How I should like to live my life…

February 17, 2011 | 47 comments
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I post here something I recently wrote in my journal: I basically think that Aristotle had it right on how to live a good life: find a proper mean between extremes, be balanced, and live virtuously. So here is what I would like my life to look like:

I start with work, the labor I must do to live. I should like to be good at my job. I don’t have any particular desire to be at the very top of my profession. Academic stardom looks like rather too brass a ring to devote all of one’s energy on the greasy pole to achieve. I would like, however, to teach my students well. I would like to write things that help people to think better, to say a few somethings that will still be worth saying and reading a generation or two hence. To the extent that I have other intellectual ambitions, I would like to be remembered as one of the people who helped to push along Mormonism intellectually, a person who treated the Restoration with charity and respect and learned something from it, perhaps something that had not been learned before.

I would like to be a good husband and father. I want to teach my children how to be good and productive people. I want them to be kind, virtuous, intelligent, and hard working. I want to give them the foundations of a faith that will carry them through an eventful life. I want to play with them and enjoy the company of my little ones before time, in its brutality, carries them inevitably away from me. I want to make my wife happy, to serve her. I want more of those moments when she lights up at the sight of me without being aware that she glows. I want to be the means for her to be happy, productive, and content. I want to share TV shows and companionable reading together. I want to tend a garden with her and enjoy the fruits of our harvest. I want to hold her when she cries and be the person who makes her smile in the midst of her anger or frustration.

I have respect for the forms. I don’t need or even want my life to be some work that I author ex nihilio. Rather, I want to be rooted in a tradition and a people. Hence, I want to live a virtuous Mormon life not simply as an act of fidelity to God but as an act of filial piety to the people that have reared me. I’ve no particular ecclesiastical ambitions and I don’t enjoy being in charge or going to meetings. I would, however, like to serve diligently where I am called, and find ways of bringing some light or aid into the lives of those with whom I worship. I should like to keep my covenants, and follow God in the way that my fathers followed him. I always want “Come, Come, Ye Saints” and “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning” to reach down to some deep core of my identity, a core to with which I am reconciled and at peace.

I should like to feel the presence of God. I would like to pray so that at times I approach the throne of grace. I always want to experience the marvelous and excessive beauty of the world as a gift from a loving Father in Heaven. I want to be aware of the place in which I live, to know how the water drains off the land, to feel the rhythms of trees and birds and seasons, to feel the immediacy of God’s creation. I want to read scripture and poetry and let the language permeate my soul to some deep place before logic and analysis. Maybe, once before I die, I want write a poem that says a true thing, beautifully. I want to run and run and run, to float on my legs over the land and feel my body tired but strong and healthy.

When I die, I do not want to be lonely. I want to be surrounded by people I love – whether they are on this side of the veil or the other. I want to leave behind words and memories that will live on in this world when I am gone. I want to be happy to have run the course that I ran, to feel that I pushed through to the end of the race to which I was set. I want to be laid in a garden spot, some piece of land to which I am not a stranger. I want to be clothed in the robes of the holy priesthood in the casket, and I want my son or my grandson to bless the land by the authority of that priesthood to be protected to the hour of the first resurrection.

That, it seems to me, would be a good life.

47 Responses to How I should like to live my life…

  1. Steve Evans on February 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Why do you start with work?

  2. Scott B. on February 17, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Nate,
    You’ve done great here.

  3. S.P. Bailey on February 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Thanks for putting this up, Nate. A good life, indeed.

  4. Steve Evans on February 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    er, I should first have said that I consider this to be a stellar post, Nate. Sorry for leading out that way.

  5. Nate on February 17, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Steve: because I wrote this at work. I don’t think there is any other reason.

  6. Christopher on February 17, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks, Nate. From my vantage point, you’re succeeding brilliantly on a number of the goals you’ve outlined here.

  7. observer (fka eric s) on February 17, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    “Like” button pressed. And may the fourth verse of praise to the man, wit its nationalism, forever send the chills of triumph through your soul.

  8. Kevin Barney on February 17, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    That would indeed be a life well lived. Kudos.

  9. KMarkP on February 17, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    This is just what I needed to read. Thanks for the inspiration. The Lord really does send angels.

