Sunday, February 13, 2011

Remembering Family

May 16, 1983
"Another full Monday. The grass was too wet to cut this morning, so I baked bread, sewed, washed. Keith and Bryce for dinner. Then I cut grass as fast as I could push it. My shoulder likes aspirin tonight, but the lawn got cut. Then we had an impromptu birthday party for Jay, at Bryce and Mary's. It was good to be inside. Our family parties are so important. I wonder how these kids growing up will remember them. Also wrote some letters this a.m."
My grandmother wrote that small paragraph in her journal. We have two dozen or so journals that cover eight to twelve months each of her life. In between writing about weeding the garden, the price of milk, cutting the lawn, and so on, she also wrote some amazing, insightful truths about our world, about her belief in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and about her family. "Our family parties are so important. I wonder how these kids growing up will remember them."

Grandma, those parties are some of the best memories of my childhood.

Almost every Sunday when I was little, all of the cousins that lived nearby would go to Grandma's and Grandpa's house. From my early childhood, I can count only three friends with whom I played regularly who weren't my cousins. We used to play "Run, Sheepie, Run" in grandma's backyard. We played house underneath the giant pine trees. We sneaked into the big yard to play on the derelict farm equipment. We used to swing so high on the swing set that we could catch the branches of the trees with our feet. When it got dark, we sat in a circle to play "Murder in the Dark" or we played "No Bears are Out Tonight." Inside, Grandpa popped popcorn and made grilled cheese sandwiches while we watched the "Wonderful World of Disney." Grandma kept an old cookie tin full of dominoes in a cupboard in the kitchen. I was twenty years old and living in Brazil before I learned that playing dominoes meant more than weaving a trail of upright, unstable dominoes around the kitchen table. Grandma also kept a cookie jar in the kitchen, and it was nearly always full of cookies.

When I was a teenager, my grandmother suffered a stroke. Overnight, she went from gardening, baking bread, and taking care of her neighbors every day, to being locked in a wheelchair and unable to make herself understood most of the time. But we still went to Grandma's house. During college, I would frequently go home to Idaho for the weekend. Before I could leave to go back to school, I always stopped at Grandma and Grandpa's place to say goodbye. Most of the time, I wasn't the only one there visiting.

Today, the tradition of family parties continues, even though my grandmother passed away over ten years ago, and my grandfather only a few years later. On the first Sunday evening of each month, the family gets together for an extended family home evening. Sometimes it's at someone's home. Sometimes it's at a family park. Someone teaches a gospel lesson. Little second cousins run around the house playing tag. There's usually dessert. And its usually a three- or four-hour event when its all said and done.

When I was young, my grandfather promised me that, if I lived right, I could have a home where my children would want to bring their children to come visit. Of all the promises, wishes, and hopes I have ever had, that one is my favorite. I do hope that my children and my grandchildren will want to visit. I want them to play games and run around with their cousins. I hope that as we raise our children our home can be a place of safety, of fun, of teaching, and that it can be a place of many happy reunions.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Proposition 8

In California, Proposition 8 passed in the November 2008 general election: 7,001,084 votes for to 6,401,482 votes against. That same day, opponents of the proposition filed lawsuits in the California Supreme Court asking the Court to first stay implementation of the amendment, and then to invalidate the amendment because it was an "improper revision" to the constitution.

Amendment or Revision?

The entire case turns on whether Proposition 8 was actually an amendment or a revision. The California constitution can be amended or changed in one of the following ways:
  1. An amendment may be proposed by anyone and, once it has gained enough signatures to qualify, presented to the people during the next election. A simple majority is required to pass the amendment. Absent any instruction otherwise, it takes effect the day after the election, actually prior to certification by the Secretary of State.
  2. A revision must be originated either by the legislature (with a 2/3 majority vote) or a constitutional convention, and then submitted to the people for a vote where it passes with a simple majority of votes.
The difference between an amendment and a revision is not part of the constitution, but according to California Supreme Court precedents, a revision to the constitution consists of quantitatively signifcant and/or qualitatively broad and significant changes to the fundamental plan of government. A proposition with changes to dozens of sections would be called a revision, even if the fundamental branches of government and their function were relatively unchanged, would probably be classified as a revision. A proposition with few words, but which vested significant judicial power in the legislature, would also be a revision to the constitution.

