to land a helicopter at my elementary school. No matter how busy he was, Kent always took our phone calls, and never hesitated to say yes.

I pulled this article out of my memory box this morning, and it made me smile. His answers perfectly encapsulate his wit, and I especially love the first line:

“Kent Dana is more than Channel 12’s TV news anchor. He is also the kind of Dad every kid wishes for at one time or another. He possesses a warm smile and a twinkle in his eye - like a today’s ‘Father Knows Best.’”

As a journalist, his top priority was always to deliver the truth. The reporter who wrote this description of him passes the test.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Free Recess




I was emptying Eddie's backpack before school one morning, and pulled out a reminder of a holiday food drive. It had been there for over a week, and the deadline to bring in donations was the next day.

I quickly started pulling items from the pantry, but he stopped me. "I don't need to bring anything," he said. 

Confused, I showed him the flyer and explained that we were still within the deadline, but insisted. "I really don't need to," he repeated. 

When I asked why, he explained that whichever grade was the first to donate 300 cans of food would be rewarded an extra recess, and that second grade had already claimed the prize. There was therefore, no point. In donating. Food. To the hungry.

Sigh.

I tried to use it as a learning opportunity, and we had a pretty good discussion about the purpose of helping others. I even quoted the scripture in Matthew about doing alms, and not letting your left hand know what the right hand of second graders doeth on their extra recess. He agreed to take the food. 

As amused as I was by the idea of kids getting hyped about a holiday drive to feed the hungry spend an extra 20 minutes on the swings, I can't say I've never done the same thing. It's fun to be rewarded. But focusing on praise or payback can also blind us to the reason we're doing good in the first place. 

It's the difference between the person who posts a selfie after paying for someone's meal, and the one who discreetly swipes their card, knowing that no one but the recipient will ever know, or needs to. 

To the receiver, the food tastes the same either way. But to the giver, it's the intention that makes it sweeter. 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Frozen Faith


Shortly after Jack and I were married we faced the decision of where he would attend graduate school, and set out to tour the colleges on our list. 

One trip, to Ithaca New York, had me particularly excited. I had never been to New York, and even higher on my bucket list than the Big Apple was a little town in upstate called Palmyra. In my faith, Palmyra is considered a sacred place, and central to our understanding of Jesus Christ. I realized we would be staying just about 70 miles away, and added an extra day to the itinerary.

The morning of our tour we woke to what we would later learn was the worst ice storm New York had seen in over ten years. Flights were grounded, roads closed, and travel advisories flashed across every station on the TV. We would have to be idiots to attempt the drive. 

Which is exactly what we were. Against our better judgement and the stern admonishment of the front desk clerk at the hotel, we loaded up the rental car and hoped for the best.

It was the worst. 70 miles of white knuckling, sliding on black ice and wondering what our life insurance beneficiary would do with their meager payout. Three hours later, somehow, we arrived in one piece.

The site, referred to as the Sacred Grove, was deserted. Not a single car in the parking lot. We walked around and knocked on one of the little log homes, and an elderly guide opened the door. I have visited plenty of historical church sites in my life, and this was for sure the first time I was greeted with, "What are you doing here?"

He said that for the first time as far as he was aware, the Sacred Grove was deemed too dangerous for visitors, and closed. 

And that was that. Rather than spending our much-anticipated visit among the beautiful grove of trees, we got to spend about twenty minutes standing in the parking lot, looking at it from across a field. 

I had seen depictions of the Sacred Grove my entire life, and imagined what this moment would be like. Our visit was in April, which was serendipitous. Surely it would be warm, with streaming rays of light brightening my path. The leaves I imagined would be every shade of green with just enough wind to make them dance. I was certain there would be butterflies. 

Instead I huddled, shivering, in a cement parking lot with the view of a frozen gray storm. Every few minutes a branch would crack under the enormous weight of ice and crash to the ground. My fingers were numb, and I dreaded the drive back. 

According to every circumstance, I should have felt disappointed by the failure of my one and only opportunity. But as I watched those falling branches I instead felt an overwhelming, reassuring feeling of peace and happiness that belied my surroundings. To this day it remains one of my most treasured memories. 

Faith for me never has been the result of circumstance or logic. I learned then and life has confirmed since that faith is what steps in when circumstances fail.

The sun rarely shines down in perfect rays, and butterflies have yet to dance around my head. But when it's gray and cold and I can't feel my fingers, faith in Jesus Christ has been the compensating force that makes bad days better, rough relationships smoother, and even the most unsettling routes somehow worth the journey.


Friday, September 10, 2021

Good Vibes at Valley Forge

My mother’s side of the family are Danas. This is a heritage, I was taught growing up, that brings with it some notable claims to fame. 

