Live Long

We talk about people who live high and others who have low lives. For a moment let’s change the measurements from vertical to horizontal. I’m advocating a long life is better than a short one, and like the high and low measures, I’m using the terms metaphorically; not in years, but in perspective.

My friend Nad Brown related this experience in a church talk. “Back in 1965 on an airline flight from Denver to Salt Lake City, I saw a handsome young soldier notice a mother trying to arrange her seat space for the needs of her baby. The seat beside the soldier was empty, so he asked the mother if she would like to exchange seats. She gratefully did.”

Nad said he was touched by that gesture. The soldier was a credit to himself, his family, and his country. “I promised myself that when the plane landed, I would compliment and thank that young man.”

Nad never got the chance. At the Salt Lake airport the pilot misjudged. The plane landed hard, caught fire. Some of the passengers died from smoke inhalation; among them the soldier.  The woman and her baby survived. Obviously, so did Nad. He later checked with the airline, and found the soldier was Douglas Reid from Payson, Utah.

When I heard that story a memory flashed back to me, and I instinctively sat up in my seat.  I grew up with Doug Reid.  I never knew a straighter arrow of a boy. He sat straight, stood straight, talked straight, and lived straight.  He was in our church ward (congregation), and no one ever wore a Sunday suit, a scholar’s robes, or the uniform of his country with more respect and honor than did he.  He even sat with his spine glued to the back of the chair in Boy Scout meetings, six feet on the floor, (including his two.)  To the rest of us wigglers, pokers, gigglers and chair tippers this was self control beyond belief.  For all this he was not sanctimonious or even overly serious. He was looking ahead to where his present actions would lead him. He was planning his work and working his plan, and his conduct and character showed it. He also reaped the rewards of that approach to life.  He quietly excelled in the present because he had previously laid groundwork, and also because he was setting his path for the future.  At 31 years old one might say he did not live a long life, but one would be wrong. He lived long, not in years, but in perspective.

He looked backward and forward with a long perspective, and made his current decisions accordingly.  Eagle Scout, honor student, model soldier; he achieved each goal while planning for the next one.  He developed his talents so that when he needed skills they were ready.  He lived up to an honorable moral code and thus married a woman with the same values and created a strong and lasting family.  His influence was lengthened by his children who grew up with stories of his example to guide them.  Along his journey through life he remembered to share his time, his convenience, his seat space or whatever else he had. That’s what I call living a long life.

I have other friends who are living short lives, responding to the near term needs and pleasures of the moment, with little or no thought for the future. Instead of gaining ten years experience every decade they get one year’s experience ten times.

The most successful people I know have lengthened their perspective out even beyond the veil we call death, and are living accordingly.  From my observation, Doug Reid was one of those.  I suspect that had he foreseen the effects of his trading seats that day he would have thought, “Shall I save the lives of a mother and her baby, or shall I look out for my own safety?”  He might have remembered the words of one who made that decision on a cosmic scale; the master of perspective who said, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.”  (Luke 17:33)  Doug Reid would have made the long decision, and traded a short term on earth for an exalted life in eternity.