  10. Chris H. on February 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Beautiful. While I have not fully come over to Aristotle, I am feeling more and more affinity for neo-Aristotelian thinkers these days. I think part of this is because life for me is not one of flourrishing but instead malaise. I crave a more flourishing life.

    Thanks, Nate. We need a Mormon Aquinas.

  11. J. Stapley on February 17, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    Cheers, Nate.

  12. Alison Moore Smith on February 17, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    That was a great post! Great, great, great. :)

  13. P. Oman on February 17, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    Well said Nate. Great goals for your life.

  14. Jacob B. on February 17, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    More posts like this from anyone, please.

  15. SC Taysom on February 17, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    I hear my own thoughts in this piece. And they come at a moment in which I need most to be reminded of my own truths that sound so much like yours do. My sincere appreciation and thanks.

  16. Dave on February 17, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Truly, a breath of fresh air
    to many of us
    that yearn to hope.

    Thanks Nate.

  17. Kris on February 17, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    This reaches my soul. I loved the part about respecting filial tradition. As a mother I hope my children weigh this in their decisions.

  18. Russell Arben Fox on February 18, 2011 at 12:05 am

    You’ve a wise soul, Nate; thanks so much for sharing this bit of it with us.

  19. Cameron Nielsen on February 18, 2011 at 12:33 am

    Thanks for sharing. Very edifying and reflective of Joseph’s message of ‘gladness and mercy from heaven,’ and generally being happy.

  20. Scott W. Clark on February 18, 2011 at 3:59 am

    Amen.

  21. SteveP on February 18, 2011 at 9:15 am

    That went right to my heart. It reminded me of a book I read a while back “Two old fine High Priests” or some such thing. I’ve forgotten the author or if that is the title but it was the reflections of a man over his dying friend both of who had lived such a life as you describe. Very nicely said.

  22. Ray on February 18, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Thanks, Nate. Perfectly said.

  23. Ben Park on February 18, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Wonderful, Nate.

  24. Jax on February 18, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Perhaps these ARE the words you will leave behind that make a difference!

    Unlike Kris (#17) I didn’t like the filial piety and respect for tradidtion. I was raised LDS, in Utah, and always active in the church. But I’ve found far too many traditions that I was raised in that come not from the gospel, but from U.S./western civilization culture. It was a very beautiful sentiment, especially if you were raised without the traditions I was raised with, but I can’t claim to aspire to that kind of life.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  25. mmiles on February 18, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Thanks for this.

  26. Eric Nielson on February 18, 2011 at 11:37 am

    You beat me to this by a few days, and of course did better than I would have. I am beginning to relate to this ‘golden mean’ as well.

  27. Adam Greenwood on February 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    You had me at “filial piety.”

  28. Oatmeal on February 18, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    If you gave my family tree a good hard shake, you’d be hit with an avalanche of pioneers. But like Jax (#24), I wouldn’t claim filial piety as a reason for my religiosity; nor do I want my children to make that claim.

    But I truly appreciate Nate’s post.

  29. Pat on February 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Filial piety. Two different camps looking at this: those with church-member ancestry and those without. Apparently Nate’s ancestry does, and he wants to honor that. Let’s call it ‘happenstance’ (puleeze do not call it a ‘blessing’)to have Mormon pioneer heritage. With that said, some of us have progenitors we admire and some of us do not. My husband was told never to do his genealogy. No explanation as to why!

  30. Chris H. on February 20, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Aren’t most blessings really just happenstance in some day? I hope that we are someday blessed to live in a time when nobody types the word “puleeze.”

  31. Chris H. on February 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    “…some way?”

  32. Brian Duffin on February 21, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    A beautiful post, Nate.

  33. Sean on February 21, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Wonderful. It seems to me your emphasis is on goodness and soundness, but not on straining perfection or adulation. I like that very much.

  34. Ken on February 21, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Nate, wonderful post for a recipe for a life well-lived. Very tender for me to read as someone who has advanced metastatic cancer and and is thinking about these kinds of things constantly now. Pat (#29) why is it bad to consider it a blessing to have pioneer ancestry? I know some people beat it to death and seem to worship their pioneer ancestors and their struggles about as much as they worship God, but I think it can be considered a blessing. Not everyone gets the same birthright in this life, I know, and some of these things seem terribly arbitrary or unfair. But our destiny and identity are integrally linked with our heritage, and when there is something there in our ancestral tree that we value and that inspires us (no matter what it is), it is indeed a blessing.

