Lift Your Eyes

From the east hillsides the nighttime panorama over Oakland and across the bay to San Francisco is a kaleidoscope of multi colored lights, and moving traffic fascinating to watch.

“The view down from here is spectacular isn’t it?” a voice behind me said.

I turned to see a security guard with a big but friendly looking dog at his side.

“But the view up from here is inspiring,” he added directing my attention to the temple behind us. The white stone spires softly bathed in spotlights pointed heavenward into the starry sky.

“For those who have eyes to see and comprehension to understand every pinpoint of starlight, leads on to billions, trillions more. Choose any number, even infinity and you will not overestimate the depth and scope of the heavens. And yet the creator and ruler of them all knows and loves each of us. Looking up I feel like King David in the Bible, ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help,’” he said.

“Eloquently stated. Where did you study all this goodly speech?” I borrowed from Shakespeare.

“I practice it on my dog,” he said.

“You’re security I see. Is he?”

“He sniffs out drugs in general, but his specialty drug is tobacco,” he said. “Comes in handy here at the temple.”

(Background note for those not acquainted with this aspect of the Mormon faith.)

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nicknamed The Mormons, temples and tobacco don’t mix. People who smoke, or drink alcohol are not barred from church meetings in chapels, but the Mormon temples are special places of service and devotion. Entrance requires a recommend from ecclesiastical leaders certifying among other things, abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs.

My new acquaintance said that he and his dog had just finished checking a suspicious aroma in the bushes landscaping the temple. As they approached, a man hiding there decided he had important business somewhere else.
The security man and I talked awhile. I mentioned I was in California on a tour doing musical concerts and promoting an album of poetry we had set to music.

“I love poetry. I could quote poems by the hour,” he told me.

“Really? What and who are some of your favorite poems and poets?” I asked.

He smiled. “I can’t remember.”

He could see I was puzzled, so he continued.

“I had a photographic mind. Read once, remember forever. My memory gave me a big advantage in my work. I was an electrical contractor. I could read through a thick book of blueprints, roll them up and never have to look at them again. This made me fast and accurate. I was very successful, big money, beautiful wife and children, respected in my work and in the community. Maybe I was too successful. I got cocky, stuck on myself, began looking for new thrills. I found them in a bottle of booze, then uncounted more bottles. I lost my jobs, my good name, my self respect, and saddest of all my wife and children. I who had been on top sank like a rock in the bay down there.

“See those lights next to the ocean. Every seaport city has a street they name first street, or front street down by the docks. It’s the toughest part of town, full of drunks and whore houses. One night at the bottom of my plunge I found myself on that street in Oakland, literally face down in the gutter. In the drunken fog bank that was now my brain I thought, ‘I’ve hit bottom. I can’t go any lower. And I can’t get up.’ I prayed the prayer of the helpless and hopeless. I said, ‘God you know me. You know what a rotten wretch I am, garbage to be hauled off with the rest of the city refuse. God, I don’t have the strength of body or will to move a muscle. Will you please help me lift my head?’

“I collapsed onto the scum and concrete of the gutter. How long I lay there I don’t know. Then I felt something move. It was my head rising up until I could see level with the sidewalk. God gave me the strength to do just that and no more. I prayed again, long and hard. Finally I could push up to my hands and knees and crawl up on to the sidewalk.

“It’s been a long, long journey with God helping me every step. I lost everything on the way down, even my great memory. Alcohol dissolves brain cells. Many, maybe most of mine were sluiced away in the booze. I don’t have my family anymore. I’m a long way from when I was on top, but I’m a longer way from where I was at the bottom. I’m grateful to work on this sacred ground, and in my off hours I try to help guys like the one we just scared out of the bushes. Thanks for listening. Good luck with your poetry music.”

He walked away. I thought, whether we are on the peaks or in the valleys of life, even if, like my new friend we have to strain upward just to see the sidewalk, looking up gives us the perspective of eventual perfection. Like my friend and King David, “I will lift mine eyes.”