For example, one proposition would have stated that a defendant's rights could not be construed more broadly that in the U.S. constitution (the constituion is a kind of minimum standard--state laws and state constitutions must comply with the U.S. constitution, but they provide additional rights and protections). This doesn't seem extraordinary, and certainly wasn't a large amendment since it consisted of only a few sentences. However, the California Supreme Court ruled that it was an improper revision of the constitution since it effectively substituted the U.S. Supreme Court's judgement for that of the California Judiciary.

In another relevant example, the supreme court once ruled that the death penalty was cruel and unusual, effectively banning all death sentences in California. An initiative amendment was later passed which stated that nothing in the constitution could be used to determine that the death penalty were cruel and unusual. When challenged as an improper revision, it was upheld.

In the case of Proposition 8, the opposition argues that it is an improper revision to the constitution. They contend that Proposition 8 fundamentally alters the effect of the Equal Protection clause of the California constitution, which is an "elevated" principle at the center of the entire constitution, rather than a simple right.

Suspect Classification
According to the opposition, "[t]he electorate may not use the initiative-amendment process to strip a minority defined by a suspect classification of a fundamental right." What is a suspect classification? It is how the courts determine the level of scrutiny that a potentially discriminatory measure must meet. In effect, a law which impacts a group with suspect classification (based on race, religion, and other attributes) must face strict scrutiny and show an extremely compelling governing interest. Under Federal law, the suspect classification derives from the 14th ammendment which guarantees equal protection under the laws for all. The California constitution also contains an equal protection clause in its first Article.

When the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, the court struck down the original same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 22, by determining that sexual orientation is a suspect classification (See the opinion from In Re Marriage Cases [links to a PDF]) and therefore the same-sex marriage ban in Proposition 22 must be examined with strict scrutiny. The arguments presented by proponents of Proposition 22 were insufficient to convince the court of a compelling government interest in banning same-sex marriages.

The Problem with the Argument
One problem with the opposition's argument is that it relies on a concept, suspect classification, that derives from the very clause being limited by the Proposition. Further, it introduces a new test for revision status in requiring that the court consider a suspect classification.

But how can the affected clause be used to inhibit its own amendment without specific wording to that effect?

The opposition argument places nearly any change to the equal protection clause above amendment, and questions whether the clause is even subject to revision.

It is clear that the Proposition does not quantitatively qualify as a revision, and it is also clear that it does not effect a change in the balance of powers or the basic governmental plan of the constitution. Absent either of those conditions, it is a valid amendment.

The opposition is free to mount a challenge on the basis of the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution, but that is not part of the current case.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wedding Bells

So, just thought I'd let you all know...I'm married now. Yes, it's true. Definitely married.

Just thought I'd let you know.

But since this isn't really a news-y blog, you should check out Kim's blog (that's my wife) at It's full of juicey details like how happy she is to have found me, and how we're meant for each other, and how she wishes that I had less stuff so there'd be more room for her stuff.

that's all.
Just thought you'd like to know.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Connections and Soulmates and Such

We looked up and it was two o'clock in the morning. We had been talking already for three or four hours, and had hardly noticed. Of course, the normal aches of sitting for hours still applied--but we didn't know where they had come from. Could it really be that late? or early? or whatever? What had we been talking about? How could we lose track of time so thoroughly?

But it wasn't true--We knew what time it was. In fact, we had commented at one o'clock that it was getting late and how could we still be visiting? What was it we were talking about that got us here? Oh yes, it was... And then it was two o'clock. What were we talking about? Anything: politics, family, church, the annoying guy in the next office over, the sleeper down the pew at church. Does it really matter? We could have spent the entire time discussing the migration patterns of extinct birds and likely would have been there for the same hours upon hours.

We connect with everyone on some level: co-workers hear our words; subordinates carry out instructions; our children learn from us. But there are some with whom we connect on some more fundamental level. The words become a medium across which emotions and meaning are conveyed, like a telephone wire carries our voices. With these people, communication is joyous in the most true sense of the word. It is knowing that the other person has listened and cared and comprehended, not our words, but our hearts and souls. It is the most rewarding kind of communication that can exist.

Why do we connect with so few in this way? And who are they? Here, they could be mothers or fathers, friends, spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends. They could be anyone, but what if these were our close friends before we came to Earth and the veil was drawn? The connection might be our spirits recognizing each other and catching up after an Earthly lifetime of separation. Maybe they can't recognize each other, but can find joy in the familiarity of the other soul. In mythology, the idea of a soulmate is someone whose spirit was split into two beings. Each half's only real desire is to be reunited, reconnected, with the other.