  35. Jax on February 22, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Pat (29) I don’t down play ancestral peity because i don’t have a Mormon heritage – but because my heritage is like most LDS people I know today (especially the Utah ones – where I was raised): content to sit and say “all is well in zion”, and not worry about actively keeping their covenants, not reading the scriptures but rather content to “know this church is true”, the fit exactly Mormon 8:36-39, they love money and substance more than the needy and sick and afflicted, they ignore clear directions such as 104:17-18 D&C 42:30 D&C 49:20 and D&C 78:5-6 all of which are almost exactly like their temple covenants that they ignore saying that they are expected to keep them. They ignore the prophets, they don’t get out of debt, they don’t get involved in the politics and elect good men, they don’t write letters protesting TV programming, they don’t do home and visiting teaching, they don’t fast…… you get the picture.

    they do spend exorbitant amounts of money on cars and RV’s and homes and clothing and jewelry and on everything that thieves steal and moths eat and rust destroys. they try every MLM scheme they can to try to get rich because in LDS culture wealthy equals righteous.

    So my filial peity stops just as soon as I thank them for adopting me into a home with the gospel. But other than rare FHE events and the 3 hour gospel block, the teaching I get from both family and church members was almost always contrary to some easily understood passages of scripture and prophetic counsel.

  36. Chris H. on February 22, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Hey, Jax. Straw man much?

  37. Jax on February 22, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Did I build a straw man? I’m sorry my perceptions, supported by my personal conversations seem that way. But I’ve had this conversation with Utah LDS members so many times I can’t even remember them all. They all think keeping their covenants is something they may be asked to do in the future, not something they are supposed to do now.

  38. Chris H. on February 22, 2011 at 11:31 am

    “They all…” is usually a sign of a straw man. Sigh.

  39. Jax on February 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    True….i suppose my perception should have said 98%… but given the number is that high I thought ‘all’ was pretty close!

  40. Suleiman on February 23, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Jax,

    Are you projecting your family’s situation onto an entire state?

  41. Nate Oman on February 23, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Jax: I grew up in Salt Lake City. I’ve no doubt that some of the members of my ward cared more than they should have about new cars and the like. Most of them could have done a better job doing their home teaching. On the other hand, they were also generally decent, hard working, and generous people for whom I have a great deal of respect and affection.

  42. Jax on February 23, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Suleiman, yes I am….like I said it is MY perception. And to a large degree of LDS people. I’ve been in congregations across the country but haven’t found even one that doesn’t hold wealth as righteousness and make far more of dress and appearance than it ought to. I have found individuals in a fair number of them, but only ever one or two individuals or couples.

  43. Jax on February 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Nate. Very descent. I agree. Very little crime among them and very polite if you dressed like them. Very hard working. Had to pay for the house and boat. But rarely know the scriptures surrounding work; ie – the laborer in zion shall labor for zion, for is he labors for money he will perish. I’ve brought it up in conversations and had people refute that it was even a scripture. Mostly they have no idea what the D&C even says on basic topics; ie dress and grooming again D&C 42:40 – “and again thou shalt not be proud in thy heart; let all thy garments be plain, and their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hands” this verse is very plain and almost universally ignored. Do you disagree?

    Compared to the rest of the world, they/we are very good people. But we are called upon to be better than “good.” We live the same life as the catholics and baptists and jews around us. same values and way of life – even though we have taken vows to act differently, been given a playbook for how to do it, sworn covenants to follow the playbook and give up everything to make sure it happens. But we think being “good” is “good enough.” I just think its a shame the saints have turned their backs against being totally exceptional! Because we could be if we only chose to be!!!

  44. Chris H. on February 23, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Exceptional or exceptionally whiny?

  45. Adam Greenwood on February 23, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Its a mistake to only feel filial piety for one’s literal ancestors.

  46. DSmith on February 24, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Nate:

    Thank you. Your words strengthened me.

    Jax:

    If you weren’t real we’d have to create you just so this party wasn’t missing the proverbial turd in the punch bowl.

  47. Chad on March 3, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Thanks, Nate.