Mortality and Sensitivity

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.

7 Responses to Mortality and Sensitivity

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this moving post, John! 

    Posted by Jordan Fowles

  2. Anonymous says:

    I just couldn’t work on that motion anymore after overhearing that and rushed to just talk to him and listen, knowing that listening without saying much was the best thing I could do for him. And that he would need patience for the next six to twelve months as he worked through the grief and pain as one brother in the gospel who met another.


    Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Good point Stephen. That’s another mistake I made–I could have gotten up and approached him (although he had moved on by then), but instead I tried for another 15 minutes to work on the motion and then headed home instead. Lots of work to do on the compassionate service front. . . . 

    Posted by john.fowles

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Jordan! (This is wierd, I can hear Allison talking to you in the other room on the phone and I am communicating to you here, even though I could just say it to you on the phone in a second. . . .) 

    Posted by john fowles

  5. Anonymous says:


    Moving post. It’s obvious that you are a kind and compassionate man (a reflection from being your friend.) What I can’t understand (and really want to), is how you can support President Bush’s Iraq war without question, bearing in mind the terrifically high loss of life involved. The Johns Hopkins/Lancet study (JHU is a conservative school by the way) suggesting a total of 100,000 civilian deaths is just awful. So much death! And if only a tenth of that figure is accurate, it’s still far, far too much. Is it worth it? And would we say the same if it was 100,000 or 10,000 American or British deaths. Where is our compassion?


    Posted by Ronan J. Head

  6. Anonymous says:

    And if only a tenth of that figure is accurate, it’s still far, far too much. Is it worth it? And would we say the same if it was 100,000 or 10,000 American or British deaths. Where is our compassion?Excellent point Ronan. In fact, as I read it my mind turned to a similar sentiment in a great British novel called The Magus (1965) by John Fowles (no relation). In describing the carnage at Neuve Chapelle during WWI after an allied bombardment on the German-occupied town, the character Conchis has this to say:

    We came into what must have once been a street. Desolation. Rubble, fragments of plastered wall, broken rafters, the yellow splashes of lyddite everywhere. The drizzle that had started again gleaming on the stones. On the skin of corpses. Many Germans had been caught in the houses. In ten minutes I saw a summary of the whole butcher’s shop of war. The blood, the gaping holes, the bone sticking out of flesh, the stench of burst intestines–I am telling you this only because the effect on me, a boy who had never seen even a peacefully dead body before that day, was one I should never have predicted. It was not nausea and terror. I saw several men being sick. But I was not. It was an intense new conviction. Nothing could justify this. It was a thousand times better that England should be a Prussian colony. 

    Posted by john fowles

  7. Anonymous says:

    I forgot to mention that that quote from The Magus, pp. 126-27 (Laurel, Dell: New York, 1978, revised edition).  

    Posted by john fowles

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