Sunday, December 22, 2013

Full Mettle Jacket

Mettle:  vigor and strength of spirit or temperament; quality of
 temperament or disposition.

There is almost a tangible energy and magic in Manhatten.  The world is your oyster there and anything you could need or want is available within the concrete canyons of New York City.  Wandering the various districts gives you the opportunity to make discoveries; literally making your heart “skip” a beat.  Being a creative sort, I realize there are not just baubles, buttons, trinkets, embellishments, and trims.  There are entire streets of shops dedicated to baubles, buttons, trinkets, embellishments OR trims; it kind of makes my head spin.   My mind churns with possibility, creativity and ingenuity of that crazy and wonderful city….the sights, sounds, sirens, smells, the energy.  The goal of my visit to New York City was to infuse my creative side without any particular or specific agenda… just to come home inspired.  Inspired I was!

On Sunday morning, we jumped on the Subway before our return trip home and as the doors opened I heard a man speaking loudly to passengers in that car.  At first blush, I thought him to be some kind of delusional soul and I questioned for a moment if we were in a desirable or even a dangerous situation.  Through the outburst I wasn’t sure of the nature – friend or foe - and I momentarily considered backing out and trying another car.  As with subway doors, they leave little time for reconsideration and so they shut with no turning back.

Quickly I realized we were not in a dangerous situation . . . quite the opposite.   We were being preached to by a sweet and humble man in a suit, top hat, holding what appeared to be his well-worn scriptures.  This older gentleman was teaching a completely inattentive audience about becoming more like his Savior.  He suggested the possibility of a mighty change within us as we become more like Jesus Christ.  His message was drowned out by headphones, personal conversations and the deafening silence of indifference.

“If there is anything that links the human to the divine, it is the courage to stand by a principle when everybody else rejects it.”
Abraham Lincoln

What was it about this man that stopped me dead in my tracks on an ordinary Sunday morning in the city?  His message was not new to me and the object of his lesson familiar.  However, his delivery was nothing short of extraordinary.  This man was demonstrating for all that cared to observe the vigor and strength of his spirit or temperament.  He was not wearing his mettle as a badge, a pin, or even a vest.   In all his humility, he was wearing his mettle as a jacket for all to see.  There was nothing boastful, sanctimonious or attention seeking about his message or his delivery.  At the next stop, he paused, smiled and simply walked away with hardly any notice from those around him in that car.

There has always been a soft place in my heart for any individual who has the courage to live their convictions and set an example to the world.  It can be a lonely place.  It can be a harsh place.  It can be a place of persecution and ridicule.  However, it is a bold place and a place I, quite honestly, struggle to put myself.

I am paraphrasing the following from a talk given by Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley about leadership: “There is a sense of loneliness in living our convictions, but we have to live with ourselves.  A man must live with his conscience.    It was ever thus.  The price of leadership is loneliness.  The price of adherence to conscience is loneliness.  The price of adherence to principle is loneliness.  I think it is inescapable.  The Savior of the world was a Man who walked in loneliness.  I do not know of any statement more underlined with the pathos of loneliness than His statement; ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.’”  (Matthew 8:20)

One of the rich blessings of my life was to live in the tender shadow of a wonderful grandfather.  He, likewise, wore his mettle as a jacket for all the world to see.   He had been nicknamed the “grumpiest man alive” by a few, but beneath this tough exterior was one of the greatest examples of living personal convictions I have ever witnessed.  Perhaps that’s what happens to a man who walked across Europe and liberated Nazi prison camps—you get tough on the outside to protect the humanity on the inside.

Elwin Allred was not the most religious man nor was he the most gentle man.  He was however, the staunchest Republican there ever was.  He and I did not see eye to eye on everything.  As a teenager, I remember several times when he was picketing at a local grocery store or place of business against my friends’ parents who were politicians.  I was mortified at times in my youth as my friends questioned my grandfather’s motives.  Not only was he passionate, but he was extremely vocal about his beliefs.  He wrote what he coined “nasty” letters to the editor weekly during his adult life until he passed away.  He was the man that stood up in political conventions and shouted inappropriate comments about candidates.  Many times I shared the same indifference to his message as the passengers on that NYC subway car. 

As I matured, I began to see the value of his personal convictions.   Yet, my grandfather had one last lesson to teach me about his mettle as my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and ultimately passed away.  He was a devoted and loving husband and had made a promise to her that he would never put her in an “Old Folks Home.”   When it became clear to the entire family that he could no longer care for her at home, a home was selected for her care.  To be true to his promise, he spent every day with her from the time she got up in the morning until she went to bed at night.  He would drive through a local fast food take out window daily where they would have a cheeseburger waiting for him and he would quickly return. 

After my grandma passed away, he visited her grave every single day, rain, shine, sleet or hail.  During the winter months in Cache Valley, Utah where he lived, it was not unusual to observe a well-worn path in the cemetery leading to her headstone through several inches of snow.  I am not sure I have ever seen such devotion before or since that time.

My grandfather, ornery old Elwin Allred wore a full mettle jacket.  He wore it proudly for all to see.  His intentions were certainly not for it to be seen, it just happened that way.  His motivations were of the purest form, they originated deep inside and radiated boldly outward.  My grandpa did things because he felt it was the right thing to do.  He never cared what others thought about him and was willing to stand alone with his conscience.  He fully embodied the bold and courageous.

At this time of year when we honor our Savior of the world and call his name Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace, we should ask ourselves how we will wear our own personal mettle.  Will we keep our convictions to ourselves or will we strive to share them with those around us in word, deed or example?  Our personal style may not be to preach in Subway cars or to stand and shout our beliefs in a political forum, but will we limit ourselves in our demonstration of personal strength and fortitude?  Will we carry our mettle as a pocket coin, a badge, a fleeting thought or will we have the courage to strive to wear a “Full Mettle Jacket?” 

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