Mortality and Sensitivity

October 30, 2004

Poring over a motion for summary judgment on Thursday in my office around 6:00 p.m., I glanced up as the janitor, Luciano, came in to empty my trash can. He is a great guy, a little younger than I am, an undergraduate from Brazil studying business just working as a janitor to get through school (not too shabby, by the way, to be hooked up as a janitor in this building). He is married and has two kids. I have spoken with him occasionally when I see him around.

When he entered my office, I was too preoccupied with writing this motion that I didn’t think twice about the fact that he was unshaven and sort of slumping a little. In retrospect, it was the first thing that entered my mind, almost a prompting for me to notice it so vividly, but I ejected it summarily, too eager to finish my mundane task. I simply greeted him and made a comment about the weather, without looking at him again.

In the hallway right outside my office door, Luciano began speaking with one of the staff on my floor who encountered him as he left my office. I heard her ask after his wife, how she was doing. I thought, that’s right–his wife’s expecting at the end of December, I’ll remember to ask him how she’s doing tomorrow when he comes for my trash. But even as I thought this, I overheard Luciano say that things weren’t well at all, that his wife had been rushed to the hospital that Tuesday. I heard him say that she received a priesthood blessing but that the baby was born dead shortly thereafter. The shock was obvious in the voice of the woman with whom he was speaking and she asked him how he is coping with it. He said it is very hard–he doesn’t know how he is coping or what he will do–but that this must be a lesson that he needs to learn.

I just couldn’t work on that motion anymore after overhearing that and rushed home to be with my wife and children. In reflecting on that experience, I am first disgusted by my own lack of sensitivity towards what he was facing. Things were obviously not status quo for him and I even noticed it. But I ignored it and didn’t take the time to speak with him. I don’t think I could have said anything that could haved eased his sadness, but I might have shown him that one more person cares about what his experiences are, especially with his and his wife’s families so far away in Brazil.

This also caused me to reflect on mortality and its adversity and trials. John S. Welch (Rosalynde’s husband) recently published an excellent article in BYU Studies that takes an innovative look at the problem of human suffering. John is a medical doctor and approached the question informed by his hands-on experience day in and day out with the suffering of those whom he tries to help. What is unique about John’s analysis is that he focuses on the role that chaos continues to play in mortal existence and in the plan of salvation generally. Essentially, the physical “creation” is not yet fully complete; chaos is still allowed to affect us and our existence and to shape us into one of God’s perfect creations as we experience its capriciousness.

Of course, this is all very removed from the actual suffering that Luciano and his wife are experiencing at this time, but this adversity will indeed teach them something about themselves, the plan of salvation, and perhaps many other things that are hard to discern at this stage for them. They will likely always carry an empty place in their hearts for this daughter they didn’t get to know. Chaos has struck and perhaps there is no reason in the sense that God caused it to happen that way; rather, it seems more likely that God allowed Chaos to take its course in this process of creation, even though it meant a tragedy for this one family. I hope that Luciano will seek the Lord in this time of hardship and that the Lord will succor him as He has promised to succor those who confess his name and who have entered into his covenant.