About eighteen miles or so east of the teeming streets of midtown Manhattan lies the residential suburb of Garden City. Ordered rows of tree-lined avenues interspersed with schools, churches, and no less than three golf courses comprise the complexion of the village. The population of 25,000 is served by a traditional downtown shopping district. There are no malls, no drive-ins, and no fast food joints. Peace, quiet, and prosperity are the order of the day. Adjacent to the Garden City Golf Club, the oldest and most famous of the three golf courses, lies The Hill. In an affluent suburb, The Hill is by far the most affluent neighborhood. Palatial houses perched on immense acreage overlook the golf course. In fact, the golf course surrounds The Hill on three sides. On the fourth, two quiet streets form the only ways in and out of the neighborhood. To someone not familiar with the village, these streets, let alone The Hill itself, are not easy to find. The residents no doubt like it this way.
Among these residents are a well-known soap opera actress, a famous best-selling novelist, and a comparatively anonymous plumbing contractor who made a fortune in his trade. Admission to The Hill is not based on heredity. Anyone who can afford to live there can live there. At one time in my life, I aspired to live on The Hill. So did two of my high school friends, although in retrospect I think it was really more of a pipe dream than an aspiration. Either way, though, we had a plan—more accurately, three plans. John Callahan, a very ambitious young man and a straight A student, would follow in his father’s footsteps by going to medical school and becoming a surgeon. Paul Krebsbach, also an excellent student, would follow in his father’s footsteps and attend optometry school. Then he would join the family business as an optometrist. I was the rebel of the group. I planned a career in the Merchant Marine, plying the seven seas and visiting the farthest corners of the Earth. My family would live on The Hill in my absence. When I joined them on my vacations from the sea, I would enjoy the view of the golf course as a change from the view of the water.
In making these lofty plans, however, there were two things that I failed to realize: first, that in going our separate ways after graduating from high school we would lose contact with each other, and second, that our life experiences would change us and our ambitions as well. John spent his first year of college in the pre-medical program at Columbia University. He lived at home and commuted on the trains. Liking neither the program nor the commute, he left Columbia, transferred to a school in Alabama, and took up the law. The last I heard, both he and his wife were assistant district attorneys down South. Paul never did go into optometry. He attended Villanova University, studied mechanical engineering, and went to work for Standard Oil. He later moved to Ohio and then Arizona. Life took both John and Paul very far from The Hill.
Ironically, I did not end up so far away. Despite making many voyages to places thousands of miles from home, I settled in New Hampshire, a mere four hours’ drive from Garden City. My wife came from Germany; she settled much farther from her birthplace than I did. When the children arrived, we made many journeys back to my family’s homestead, for we wanted the children and their grandparents to be very well acquainted with each other. Occasionally on these visits home, we would visit The Hill. My wife and I both liked to admire the big houses with their big yards and views of the golf course. Such a quiet and secluded place, she marveled, yet so close to the city. An oasis, seemingly far from the madding crowds, but really only a short train ride away. No wonder people spent fantastic sums of money to live there.
But I never lived there, nor do I think I ever will. My high school ambition of traipsing around the world aboard tramp freighters remained with me. What I did not foresee, however, was the way in which this nomadic life would mold me; in other words, how I would become a product of my life experiences. Other places came to interest me more than The Hill; other people and their cultures held more appeal than the view of the golf course. When the traveling was finished and the children arrived, they commanded my full attention even more than the sea had done. The Hill, then, became forgotten. Until recently.
A little while ago one of the lots was subdivided and another mansion was squeezed into the neighborhood. Out of curiosity, we went to see it. This jogged my memory of long-forgotten pipe dreams. I recalled my adolescent ambition of becoming a wayfaring Gatsby with roots put down in one of The Hill’s stately mansions, and it occurred to me that while I had not achieved this goal, I had surpassed it. I never acquired the vast sum needed for a down payment on The Hill. I acquired better, more inherently worthwhile, and longer lasting things.
The scriptures inform us that “if ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people” (D&C 38:39). As I contemplate what the Father has given me, several significant items come to mind.
First the Father gave me good, loving, Christian parents and grandparents. Then he gave me a beautiful wife and a house full of wonderful children. After my years in the Merchant Marine were concluded, my wife worked in the mornings and I worked in the afternoons and evenings. For twelve years, this arrangement afforded me the opportunity of taking care of my children every morning, an unusual privilege for a father. In retrospect, I think of this time as the good old days, and they were good days. We went for walks, read stories, played games, cleaned the house, changed diapers—everything a parent does with children, from the mundane daily tasks to the special family holidays. Taking care of my children in their early years was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
My second great acquisition was an education. The scriptures have plenty to say on this subject, but a few passages resonate with me. “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning” (D&C 88:118). “Study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people” (D&C 90:15). The message is clear; the Lord wants us to develop our minds and use the intelligence he has given us. Following my career at sea, it became my privilege to work in a college library. This employment afforded me the opportunity to study the humanities, chiefly literature and philosophy, with some particularly brilliant professors. I became acquainted with many of the great books of the Western tradition, and they complemented the exposure the Merchant Marine gave me to the world’s languages and peoples.
The priesthood was my third great acquisition. When the Bishop first proposed that I be ordained, I balked. I protested that I didn’t feel at all deserving of such an honor. He insisted, though, and in time it came to pass. My sense of unworthiness remains to this day, however. We read that “the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven” (D&C 121:360). This stands to reason, intellectually; nonetheless, the very thought that the bestowal of the priesthood and the honor it entails also involves rights given to the holder of the priesthood with all his human imperfections is a very humbling contemplation. I try not to think about this too much because it makes me feel all the more undeserving. At the same time, though, it also makes me feel more honored.
Finally, at the end of all things, there is eternal life. A former shipmate used to remark that “everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die.” This is true, of course. Everyone wants eternal life, but so many don’t know how to attain it. (That’s why we have missionaries.) So many folks become so preoccupied with attaining the wealth of this world instead. And yet the Lord tells us, “Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich” (D&C 6:7). By this counsel, not only is eternal life greater than material wealth, but so also are wisdom and learning. All the more value, then, in education. Furthermore, we can take it with us: “if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:19).
On my last visit to The Hill I looked at the new mansion that had been squeezed into the neighborhood. It was very impressive, a truly beautiful structure overlooking the golf course to the south. But it was also a “great and spacious building” (1 Nephi 8:26), and I knew then that The Hill was not where I wanted to be. I had already gotten more out of life than what The Hill could offer me. And if families are forever, and if learning never ends, and if eternal life is everlasting, then I would continue to get more out of both this life and the next life than The Hill could possibly offer.
(Note: The abbreviation D&C in LDS terminology refers to a book of scripture titled Doctrine and Covenants.)