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Thursday, June 21, 2012


I have been reflecting lately on the lessons I am learning here in Tonga, and that has led to larger reflection on the lessons I have learned from people all around the world during my entire life.  Some of you know that between the two of us, Jim and I have lived in 10 countries for a year or more, in addition to visiting another 20 countries.  I don’t say this to brag, I say it simply to qualify what follows: I have learned the same life lessons as many of you, it’s just that I have had remarkable opportunities to learn it from a variety of God’s children.
I cherish the friends I made with good people in all these places.  I have lost contact with many of them, but they still influence my life, and those few with whom I still have contact are absolute treasures. This week and next, I want to record my thoughts about a few of the life lessons I have learned from people in very diverse places on this planet.

My first life lessons were taught to me in Arlington, Virginia, where I grew up.  One that has profound implications for me is this:  you have individual value.  I have never been known to stay serious for long, hence this picture, but I have learned that smiles and laughter create many more friends than sullenness and withdrawal.  Whatever I have contributed to others has come back to enrich my own life as well.  And I love being the unique monster that is me. 

This rural road is a good symbol to me of the long-term
perspective of the Swedes I got to know.
This country spends most of 5 months a year or more in semi-darkness, and its people have learned a rhythm of life that reflects their love of light.  They are often in their pajamas by 6 pm in the winter, but come summer they are out on their apartment balconies until 11 p.m. or later.  They are drawn to sunlight, but they are also seekers of light and truth, and their long history in their land lends them the perspective of seeking long-term solutions to problems, not “magic bullet” ideas and proposals like those I’ve encountered in my professional situations and civic discussions. 

This is the famous Yemeni town of Mareb, where archeological evidence
supports the claim that it was the home of the Queen of Sheba.
Jim says his most remarkable memory of the people of Yemen is their devotion, and it has affected him for the rest of his life.  He lived in Yemen for a year just before he joined the LDS Church, and the way the Yemen people carried their religion with them everywhere turned out to be a foreshadowing of how Jim Szoka has lived according to the principles of the doctrine of the Mormon Church.  He is a man of integrity, and he learned integrity at his mother’s knee, but he also learned it in Yemen.

During the Vietnam War, Jim was stationed in the mountains of Thailand, in an Air Force unit.  Though he faced the horrors of war, he was blessed at the same time to enjoy the ways of the Thai people around him.  The Thai people have a gentility about them that is indeed something to aspire to – their gentle habits of persuasion and kindness helped him endure a difficult time. Many years later, when we hosted a Thai exchange student, that profile of gentleness was once again manifest.  Whenever we think of being gentle, our Tee comes to mind.  He sought excellence in his studies and in his personal relationships, and was always the example of a true gentleman.  And thanks to our internet connections, I know he still is.

We have one of these at home - to remind us.
During the five years we lived in Japan, I was always impressed with the honesty and respect that is such a huge part of the Japanese character.  I was a young mother, and three times in those five years I left my purse behind – and three times it was returned to the gate guard, who simply telephoned me to come pick it up.  All three times the cash, credit cards, military ID, and other important documents I carried with me were intact.  Because of this level of honesty, Jim and I could leave our doors unlocked, could leave our bicycles with the hundreds of others outside a train station, all unsecured, could leave our young children in a Legos play pit inside a store while we shopped.  And the effect it had on our family is still felt – we all have our flaws, but honor, with all its associated meanings, has a prime position in our family.

To be continued...

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