Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy Birthday April!

April turned 24 yesterday. We started the celebration on Saturday by going cross-country skiing up Millcreek Canyon with Mike and Catherine. We had so much fun that we all went back this afternoon to do it again but this time we brought the dogs.

We also went out to eat at Cancun Café (a favorite of April and I and the site of our first date) and went to see a dog movie Marley and Me. On Sunday we had the kemps over for a massive birthday dinner, complete with British crackers.

Happy birthday Sweetie. I’m glad that you came into this world and into my life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Going home for Christmas

April and I are exited to head up to Salt Lake for the holidays. The car is all packed. It took my mad Tetris skills to get all the presents, the dogs with their kennel, and ten bags of fresh-picked fruit from the orchard into the Explorer.

We can’t wait to see everyone.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book Review: Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, and Glen M. Leonard

“There is an unclean thing, born and nursed on our soil, polluting our soil, which must be driven away, not kept to destroy us.” Sophocles, Oedipus The King Act I

In the southwest corner of Utah, along Highway18, sits an alpine valley called the Mountain Meadows. It is a quiet place, out of the way from any major traffic. There are a few farms that sprawl across portions the valley but it is, by and large, undeveloped. At an altitude of nearly 6,000 feet the valley is a pleasant place to escape the summer heat that beats down on the surrounding dessert. In 1857 this valley was the scene of one of the most tragic events in the history of the West. That year a group of Mormon settlers disarmed a California-bound wagon train under a flag of truce and then systematically slaughtered approximately 120 men, women, and children.

For several years after the massacre fragments of clothing and the sun-bleached bones of victims lay strewn across the meadows, their shallow mass graves having been unearthed by coyotes. In southern Utah legends cropped up after the massacre about herds of wild cattle haunting the region surrounding the spot where their masters were slaughtered. Even the land itself seemed to bear a mark of guilt as a testament to the terrible crime that occurred there. In the two decades following the tragedy, natural erosion replaced the lush grasses of the meadows with scrub oak and sage, carved deep gullies across the fields, and turned the little rivulet that ran through the valley into a wide arroyo. Even the natural spring was replaced with “a sunken pool of slimy, filthy water.” Some said that this transformation was a “cu[r]se of God.” But much more pronounced than any supposed effects on the land have been the guilt and shame that have been experienced by the Latter-day Saint and local communities to this day.
Nearly one hundred years after the event Southern Utah historian and Mormon Juanita Brooks referred to the Mountain Meadows Massacre as “a ghost that will not be laid.” She continued: “Again and again, year after year, it stalks abroad to cast its shadow across some history or to haunt the pages of some novel...until it has been made the most important episode in the state [of Utah], eclipsing every achievement and staining every accomplishment.” The feelings of guilt associated with the massacre have never fully been put to rest. Mormons born many decades after the event feel pains of guilt and shame at its very mention. Collective guilt on the part of the Mormon faith has been persistently laid at the feet of its adherents by historians, novelists, and film makers ever since the event.

It has now been 150 years since the Massacre and it appears that Mormonism is finally beginning to come to some kind of terms with the event. The new book, Massacre at Mountain Meadows: An American Tragedy is a significant part of this reconciliation. This has been one the most important publications in Mormon studies in the past few years. The historical work done by the authors is first rate. The reasoning behind their conclusions is clear and transparent. Over one third of the book is citations and footnotes. This basically allows diligent readers to do their own history to check the book’s conclusions. This transparency is refreshing in any work of history but it is especially important with any work dealing with the subject of the massacre, where there is so much disagreement about even the fundamental facts concerning the tragedy.

In the book’s introduction the authors stated: “Only complete and honest evaluation of the tragedy can bring the trust necessary for lasting good will. Only then can there be catharsis.” I find the use of the term “catharsis” particularly apropos. Catharsis is the purging or cleansing of the tragic emotions. Understanding the massacre in the context of cathartic reconciliation provides an effective way to resolve the feelings of collective guilt as well as to purge the state being collectively guilty.

In 2001 the church commissioned three historians to write a history of the massacre. This history was not to be a response to prior histories but rather rely on original documents. To this end the church provided an enormous amount funding for original research. The church also wanted full disclosure of all the material that it possessed. The church opened up all of its archives for the project. These included the personal recollections that had been collected by Assistant Church Historian Andrew Jensen over one hundred years before and had up until this time been kept from the public. Perhaps most significantly, the church surrendered editorial control over the manuscript, allowing the historians to do their work without supervision.
The book has been a major hit among L.D.S. faithful. The first printing of 5,000 copies sold out before it was even released. As of November 27, 2008 (only two months after its initial release) book was already in its fifth printing, having sold more than 44,000 copies, most of them in Utah. The narrative of Massacre at Mountain Meadows proceeds like a Greek tragedy. As the authors move through the events the motivations of the perpetrators pervade the background. The book describes, in terrifying detail, how decent ordinary people were able to let themselves murder innocent men, women and children.

The institutional support for this book and it’s acceptance among mainstream Latter-day Saints shows a willingness on the part of the church and its members to come to terms with the massacre. This reconciliation is just beginning. But as Mormonism rediscovers the Mountain Meadows Massacre, its adherents are forced to confront the question of what they would have done had they been there. The difficult part of this is realizing that the perpetrators cannot simply be dismissed as evil, violent men. The perpetrators lived good decent honorable lives before the massacre, committed a terrible atrocity, and then returned to living good decent honorable lives. Anyone who sees this fact is forced to ask the question; “would I have acted any different in the circumstances?” I believe that by asking this question is the first step to healing the wounds left by the tragedy. When this question is honestly asked, we can purge whatever part of us may have caused us to do what the murderers if we had been in their situation so that we will never again repeat the tragic mistakes of our collective past.