Take my great uncle Danny Herrera, for instance, who invented the margarita (true story). He first concocted it in the late 1940's at Rancho La Gloria, his resort in Mexico, where my mom would visit in the summer as a child. To this day my cousins and I all wish each other a Happy National Margarita Day every February 22nd, although as sober Latter-day Saints most of us have never actually tried one.   


Another source of Dana pride is that my grandfather Joe Dana, after whom I and my daughter are named, once fired his gun at an approaching bear who went down on the first shot. Though it was clearly dead, no bullet hole could be found until the taxidermist discovered that it had gone in one ear and out the other. If you don’t believe me, the skin was turned into a rug that has been passed around the family for decades and can currently be found in my sister Jane’s guest room closet. 


But the family lore that made me proudest was that this same grandfather was lifelong friends with the great artist Arnold Friberg, and was the inspiration for the physical build of George Washington when he painted his magnum opus, Prayer at Valley Forge. 





The physique of Grandpa Joe in this painting is unmistakable, particularly the unique size and shape of his hands. 


The president of Friberg Art once recalled a time that the painting was lying on the floor of a printer’s studio when a security guard passed by. He studied it for some time then said, “You feel the prayer in his hands. He got it.” 


I couldn’t agree more. 


George Washington is typically portrayed in heroic fashion and rightfully so, looking like the father of our nation that he is. In my textbooks in school I remember he was always shown overlooking a victorious battlefield, or on the back of a charging horse, or proudly presenting the Constitution. 


But in Prayer at Valley Forge, he is at his lowest. Frozen, defeated, and no doubt weighed down by the responsibility of leading his equally frozen and defeated troops to safety. Fallen to his knees, in a moment of desperation, he pleads with God for help.


Friberg’s Washington looks humble. Prayerful. And by 2021 standards, perhaps a little controversial.  


I wonder, what if modern social media scrutiny existed in 1778, and someone hiding in the snow captured this moment and uploaded it to Twitter. What sort of debate would it spark? Could it have hurt his chances of becoming president years later? 


Possibly. Prayer certainly didn’t help Mike Pence in matters of public opinion while serving in the White House.  Last year, during a meeting of the coronavirus task force, he led the group in prayer. Someone snapped a picture that went viral and triggered a stampede of criticism.  


“You can’t pray this away,” someone Tweeted. “We are so screwed,” wrote another. Honestly, the general consensus of reactions reminded me of Nacho Libre’s sidekick Esquelito when he said, “I don’t believe in God. I believe in science," which, by the way, was supposed to be funny. Isn't there room to believe in both?


I don't think Mike Pence was praying to escape his responsibility in the pandemic any more than George Washington was praying as a strategy to avoid confronting the British. I believe that prayer is a component of our efforts, not an alternative to them.


I love the way Pope Francis put this when he said, “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That is how prayer works.” 


I think there can be a place in the political sphere for prayer without blurring the lines between church and state, the separation of which is one of our greatest freedoms. Prayer is an incredibly encompassing term. There are limitless possibilities of how a person might pray or to what source, and protections for those who choose not to pray at all. One of the primary tenets of my own faith is the privilege of worshiping according to our own conscience, and allowing others the same - “let them worship how, where or what they may.” 


I just wonder though, how prayer went from a natural expression and condolence we offer one another, to an awkward question of whether offense might be taken. Why people on social media are far more likely to send or solicit “thoughts and good vibes” than they are prayer. 


When you Google "sending prayers," in fact, several of the top search results are lists of alternative phrases you can use that omit the word prayer altogether. Because heaven forbid.


Still, in spite of all the noise, I believe that Prayer at Valley Forge is timeless. I don't know what Washington said in that moment of desperation, but the closest comparison of my lifetime was twenty years ago, watching an equally desperate President Bush address the nation of the evening of September 11th.


I remember sitting on the couch of my apartment in a dreamlike state, haunted by the images I had seen that day, and only beginning to understand how the world and my perception of it had changed. I couldn't imagine the weight on President Bush's shoulders. No amount of eloquence in his address would have been enough to comfort Americans that night. No call for vengeance or promise to rebuild sufficient.  And so he said - 


Today our nation saw evil - the very worst of human nature - and we responded with the best of America.


Tonight I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us.” 


Two decades later and more than two centuries after Valley Forge, we are still at times witness to the worst of human nature. And when we are, I'm grateful for a "power greater than any of us," and for the right to say God bless America, and mean it.



The Ballpark Prayer

  It felt like the worst kind of dream. One minute three-year old Eddie was playing on the playground, and the next he was gone.  We were at...