Sunday, May 5, 2013

Life More Sweet than Bitter

Maurice Warshaw, third from left
I'm borrowing today's title headline from the autobiography of one of Utah's business icons, Maurice Warshaw. I'll never know how the man ended up in Mormon-laden Utah, and he was the first Jew I ever knew.

I knew Maurice Warshaw well, because I delivered his newspaper to their apartment door every morning. When I knew the Warshaws, they lived in the then-upscale University Heights Apartments, a building that still stands today on the west side of 13th East between 100 and 200 South. He appreciated the fact that I took the newspaper to their door in a multi-floor apartment building instead of just leaving it in a pile with others who subscribed in the building, and he tipped me routinely for good service. He taught me what good service meant.

I eventually made it a standard practice to hand-deliver everyone's newspaper in the building. He knew and appreciated good service when he found it, and he encouraged me at a young age to go out of my way to work a little harder, care a little more, and do a little better than what was expected. I loved Mrs. Warshaw too, with her flaming red hair, probably the first woman I ever remember who dyed her hair. She got every nickel's worth out of that red hair dye!

Born in 1898 in Dubossar, southern Ukraine, Russia, the son of a prosperous Jewish food broker and community leader, Maurice was named Samuel Warshawsky at birth. His family emigrated to America because of the horrors of the Russo-Japanese War and the predictable hatred aimed at Jews. They journeyed to Kishinev, where they hid for seventeen days in a friend's basement. Maurice's father left the family in Kishinev to proceed to the United States on his own. Maurice's step-mother saw that the rest of the family made it to safety, first to Poland and then to Bremen, Germany.

The family booked passage in steerage on the SS Bremen for the nineteen-day voyage to America. After processing through Ellis Island, the family boarded a train at Grand Central Station for Philadelphia and a reunion with Maurice's older brother and father. For seven years the family lived in the tenements of Philadelphia in conditions that were worse than in Russia. But they were together and free.

At age fourteen, Maurice left Philadelphia with his sister and her husband for the newly-established Jewish colony of Clarion near Gunnison, Utah. Life was hard in the colony since most of the people were ill-equipped to handle the demands of farming in such an isolated area. After two years in Clarion, Maurice left for Salt Lake City, where he was joined shortly thereafter by the rest of his family.

It was in Salt Lake City that Maurice left his mark. Conditions for the Warshaw's were difficult, but Maurice and his father made a living peddling merchandise and foodstuffs door-to-door. He would learn good customer service lessons he later passed along to his young newspaper boy and eventually all his employees.

After several years in Salt Lake City, his step-mother died and his father moved to Cleveland. Maurice continued to work at various jobs until the Depression years, when he opened his own business at Ninth South and Main in Salt Lake City. He named his first store Grand Central Market hoping one day it would become "as busy as the big station." Because of his marketing innovations and firm belief in being volume-oriented along with giving the customer a good deal, his Grand Central spread throughout Utah into Idaho and Wyoming.

His life is best summed up in the words from the title of his autobiography, "Life, more sweet than bitter." Maurice Warshaw died on 5 January 1979. He was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and humanitarian. His bust has a permanent spot in the State Capitol building in Salt Lake City.

He's always been an inspiration to me. When I am tempted with feelings of "gee, ain't life awful," I often replay those words from Maurice Warshaw in my mind. No matter what life throws at us, we can always find a glimmer of light in an equal but opposite outcome, can't we?

It seems from the beginning, the law of the opposites has always been part of the mortal experience. (See 2 Nephi 2:10-13). And that is by design. Virtue cannot exist without the equal and opposite evil. Happiness could never be felt without deep and painful sorrow. Without fear, would we ever be able to muster courage? Suffering spawns sympathy and empathy for others we would never know otherwise. Without having tasted the uncertainty and deprivation of poverty, could the feelings that arise of generosity ever be fully enjoyed? Would you ever recognize that great job without suffering a period of unemployment?

Would we ever know evil when we see it if we hadn't known the righteousness that opposes it? A hot stove cannot be distinguished by a young child unless it knows the coldness of ice. We each learn about birth as children come along in a joyful welcome, but the bitterness of death is the bookend emotion at the end of life. To search for God in this life means encountering Satan and his minions. Things break, people sin, nations collapse, everything tends toward entropy. The quest for meaning is often difficult. It was never meant to be easy.