Richard Turley, one of the co-authors Massacre at Mountain Meadows, highlighted the need for an emotional understanding and connection with the perpetrators; “and I think that those emotions that we felt are important to understanding what really happened. I think sometimes people try to tell the story of what happened at Mountain Meadows from a pedestal of righteous indignation that allows them to separate themselves form those emotions and if they never felt what happened there they don’t really understand it.” In Greek tragedy the end of the tragedy is catharsis, a cleansing or purgation of the tragic emotions of pity and fear. It is by going through the process that the tragedy evokes, that one reaches catharsis. This is not easy or always pleasant. The purpose of tragedy is to bring to the surface negative emotions so that they can then be cleansed from the spectator. Aristotle remarked: “Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper catharsis of these emotions.” C.S. Lewis likewise remarked: “Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality.” I believe that this is because literature puts us in the position to feel and experience our shared identity with other people. By experiencing their crimes, sins, and flaws we identify whatever shared nature and, hence shared guilt, we have with others. By seeing a commonality with tragic figures we begin to understand the flawed parts of our own nature. It is then that the healing can begin. It is this process that can bring catharsis.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Life with Dogs

I know I just posted, but I found these photos and just had to put them on the blog. 2 weeks ago, I was wearing a bracelet that I got from my mother-in-law, Karen from South Africa. Apparently it's made from real bone. Nike loved it. He was sniffing my bracelet for at least 5 minutes straight. We caught the last bit on video because it was just too funny!

Here's one from Halloween:

My favorite part about this picture is that it is pure reality. It's good dog/bad dog: Nike is a near-perfect angel; Kiki tends more to be a naughtly little devil (though she has mellowed out a bit in her old age).

I Don't Believe in Santa Claus but I Ran his Race Anyway

Yesterday was the 31st annual Santa Monca-Venice Christmas Run. It feaures a 10k and 5k that are basically a Christmas celebration catered to crazy runners like myself. The race features Christmas music, Santa, and unique running get up. I often see runners dressed up in unusual ways, but this was the only time I remember seeing people running dressed like Santa Claus.

My favorite was a shirt that said, "Dear Santa, I can explain..."

I thought that running a race would be a good way to celebrate the season and get back to my normal self after pregnancy. The race even benefits homeless pregnant women and their new babies.

I love racing! If I had all the time and money in the world, I would race every other weekend. My favorite part about running is breaking my personal records. I cut off 11 seconds in my 10k with a chip time of 43:58 and placed 6th in my age group running against members of the USA track team. During the first half, I even broke my 5k record by 16 seconds with a time of 21:20!
My second favorite part about racing are the bathroom lines.
I kept thinking that should have brought my dog. He would have looked real cute in antlers: And even though I don't believe in Santa Claus, I made sure to have my picture taken with him just for Steve's benefit.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bye Bye Baby

This week, Steven and I said goodbye to our baby at 10 weeks. I went in for an appointment the day before Thanksgiving, and there was no longer any heartbeat (we had seen one at week 7). The doctor said we would probably lose the baby within the week. Sunday night, I woke up with incredible pain, lasting nearly 8 hours until the process was over. I thought I would go to work, as I was starting to feel better and didn't want to spend the day home alone (don't ask me why I thought I should even be at work; I have no idea) but the car wouldn't start---talk about perfect timing! When I called my coworker Maureen to let her know I wouldn't be at work that day, she offered to take me to my doctor's appointment.
Since Steve had a paper due that day (he had been putting it off all weekend to take care of me), he had to go to school and teach seminary. I didn't feel like moping alone at home, so I walked over to the Crall's, where Lorein and Carter graciously entertained me until Steve was able to come home.
This week has been hard. I've been going to work, trying to distract myself from thinking about anything but it has been getting better with time. My office and Steve's family both sent us beautiful flowers as soon as they heard; everyone has been so supportive and understanding of the situation. My best friend Katie has called me every day to check up on me and make sure I was doing ok. My parents got my brothers and sisters and their families (8/10) to sign a very sweet card for us that they sent in the mail. It arrived on the day we needed it most. My favorite comment was from my younger brother John ("The Titans lost one last week but rebounded to win triumphantly. You will too.") because he made me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry (that's John for you). We're really blessed to have people who love us this much and we couldn't ask for a better group of family and friends.
Though I would never wish to go through something like this, I have learned a lot with this experience that will probably benefit my life for the future:
10.We really want to be parents someday. Can't wait until it's our turn!
9. I am definitely taking pain meds for labor! (this was much worse than a marathon).
8. Sometimes bad things happen to decent people for no apparent reason.
7. Running fast is a good way to work off pent-up emotions.
6. Thinking about others will help get your mind off your own problems.
5. I have the best boss and coworkers ever.
4. Life is precious. Never take anything for granted.
3. We have an amazing support network of family and friends. Thanks everyone!!!
2. Kiki really can tell when I am sad, and she'll sit and cry with me if I need her to.
1. Steven is the most loving, caring, and wonderful husband a girl could ever hope for.
Thanks again to everyone, we appreciate everything you have done to help us through our tough times. Even though many of you are far away, we really feel of your love and support. Thanks!