Whatever it is. I'm glad. And I thank God that he's given it to me so many more times than I could possibly deserve.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


There are people we forget easily. They come into our lives for minutes or hours or days, weeks, months, even years, and, when gone, still are forgotten as easily as the things at the grocery store that we constantly forget to pick up. Just because these people are forgettable, it doesn't mean that they were never close to us. And perhaps 'forget' is too strong--they aren't forgotten in the way that one forgets a fact. In truth, they simply slip our minds. Our lives move through phases. Friendships, even strong ones, wax, wane, ebb, and flow.

Of course, there are also people we cannot forget. For whatever reason--be it some love or some hurt, some deeply felt moment that was shared--they are constantly at the back of our minds. Images, sounds, touches of memory return at the slightest provocation: a street sign, the old house, another little brown car, old emails, old jokes. It doesn't seem to matter how much we try to put them away or marginalize their absence, they will not be forgotten. These people who will not leave our minds are always associated with our deepest emotions so that the street sign or that sound, though innocent of any intention, might call up fears and hopes that resonate with our hearts and souls.

It is this deep emotion that makes them so hard to forget. To ignore or forget the person is to ignore or forget, to marginalize, emotions that are the core of our present being. Those emotions represent the moments that we felt most alive. They are often also the moments in which we least wanted to live. But whatever emotions belong to those moments, they are the context in which we feel and live today--they are the moments by which all others are measured.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

I said, "I love you."

A little more than a year ago, I was emailing and phone-calling and chatting online with the woman that I would later ask to marry me. A little more than a month ago, we finished a breakup that started a little more than a month after I asked her to marry me. I asked in June, she gave the ring back in July, we broke up in September with a commitment to talk again in December. We talked. We went out. We talked again. And then in February, we had our last conversation.

The week before, she had said she had things to talk about, but that she didn't want to do anything rash. It was the same thing she had said just before she gave the ring back. I promised I would support whatever decision she made.

I asked, "So, you don't want to keep going?"

"I just don't think it's a good idea."

"So, now what? I don't want to not be friends, but I'm not sure I could keep talking or emailing you without falling, or staying, in love with you."

"I know."

"I don't know if I'll be able to stay in touch at all. I don't know how to stay friends."

"I don't know either."

I asked her if she wanted to stay in touch, if she wanted to email or talk anymore.

She answered, "I don't know what the point would be."

I told her that I would need some time, that if she wanted to talk later, she could email me, but I might respond by saying I wasn't ready. I'm not sure now that I'll ever be ready, but I'm not sure what hurts worse: talking with her, knowing that it hasn't worked out and won't; or never talking with her again, and trying my best to erase her from my past. I have deleted any photos that she was in from my computer. I gave away the mini chess set she had given me -- "playing a game of chess" was our euphemism for making out. All I have left is the engagement ring and a file where I kept the letters she sent me and letters that I wrote but never sent while we weren't talking last year. None of it has helped. I'm not saying I think about her 24/7, but she's certainly still there in my head.

"So," I asked, "do you want to just hang up now?"


"Neither do I. What do you want to talk about?"

"I don't know."

We talked for two more hours. And suddenly, we could talk, like when she and I used to talk. It was laying on the couch and settling in to the pillows with the phone propped up against my ear. Her cell phone dropped the call three or four times and each time we called back. Just before this, she had emailed me asking if I thought it was right that we should have to work so hard just to "keep our heads above the water." That was exactly what it felt like when we weren't talking, or when things were going badly--Like I was treading water. You know, how you never get a full breath? But this time, it was like I was lying on the beach, taking my first full breaths after weeks of treading water.

It seems so unfair, that the connection that I had been looking to have back, that deep breath, only came when it was already too late. And that was what we talked about. About how unfair it was, and how she laughed so much more easily, and how neither of us could stand to hang up the phone.

But we did. Eventually. I had changed into my pajamas and ran down the batteries on my cell phone. And on the cordless. I was laying on my bed with the phone propped up against a pillow when she said she thought it was probably time to hang up. I said, "ok." But it wasn't ok.

Then I said, "I love you," and I meant it.

"I love you too." Did she mean it?

And then we both said goodbye and hung up.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Minute

Anxious minutes,
slow minutes,
watched minutes,
minutes that fall through time
like drops of cold molasses.

Nervous minutes,
excited minutes,
eager minutes,
minutes that await and hope
like children wait for sweets.

The minute,
a long minute,
a minute in which hangs every hope
a minute to undo
the staring, worried minutes.

The minute,
a violently felt minute,
a minute of falling,
a minute of breaking,
a minute for changing forever.

The minute,
the last minute,
a minute to leave,
a minute to forget,
a minute that will do neither.