Jack & Lucky Chapter 14

Jack & Lucky Chapter 14

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It was a cold, clear Friday morning in November when Jack arrived in Brescia in northern Italy.

I found my way home, leaving one bag at the station, the other had been shipped separately. I found the elders’ apartment in time to join them for lunch. My comp hadn’t arrived, so after lunch I went to sleep and slept right through his futile attempts at ringing the door bell.

Jack woke slowly, letting his mind drift in and out of a blank, shapeless, vast Arctic expanse with no end. He could hear someone stirring outside the room, but had no inclination to get up. He had captured the vision of the “far-away” and relished the tranquil moment between sleep and consciousness.

When he could no longer maintain the trance, he searched his mind to recall where and who he was. He had been shuffled around so much and the circumstances were so unfamiliar that he had to concentrate to recall his recent steps. It was almost completely dark in the room as he lifted himself and stumbled toward the door. He opened it reluctantly wishing he could return to the vision of infinity.

“Look at that. He’s alive.”

“What time is it? How long have I been asleep?” He knew it was late because it was dark outside.

“It’s five-thirty. You must have been out cold. I knocked on the door so loud I thought I would wake the dead. I had to wait for a half hour until the other elders came. They had to leave for a lesson. By the way, I’m Bill Sadler, your new companion.”

“I’ve seen you at some meeting somewhere but I guess we’ve never formally met. Jack Lincoln, nice to meet ya.” Jack was still groggy but extended his hand and exchanged a firm handshake.

“Sorry about that sleeping situation. I usually don’t sleep so soundly.” He sat on a bed in the open room. This was the same apartment where he lived more than a year earlier, not much had changed.

“I saw you at the conference in Firenze last Christmas. You guys sang those songs from the North. I thought that was great, although you could have used some more practice.”

“I’ve never been famous for singing. None of those other guys were as good as me, which ain’t saying anything. I wish I could remember those songs to take home with me. I don’t keep that stuff in my head. You must be hungry. Where did you come from?”

“Milano was my last assignment. I had lunch, I can eat anytime you’re ready.”

“It won’t take me long.” Jack returned to the bedroom to get ready.

Elder Sadler spoke louder. “You’re famous for your street meetings. A lot of missionaries use those now. Were you really the first one?”

Jack called back. “As far as I know, but that’s a dubious distinction. I’d rather be known for the most baptisms; it’s too late for that. I’m just coasting until I leave for home in February. I’ll get dressed and we can go eat and share war stories.”

“Sure, take your time.” Elder Sadler resumed reading Jack’s copy of the Time Magazine.

We ate dinner and slept on springs with no mattresses and only one quilt. I slept by the radiators for two nights running, miserably.

The weather was cold and wet, a shock for Jack’s system, adjusted as it was to the sub-tropical climate of Brindisi. It was impossible to feel comfortable or warm even directly in front of the heater. The metal radiator under the window didn’t carry enough heat even when he laid completely against it. One side of his body was always cold.

Jack was in no hurry to get settled so he took more time than in the past.

I had trouble getting my bags from the train station because of a strike but finally managed. I’ve taken the single room in the back of the apartment where I’ve had to fix up a light and plug-in. I’m quite comfortably situated and am the only one that enjoys any privacy and/or quiet.

Jack planned to do some serious reading and writing.

The two new companions began working indifferently but Jack failed to keep a record of his daily activities. His life followed most of the old, now familiar routine, so the daily events are of less concern than his thoughts.

These past two weeks we’ve been tracting quite a bit. We’ve even managed one week in 3 of 40 hours, which for me is phenomenal. We’ve met a couple of families that are reasonably nice. One fellow who works for the IBM corporation is interested. Another family of four sons, two of whom are boxers, are taking lessons. We ate with them last Monday night. Other than that, no other successes.

We’ve had a couple of street meetings, but I don’t participate actively. My attitude is to do something, to go through the motions, to use the time up as fast as possible. I’ve got my release date, February 7th, less than two months.

Jack was beginning to make plans and arrangements for his return, these would change several times before the actual event. One significant notice arrived several months after the fact, his cousin Lucky had died. The notice came in a letter from his sister, Jane, who had heard second hand from someone who did not know the details. On hearing this Jack was saddened and spent the next several days in virtual, quiet isolation. It took him several months to compose and finish a written letter of condolence.