Sometimes it takes fierce thunder and lightning and a storm to lead us toward the sunlight. Sometimes He lets it rain. We will always find Christ in either sunshine or shadow. He is not just a fair weather God.

One cannot imagine a world in which all things were the same. Imagine every car being a black Model T Ford. Imagine a world where everything is the same size and has no variability, no diversity, and there is no chance for failure or success. Imagine no sound, no music, no silence or noise, a world with no beauty or ugliness. Could you ever hope to understand love without hatred? Is there sweet without bitter, and knowing how to prize the difference between the two without some of each?

The existence of opposites paired with our agency is what gives meaning and purpose to our mortal existence. Ironically, it is this part of our Father's plan most mortals instinctively reject. Without the Lawgiver to clearly establish the bright line between good and evil, man in this world would be constantly adrift, defining behavior any way they choose. Choosing between the two is agency. One produces happiness in harmony with the "great plan of happiness," and the other produces sorrow and regrets. Such is the condition we see constantly in the world around us.

President Ezra Taft Benson
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Every [person] eventually is backed up to the wall of faith, and there … must make his stand.” (“The Book of Mormon Is the Word of God,” Ensign, May 1975, 65). Don’t be surprised when it happens to you!

In this last week a spate of circumstances have played out, making me wonder if these things don't tend to come in bushels. A dear friend was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident, and his wife was badly injured. A young father in our ward died unexpectedly Thursday night in his sleep. A teenager, losing his temper for an instant in the height of emotion, struck the official with his fist on the side of the head, and the referee died of brain injuries sustained in the attack. So sad on so many levels.

Two nights ago, while I was fast asleep and our son and his family were sleeping in other bedrooms, my wife in the darkness of our upstairs hallway, mistook the stairway for the entrance to our bedroom, tumbled down a full flight of stairs and broke her left wrist and a toe on her left foot. It was a bad fall. She's still discovering new bruises two days later. An orthopedic surgeon will be required tomorrow to pin the shattered bones of her wrist back into the right place. Not one of these circumstances would be anyone's first choice, would they?

It seems we value the things that matter most only when we are compelled to submit to the opposite condition we would never wish upon ourselves. We love the living more when we bid farewell to a loved one who dies. We know sunshine and sweetness only by being exposed to the darkness and sorrow. However, no matter how dark the night, we can always find a bright ray of sunshine. Patsy's comment to me in the emergency room was, "At least it wasn't my right wrist." Look on the bright side, right?

Elder Neil L. Andersen
One week ago, the father-in-law of the young father who died taught our lesson in the High Priest Group. The topic? Elder Neil L. Andersen's General Conference address from October 2012, "Trial of Your Faith." Mercifully, it was the grandfather, not any of the immediate family members, who first discovered the body of his son-in-law. I called that father and grandfather on the phone this morning to offer my love to his entire family, many of whom live in our ward, as he now provides the comfort and lives the very principles he was teaching us a week ago. Life is filled with deep irony, isn't it?

At the end of Elder Andersen's talk there are many useful footnotes. One quote is particularly appropriate when tragedy, sorrow, doubt, fear and anxiety strikes. These unwelcome guests will frequently come knocking, but we don't have to give them lodging for any more than a brief season. Through it all we can find the universal expression to fit every situation, good or bad - "this too will pass."

President George Q. Cannon
President George Q. Cannon said: “No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, [God] will never desert us. He never has, and He never will. He cannot do it. It is not His character. He is an unchangeable being; the same yesterday, the same today, and He will be the same throughout the eternal ages to come. We have found that God. We have made Him our friend, by obeying His Gospel; and He will stand by us. We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed. We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and purer for them, if we only trust in our God and keep His commandments.” (“Remarks,” Deseret Evening News, Mar. 7, 1891, 4); see also Jeffrey R. Holland, “Come unto Me,” Ensign, April 1998, 16–23).

Knowing there is a God who can be appealed to in times of trouble makes of this mortal experience an existence that is truly "more sweet than bitter." The weight of our sorrows is never so great He will not gladly offer to lift it off our shoulders when we seek Him in faith. Of that I am certain.

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