08 October 2011

Won 2nd in Brimhall Essay Contest

I got second place in BYU's 2011 Brimhall Essay Contest (the prize was a wad of cash and a cool little clock).

Sharing the Light

My brother is a born adventurer--always daring into the unknown. So it wasn’t at all surprising when he told us we were going caving (or spelunking, as some might say) without flashlights. “Then how will we see?” we wondered.


He built seven torches out of thick branches, tin cans, and rolled up cardboard. As we headed into the darkness, our sense of smell--picking up on the kerosene--was stronger than our vision. The light flickered in the darkness, as if it were alive, and it seemed, at first, that it would be too dim to navigate. Some might think our expedition too old-fashioned; some might call it foolish. But to him (and to the rest of us--once we caught the spirit of it) it was simply authentic. Our adventures were never more real than when we had him around--like Tom Sawyer giving orders to his gang, telling us how it needed to be done in order to do it proper. His example was inspiring, to say the least. But this occasion was more than just a lesson on adventure. It taught me something about light as well.

You can point a flashlight in whatever direction you want--it’s precise, steady, and cool in tone. But torches are different. In the movies, the adventurer, in his khaki, worn outfit, always holds the torch in front of him--as if it were a flashlight. That’s because the actor has the added studio light coming from off-camera. But when you have a real torch--when it’s your only light--if you hold it in front of your face, the light shines directly into your eyes, your pupils shrink, and the torch is really all you can see. What we quickly learned was that if you hold it above your head, you’ll see much better. This gets the torch out of your direct vision and lets your pupils dilate so they can take in more light--letting you see better in the dark. Basically, you keep the light above so it’s not focused on you, and that opens everything else to your view.

The 2011 Homecoming theme is “Hold High the Torch,” and Brigham Young University is honoring Gerrit de Jong, Jr., one of its inspiring founders. De Jong was a Dutch immigrant who joined the Church in his teens. Throughout his life, he became a true renaissance man, making learning, in all fields, his constant quest. He was a brilliant musician. He was a master of linguistics, and along with Dutch and English, he learned many languages, including his eventual specialty--Portuguese. As an educator, he inspired his students in music, in linguistics, and, most importantly, in their faith in Jesus Christ. When he was in his thirties, he was honored to become the first dean of BYU’s College of Fine Arts, serving in that capacity for more than three decades. He wrote several books, including a Sunday school manual which was used throughout the Church called “Living the Gospel.” He also authored one of our LDS hymns, “Come, Sing to the Lord” (#100).

Yet when he was honored for his service, he downplayed his own role, giving credit to God, to the gospel, to his associates, and to his students--letting the light fall on those around him. He was humble in spite of great accomplishments--not one to illuminate his own face. Rather, his focus in life was teaching others--helping them to become learners just as he was.

Unfortunately, an overview of his life leaves out the personal conversations and teaching experiences he had in his home, his classes, and his travels across the world. From helping his daughters learn the piano, to teaching his students the fundamentals of Portuguese, and from writing doctrinal manuals to encouraging his granddaughter to give a talk in Sunday School, he was a man who always shared the joy of learning with others, and it’s where he found his deepest satisfaction--in sharing the light--to an extent that when he was teaching, “he [considered himself] in heaven.” And his purpose wasn’t simply to pass on words and facts: he once explained that a teacher’s duty is “to influence the pupil to such a degree that his way of living, his whole behavior pattern, will be directed more and more toward righteousness.”

Just as we learned that day in the cave, the best way to spread light is to hold it high. Gerrit De Jong, Jr., was truly a man who held the torch high, letting its light fall on everyone he came in contact with. May we follow his example in 2011 and as we look toward the future, and may we share the light with our fellowmen.

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