Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Confession

I have a confession about something that has nothing to do with this mission.  

I graduated from BYU with a degree in history.  I did not want a BS degree.  You know the line:  BS (referring to what one TV commentator called “warm, smelly stuff deposited by the male bovine the morning after eating a bale of hay”), MS (More of the Same), and PhD (Piled Higher and Deeper).  So I got a BA instead.  In fact, I would have taken a BS but I was closer to qualifying for the BA (Bachelor of Arts) than the BS (Bachelor of Science) because I had three semesters of French.  At least that is how things stacked up in 1973 when I was trying to get out of BYU honorably. 

I had been recently married to a bright and lovely woman who had been out of school for a couple of years with her own BS in Microbiology, and sheAs a freshman at Ricks was a working MT (Medical Technologist, not Technician) in a prestigious Utah hospital.  I was also under contract with the USA (United States Army) because of a circuitous journey through the USANG (US Army National Guard) and AROTC (Army Reserve Officers Training Corps) and acceptance into the prestigious HPSP (Health Professions Scholarship Program). I had followed that course, quite simply, to get out of the draft during the Vietnam Conflict.

When I was doing my undergraduate work I could not decide what to major in.  Before my mission I wanted to major in chemistry.  I had tested well in the physical sciences and I enjoyed the hands-on part of chemistry.  I took a literature class, the required English composition class, and a smattering of other subjects I thought would be interesting.  History always fit into that category.  It was interesting.  But then the mission came and I was in South Africa for the next 30 months.  April 1966 to October 1968 is still mostly blank in my mind as to what was going on in the world.

After learning Afrikaans I knew I could handle another language.  I came back in the middle of a semester and quickly got into a sociology class.  Watching people was always fun and I found it intriguing to study human interaction. I was actually invited to join the Valhalla Folk Dancers at Ricks College, so every Tuesday and Thursday mornings we would practice at 0600.  I had no car, so I walked up the hill to the practices in the Kirkham Ballroom. That semester I was in the best physical shape of my entire life.  I explored dating, music, more history, more sociology, psychology, student government (VP of the sophomore class), intramural activities including badminton (I lasted one match, losing to the tournament champion in three straight sets), a full year of French, and even bowling.

A failed engagement was the major event of my sophomore year.  She was a great kid, and I was trying to be a great guy, but we did not make a great couple.  That is another story for another day.  I left Rexburg unattached.

The BYU experience was bigger than I ever imagined it could be.  The football and basketball games, the devotionals, the guest lecturers by world-renowned experts in many different fields, and more history classes, all left me with a yearning for more education.  I had seen some of the world on my mission and I wanted more. 

But what would I do to earn a living?  I enjoyed the entertainment value of my history classes. Who were the main characters on the stage for the events of Western civilization? I was challenged on every side by the science classes, especially organic and quant/qual chemistry, but what would I do to support a family?  I never had much extra money.  I had enough for my needs, but that was only if I skipped lunch. Pennies mattered.  I read for a blind student, and in the process I really learned to see.

Meanwhile, one of my roommates said he was going to dental school.  I decided to check into that, since nothing else brought much peace to my troubled heart, and I took the DAT with very little preparation.  (I did look at a couple of old tests, just to get an idea of what kind of questions were asked.)  I did quite well, actually, so I focused on that avenue.  The Army ROTC program won over Air Force ROTC, so I knew I would be wearing green.  I applied for school and was accepted to UW.  ROTC made me aware of a scholarship program, so I applied and was awarded a 4-year ride through dental school with all expenses paid and $400 per month to live on.  (We actually bought a house in Seattle during that time.) A degree was required to be commissioned an officer in the Army Reserve, but I was already accepted to dental school, so I would be commissioned as soon as I began class work at the UW. I decided that I would like to complete my degree even if I did not need it for dental school or for the military, so I took on the last two classes, historiography and a senior research project.  I found that I really enjoyed doing the research and the writing, but I was going into dentistry.

I have been a dentist for almost 40 years.  I have enjoyed the career, the military experience, the income that dentistry has been able to provide, a nice home, decent vehicles, seven great kids and meeting all the essential costs associated with raising a large family. Along the way, I have enjoyed reading and learning about academic things.  I have loved reading about the universe.  The photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope have been amazing to see and to think about. Contemplating the vast distances of space has brought the magnificent existence of God into my own daily reality, as has the equally amazing universe of atoms and elements. The very most enjoyable class in my whole academic career was astronomy at Ricks College, taught by Gordon Dixon. Truly, the universe speaks most forcefully for the existence and love of our God. The complexities of human interaction and the nuances of interpreting human history have no end. Most of the things that have been thrilling to me have had little direct connection to dentistry.  

Is that bad?  Is it even normal?  My passion has not been dentistry, even though I have spent millions and millions (sounds like Carl Sagan, doesn’t it?) of hours reading and listening to lectures to keep up with the profession. And I think I did a reasonable job of staying current.  Now I am retired from dental practice and I don’t even think much about it any more. However, I still feel a thrill to read about the research that is going on in archeological explorations in Guatemala, or an analysis of the meaning of some essay or poem.  I love to consider different languages and how such a variety of means of expression came to be.  I thrill to have an in depth discussion with my PhD-holding son about the methods and theories of effective and ineffective communication. I want to read a good biography of Alexander the Great.  I marvel in the loving way my children teach my grandchildren, including the seven children who have joined our family by marriage. I am in awe at the teaching ability of Jeffrey Holland.  And in all this exploring and sampling and drinking in the smorgasbord of mind-expanding exploration of the universes we live in, social and physical, I still feel a thrill that actually makes my heart beat a little stronger and a little faster. 

To appreciate and understand an uplifting sculpture or painting, listening to or trying to perform a part in a great symphony, or even to appreciate the challenge of mastering the bagpipes still bring absolute joy into my life. I stand in awe at the beauty of what so many hard working and bright men and women have contributed to the expanding view of our universes. There seems to be no end, but rather, an exponential growth of opportunity for more of the same.  And I see the hand of God in all of it.

So here is the confession.  I am glad I will not be a dentist in the next life. But I have no regrets.

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