The funeral service was to be private but because of Lucky’s connection to the local military community and to the logging community through his wife’s family, there was a surprisingly large attendance. The service was held in the church where Mary Jane was to have met Dan and Margaret. That was a hard way for Lucky to overcome his objection to attending church with Dan.

In fact, one of the speakers was Dan Bailey, Lucky’s former roommate and confidant. Dan was still in the Army, still attending college but had married Margaret and was soon to be a father. He came forward before the service and requested the privilege of presenting a eulogy for Lucky at the funeral.

He was dressed in his best green uniform as were his other buddies. His carefully prepared remarks gave an important explanation of Lucky’s life.

“It is always difficult to say goodbye to a close friend, and Lucky Murray was no better at that difficult task than most of us. That may explain why he left us quickly and abruptly. But he’s gone and we’ll miss him, so we need to use this occasion to say goodbye to him. Saying goodbye now is more a comfort for ourselves than for Lucky.

“Even so, there will always be part of his life that lingers for each of us who knew him well. He was the kind of person that didn’t just coast through life, he lived deliberately and made a distinct effort to have an impact on his associates and the world around him. Anyone who ever knew him remembered him fondly.

“Along with Lucky’s friendship, which I will always cherish, I remember Lucky most for the services he performed, because that’s what I saw first hand, every day. When we talk about Lucky’s service we have to think about it in a broad way. Lucky served mankind by being competent and using his talents as a mechanic and driver to keep the wheels of the Army rolling. He did what was expected of him in an effective and efficient manner.

“Service of this kind is not just measured by the compensation he received; that only touches the surface of the kind of services Lucky rendered. He frequently went out of his way to help people with no thought of compensation. He drove the liberty bus and the bus to and from the college where I attend as a volunteer. He did that to serve his friends. {He left out the part about it being punishment.}

“His personality wasn’t just about being a nice guy. In fact he frequently complained and found need to correct other people’s mistakes, but he never gave up in disgust or stopped doing that. I was never sure which gave him more satisfaction, helping people or complaining about it afterward, but since his complaints were made of bluff and gusto and his help was unselfish, I suspect he enjoyed the service more.

“Lucky could have lived his life in a dozen different ways, doing many less demanding jobs, but at one time, for whatever reason, he made the decision to serve his country. Once he had taken that obligation, he never shirked or faltered. He didn’t fail to serve even though he objected to the current war situation. He suffered from the ambivalence that is a strong undercurrent in our society, but he knew how to give service, so that was his first and overriding concern. That’s what he did ably, honestly, and with passion.

“He was a man driven to serve in an active role. He was driven to use all his talents and he had many. He played a mean guitar in his younger years in a rock band. Music always had a special fascination for him. He could sing, especially in the shower, sometimes to the annoyance of his nearby associates. He was a mechanic of course, both on duty and off. He frequently donated his talent for fixing cars to his friends, including me.

“He had a talent to make people laugh, although too often life was hard against him and didn’t let him laugh as often as he would have liked.

“For diversion he liked to play tricks on people. He would leave anonymous notes around the barracks commenting humorously and sarcastically about the habits of the other guys. He would talk back to his superiors, but in doing so most often gained their respect because he had a special calm confidence even they admired.

“He had a dry sense of humor that didn’t quit. He made friends with the people he talked to without even trying because he was honest and concerned and that came across clearly. He would cut out cartoons and stick them in a stack of his completed work at the motor pool just to surprise his co-workers with a joke when they least expected it. He would sit there and giggle off and on until the joke was discovered. Then the whole company would laugh together, with him in the lead.

“I have known him for nearly three years and we never tired of each other. He was a loyal friend.

“He really wanted to make things work right, whether it be his Triumph Motorcycle, which ran like a top, or the entire fleet of cars, trucks and busses at the Post. He really took a personal interest in each vehicle he attended. But it wasn’t the mundane aspect of this work or the actual accomplishments he achieved that give meaning to his life. It is the attitude of committed service that he projected. He was a slave to service.

