This week, I had anxiety and I really don’t know why. I was traveling, and it was after a short turnaround. I’d been home for such a short time that my toothbrush and razor were still in my suitcase. I also landed in Sacramento, which was very green, very warm, and very low altitude. It was weird suddenly to find myself in what felt like full-blown summer. And I always get a little buzzy when I first land at sea level.
But this time it felt very different. I was overwhelmed with the sensation that I’d somehow landed in the wrong city and that I had no way to get back. I didn’t emotionally recognize anything about the airport even though I was completely intellectually aware that I had been there several times before. For some reason, it took almost an hour to get settled down and feel at ease.
When I got back to myself, I got thinking about how strange it is to feel out of place somewhere. To feel like you don’t quite belong where you are but you can’t remember exactly where it is your supposed to be.
And at the same time, that’s a feeling we can all relate to. We all feel like strangers on this earth we live on. We all get a sensation that we were meant for more than the workday hubbub that sucks away most of our energy and attention. We all relate to Eliza R. Snow who wrote:
For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth;
Yet ofttimes a secret something
Whispered, "You're a stranger here,"
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.
This isn’t bad. In fact, it’s wonderful. What could be more beautiful than waking up, glimpsing eternity, and realizing that your potential is infinitely grander than you knew? A friend of mine just started writing online and posted a comment that she’d just recently broken out of feeling emotionally closed off for the last years of her life. She couldn’t contain the new, awake, creative self and began writing and posting a complex, stirring, and compelling autobiography that even her closest friends were unaware of.
As Wendy and I close out our 30’s and enter into this next wonderful decade, we’ve never felt so alive, passionate, and creative. We frequently find ways to step out of our humdrum mortal existence into that more exalted sphere. We do so by going to the temple, by working in the yard, by eating family dinner, by doing service, and by a thousand other ways. We’ve found more and more secret doors and hidden passages to that sacred space that used to elude us. And we now live a lot more of our life there. It’s wonderful.
Last week I was flying home and thinking through the most vexing problem I’ve ever faced at work. I have a massively complex problem I need to solve, and I’ve been wrestling with it for over a year. It causes me constant grief. And it’s one of those rare issues that is truly mine to solve. I can’t delegate it or really even share it. I alone need to work through and complete this enormously complex task.
As I boarded the plane and settled in, I thought about my life and my abilities. I realized that I’d not solved this problem yet because I was trying to do it on my own, during business hours, and without testing any mental limits, without pushing any boundaries, and without asking God for any help at all.
It was a late-night flight on a nearly empty plane. I had lots of leg room, unlimited snacks, and plenty of distraction-free time to think. So, instead of plugging in my headphones to watch a movie, I asked the flight attendant for a pen and I pulled some paper out of my bag. I prayed for help in getting my mind and spirit elevated to that better place where I could sort through this in a novel way. And I got to work.
What followed was miraculous. I felt a flood of insight that I could barely contain. I had to write and sketch as fast as I could so that I wouldn’t lose the thoughts that were exploding in my mind. And when it was done, I knew I’d written a masterpiece.
It certainly wouldn’t look beautiful from any outside point of view. And it was all but indecipherable in this rough draft form. Just scribbles on yellow paper. But I knew for sure that I’d solved my problem and that, in my own way, I’d created art.
The art of my life is pedestrian and not always objectively beautiful. I can’t draw or paint. I don’t dance at all. And my singing and piano playing are forgettable. I love writing and languages, but I’m no master of either. None of my talents lend themselves to any of these expressions, as much as I wish they did. But I don’t aspire to write the great American novel or to paint a great masterpiece. To be honest, I fantasize about writing the perfect email or creating the great American Power Point Presentation.
The talent I was given, and my Patriarchal Blessing is crystal clear about this, is the ability to take a complex problem and simplify it so that others can comprehend it. That works great for teaching. And it can be a tremendous asset in the business of healthcare, which is where I spend most of my hours. So the art that I aspire to is taking complexity from my field and simplifying it in a way that non-experts can comprehend it and make important, informed decisions about it.
When I got home and got set back up at my desk, I laboriously converted my rough notes to a Power Point Presentation full of basic-looking slides like this:
I couldn’t solve this problem after a whole year of trying because I stubbornly kept it out of my sacred space—that zone of creativity and passion where art is created and problems are solved. I need to spend more time there and bring more of my problems there.
So even though it was unnerving this week to find myself completely lost in the Sacramento airport, I was thankful for the reminder that I’m always kind of lost in this world anyway. I’m a stranger in this mortal life, and the more I remember it, the happier and more creative and fulfilled I’m bound to be.