Monday, December 29, 2008

The Chubby Bunny on Vertical Ice!

We only get cold enough weather in Yakima every couple of years ice climb. The last time we went Horsetail Falls was sketchy (more water than ice) to say the least. The day after Christmas, Nick Jordan (Syd's fiance), Brent Burnett (Darcee's husband) and I drove up Chinook Pass to Horsetail Falls to check out the ice. The ice was solid but melting. I led the climb rather clumsily, but safely. Brent's new ice tools are amazing.

Me on lead.

Nick ice climbing for the first time.

Nick on rappel.

Brent on rappel.

Brent showing how to use his amazing new ice tools.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Small, Snow-Covered Tree

The Ensign published the article I submitted a couple of years ago. The original article is copied below. Although I was happy The Ensign published this article, I felt in many respects that my voice was lost in its editorial truncation of what I originally prepared.

A Small Snow-covered Tree
By Darrell K. Smart

The nurse whisked him down the delivery wing of our local hospital on a wheeled bed hollering to no one in particular, “He’s a ’10-4’ good buddy! He’s a 10-4!” I love a sense of humor in any situation. Our third child and first son, Bay was born two weeks before Christmas in 1985 on a clear, bright night. His momma supersized him at birth─an impressive 10 pounds and 4 ounces. That evening as I left the hospital, and my exhausted but joyful wife, the chilled December air seemingly had no effect on me. The warmth and joy that accompanied the birth of a son (My first born son!) overwhelmed the cold of that clear December night. Even the stars seemed to reflect the warm feeling in my heart by brightly announcing his birth.

The following December we joyously celebrated many blessings, but in particular the first birthday of our dark-eyed, dark haired son with a perfect ruddy complexion. It truly was a joyous time; we had much to be grateful for. I had finally graduated from law school and secured a paying job in my wife’s home town in Central Washington. The day after Christmas 1986, our happiness was shattered by a tragedy which collectively changed our lives and how we view the world. During any evening of games at the home of my in-laws, our revelry was silenced by a awful shriek from my mother-in-law, “He’s not breathing! Help me! Quickly!” She had gone to check on Bay, who had been sleeping on her bed, and discovered his cold, lifeless body. We immediately rushed him to the hospital, attempting CPR on the way. We were grief stricken to learn nothing could be done to save his life. Bay suddenly and tragically died from SIDS. This story, however, is not about his death, but what occurred thereafter.

Following Bay’s death we were surrounded by the love and concern of many friends and family members. For years, near the time of his birthday and Christmas, thoughtful friends would call or send touching cards, giving us great strength and courage. In time, the holiday season once again became a joyous, special time of year. Christmas, in particular, delivered a much deeper meaning for our family following Bay’s death. It had the effect of strengthening our family relations and it forever changed how we, as parents, viewed our other children. Paradoxically, in many ways Christmas time now is more meaningful and joyful than it was before we lost our son; however, there are also moments of sadness associated with our loss that seem to be more poignant because of the season. For example, each year on Christmas evening as we take down our other children’s stockings to fill them, one solitary stocking is left on the fireplace mantle. Several years ago, just before Christmas, our sixth child, Darel, curiously asked us, “Are you going to put something in Bay’s stocking?” It’s a legitimate question for a five-year old. We really don’t know what to do with Bay’s stocking. Because he is our son and will always be a part of our family, we hang it with the other stockings, and yet there is no reason to take it down on Christmas Eve…and so it hangs by itself, warmly silhouetted each evening by the flames of our family hearth─a focal point throughout the remainder of the holiday as a reminder of our loss.

Each year near Bay’s birthday and Christmas, my wife and I make our pilgrimage to the cemetery where Bay is buried to place a little something on this grave. Each year that we visited his gravesite, we were surprised and comforted to find that some else arrived in advance of us and placed something on our son’s grave: one year delicate, small flowers frozen by the winter’s chill, the next year an adorable stuffed bear holding a heart and dusted lightly by skiffs of snow, the next year a little tree, decorated sparsely with miniature ornaments─but never a note or a card. We had no idea who was responsible for these acts of kindness. I asked my wife one year, “How do you suppose your Mom does it? Invariably, she seems to know when we will be coming and beats us here every year.” And yet when I cleverly suggested to my mother-in-law in later conversations her role in all of this, she maintained complete denial. The following year while my in –laws served on a church mission abroad, we again were blessed by a secret someone. As we stood near the headstone of our son, I admitted to my wife that I was stumped, “Well, it obviously is not your mother, unless she made a surprise visit from Malaysia and failed to tell us she was coming home.” We continued to ponder who it might be. We suspected certain friends or family members and discussed it, but were unable to solve the puzzle of identifying our special friend, (or friends). Each December, these thoughtful gifts left in advance of our visit touched us deeply.

In 1996, ten years after the death of our son, our town experienced a series of snowstorms so severe that it made it nearly impossible to travel around our small town. For several days near Christmas we were literally snowed-in. The accumulation of snow was so great, that for two days I was unable to make it to work. Our office cancelled all appointments and closed the office. Thereafter, for several days, travel was slow and difficult; our annual pilgrimage to our son’s gravesite was delayed until several days after Christmas. When we finally made it to the cemetery a small decorated Christmas tree (mostly buried in snow) thoughtfully left by our secret friend stood bravely the head of Bay’s small gravesite. Tears streamed down our faces to know that someone still shared our grief and loss. The effort it surely took to somehow find a way to get to the cemetery before us completely overwhelmed and humbled us. Initially, we were more resolved than ever to discover the identity our benefactor. We obviously needed to thank them for showing such compassion towards us. Or did we? It was clear to us that whoever was perpetrating these acts of kindness did not want to be identified. As we continued to ponder the blessing of that day, and to think about what had transpired and how much these small gifts meant to us, we came to understand that we needed to allow our friend to remain anonymous. We recollected the inscription on Bay’s tombstone, now deeply protected by a warm blanket of snow, “Our Beloved Bay, Alive in Christ.” Although, we felt badly about allowing this act to remain anonymous, we learned a much greater lesson.

The inscription thoughtfully commissioned on Bay’s headstone is more relevant to the living, than the dead. The Savior commanded us to do good acts in secret (or anonymously) and that he would reward us openly. Our secret benefactor was surely “alive in Christ” in anonymously blessing our lives. The need to thank our friend was replaced by a need to simply live better. This event has inspired us in so many ways to try to be better people: it is now harder for us to speak ill or criticize any of our friends or family members for fear that that person may be our special Christmas friend. My wife and I think more often about our motivation for doing good. We oftentimes pause and think before we act, asking ourselves if we are doing things for the right reasons. Do we do good to be seen by others, or do we do good for the sake of doing good? Now, for us, Christmas charity has no face and no name. It stands alone, anonymous, and humble─a beautifully decorated Christmas tree half buried in snow in a quiet, empty cemetery on the grave of our young son.