“He served his family in this same way. He worked long, hard hours to bring the necessities of life to his wife and child–never questioning whether or not that was a good idea. He did it unthinking as part of a commitment to service. He might have groused about some details or the pain and fatigue, but that was only because these niggling details interfered with the quality of the service he wished to perform.

“There are about twenty people who depended directly on his service during the time that we were acquainted, as best I can calculate. Many of you would gladly count yourself in that number along with myself. There were hundreds who benefited indirectly from his efforts and service. Almost all of us would be included in that category.

“Just think of the thousands and many more that benefited from the service he performed as he lived his life, both selfishly and unselfishly–whether they came in contact with him or thanked him or ever thought of him again. It made no difference to him; he performed his service just the same. He knew they were there, the people that needed his service, and he knew how important his effort was to them. That was his reward and his credit. He served most often tirelessly and without thought of being thanked. Helping others make a living was part of the code of service he accepted and on which he himself thrived.

“There wasn’t much mystery about Lucky’s life that I could see. That’s not to say that his life was simple but just the opposite. He was confident about his service, he was deliberate and opinionated and secure in his own conclusions. He never questioned the service he enjoyed performing. He never questioned the need to start work each day. He came to work ready to go and didn’t quit until there was no one around to serve. I was there, I saw that phenomenon, known to all of us and remembered with fondness as “Lucky.”

“I never kept track of how many days he was sick or absent from work, because it wasn’t worth counting–probably no more than five days total in the time I knew him. It was against some unwritten code to which he subscribed. He was proud of his health and his service. But he lived hard and enjoyed the associations he had with his friends. He could play as hard as he worked.

“There is nothing simple about that kind of dedicated and purposeful service. “Maybe the only mystery was that for a person from a broken home, who had little contact with his original family, who didn’t associate with religion, he had an unexplainable internal driving force to succeed and persevere and give service to us. For what reason? Why did we deserve his unquestioned loyalty? Here is where the mystery in his life can be found. The answer to those questions is gone with him, but we should reflect on that for our own lives. Can we say the same for ourselves?

“The mystery of his life is the answer he found to overcome the daily grind. He gave his life to the call of service. What more could we ask of anyone? The proof of the purity of his soul is the beauty in the face and shine in the eyes of his daughter Ellen. She will grow up without knowing her father, except, hopefully by sentiments such as I am describing today.

“He and I seemed to share the same point of view about many subjects. I often used him as a sounding board for ideas I had or for theories that I came across in my studies. When he agreed, or when I could convince him, then I felt a special confidence in my own thoughts. He had a keen sense of fairness and logic that defied explanation. That capable reasoning power is also part of the mystery of his life that we celebrate today.

“Lucky’s life teaches us that we should all serve other people in any and every way we can. When we do, we end up satisfied and fulfilled even if our lives are cut short. Lucky was successful in his life because he never let himself suffer defeat at his own hands. The kind of fortitude he demonstrated came from within, not from without, because it often seemed the world conspired against him at every turn. Every desire for achievement was frustrated and limited, but even so he found a dynamic success. What a tremendous life of service he lived. What a remarkable heritage of achievement he leaves all of us, his family and friends. Can we each in our own way follow his example and fulfill a similar life of service?”

After those remarks there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. Dan’s words were inspired by the power of Lawrence Murray’s own friendship and companionship. He was gone. His furious search for enjoyment, challenge and service was ended. The question always remains: Did he lose his life at the end, or did he find life every day in his endless drive for excitement and the durable way he lived?

December 13th. The last two days we haven’t done much in the afternoon, mostly out of exasperation. Much of the tracting has been very poor. My companion is `trunked out.’ I’m not much better. We think constantly of kissing girls and related activities.

Trunked out meant keeping the bags packed and ready to go, at least the mental bags. Military members call those in such circumstances `short timers.’

Elder Sadler was from Logan, Utah. Like Jack, he had been raised in The Church. They were so familiar with the habits of the Mormon community that they had little reverence for the seriousness of the ethnic behavior expected of them.

Jack came out of his room early Sunday morning to prepare breakfast. “What does it mean when you wear your garments inside out?”

Sadler looked surprised. “God, did I do that? I didn’t even notice.”

“Maybe it means you left your glasses off when you were getting dressed? Or maybe it means you want to have sex, even if you can’t?”

“I don’t have to have any special sign for that. That’s a given. I can’t wait till I can take one of those beautiful coeds into a dark corner and make passionate kissing noises.”

“Geese, would you lay off that? You make me too anxious too. You’re too explicit and too literary. Just don’t talk about that today when you give your two-and-a-half minute talk, okay? We don’t want the Sunday School to get an `X’ rating.”

“This city has more attractive girls than anywhere I’ve been.” By now the two were sitting at the table eating cold cereal with a banana each.

“You’re just noticing them more because you’re so horney. I went through that years ago with an Elder Baldwin here in Brescia. Did you ever meet him? You are lucky you have me for a chaperon. He got sent home, ya know, not long after he left Brescia. You don’t want that to happen during the last few months, do you?”

Sadler slurped the milk from his spoon and smiled slyly. “You’re too practical, not spontaneous enough.”

“That’s probably true. But it keeps me out of trouble, usually.”

“If I could just touch one for a few minutes.”

“That’s like an alcoholic drinking just one drink. Then you forget about stopping or why you shouldn’t drink in the first place.”

“We could make that part of The Church service. The old days of polygamy were probably a lot more interesting.”

“When you finally have one wife, you’ll probably agree that one is enough. The only thing I do right in The Church is keep my distance from women. And I regret that.”

“Maybe you can bless the Sacrament today. All you have to do is read the card. You should be able to get that right.”

After Jack lifted his bowl and drank the residual milk, sweet with sugar, he commented: “I always screw up on one or two words. I wish I could just make it through once without any errors.”

Jack was his own worst critic. This relentless self-criticism and internal scrutiny is the same attack he directed toward his religious faith. It was his natural tendency to doubt and scrutinize every concept that contributed to his failure to accept an otherwise inspiring religious belief from one day to the next. He had unreasonable expectations of what spirituality should be like. He had accepted at face value the florid, glib phrases and hyperbole of Church leaders. Then it all seemed so vacant.

Jack’s self-doubt is a special form of cynicism that is only recognizable when directed at public institutions or competing religions. This pessimistic cynicism is disguised as scientific method, open mindedness or objectivity when directed toward oneself. In politics it often results in the challenge to propaganda and the challenge to any leadership, even the most benevolent. He had forgotten the off-hand warning of his old friend Bill Logan. “Doubts are more a personality type than something profound.” He had dismissed this as incorrect and wrong-minded and considered it, along with its source, misguided.

This insidious cynicism diminished his capacity to accept his own inspirations and he denied his own spirituality. This is characteristic of a personality type that is callous to the soft voice of intuition and the whisper of the Holy Spirit. Al Will had called this cynicism to his attention but he had ignored his criticism the same way he ignored the urging of Elder Sadler, to be more spontaneous.

Jack came to view the enthusiasm and belief he had sustained temporarily as flawed, when in fact it was easily as sincere and well-founded as that of other missionaries. Elder Seaburg had called his attention to the virtue of having a simple, underlying conviction, like knowing the sun will rise. Jack had brushed this evidence aside as childhood conditioning.

This recurring cycle of doubt and questioning interfered with his performance in teaching sessions. It reduced the power of his presentation, thus minimizing his effectiveness. He could not work consistently and thus did not find the success he needed to reinforce the self-esteem of his Soul. He found no experience to give an overriding confidence in his earlier beliefs. Each time he had rededicated himself, his personality eroded that confidence in a matter of weeks. It didn’t help that he was often jerked away from a city just as he might have had some success. His self-destructive personality is a cruel legacy of a secular education, or by some it is regarded as a sensitive, introspective objectivity, depending on your point of view.

Elder Sadler and Jack talked easily about their situation, the casualness of the conversation inadvertently reinforced the loss of Jack’s faith. He lost the ability to take his religion seriously and made humor to relieve the stress caused by his own recurring failure to believe. This was a vicious cycle with a grotesque inertia that decimated Jack’s receptivity to the subtle nuances of a spiritual life. Their jokes put more distance between themselves and the gracious and elaborate tenants of the Mormon religion.

On to Chapter 14, Part 2
Chapter index

Book of Abraham
Book of Mormon
Church History
Joseph Smith
Following Mormons
Thinking Mormons
In The Media
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