Sunday, August 30, 2009

I See... Ties that Bind

What are the ties that bind? I often reflect on the ties that bind our family together for eternity. I firmly believe that the happiness promised to those who choose to live within the bounds of the eternal marriage covenant is not reserved for our mansions in a distant but glorious heaven; they are available to us now. Whenever life separates us for more than a desired length of time, it is the temple's sealing power that envelopes us with the comfort of knowing that while any spiritual, emotional, or temporal distance between us is merely temporary, the joy we find in living our covenants can be permanent.

So, what about right now? What are the ties that really bind us? For the men in our family, my son and I, they are those diversely decorated strings of colorful cloth we thread through the collars of our button-down shirts to constrict the blood flow to our brains during church meetings and professional work days- neckties. They bind us together in multiple meaningful ways.

When he was too young to know what a necktie was, but old enough to sense that there was something wrapped around his neck, we brought him to church wrapped in his favorite blankie and sporting the world's smallest white shirt and the world's cutest red bowtie. As he grew up through nursery and primary, his clip-on ties reflected his deepest and most immediate interests: sports and cartoon characters. Those were the years I traded a small measure of my maturity and dignity for a greater measure of common ground with my son and decorated my own white shirts with neckties adorned with the quintessential stars of the cartoon universe: Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny.

As he graduated into Aaronic Priesthood paths, and I was pulled into the seemingly more adult world of church leadership assignments, we continued to bond over ties bearing more smaller and obtuse emblems of the worlds of animation and sports. We pooled our meager resources and built a impressively common collection of uncommon neckties, then engaged in competitive good-natured thievery; we would secretly rob each others' closets for our favorite tie for that Sunday. We also enjoyed donating some of our ties to newly-baptized members, and hoped that they would want to join the bond we were building. The highlight of my aperiodic business trips overseas was coming home with cheap and culturally diverse neckties from another world to challenge my son's sense of fashion and style.

As he left for college and prepared for a mission, his quest for a degree of independence led him to start wearing some of the most ugly, fat, and short ties known to man, which had previously existed only in second-hand used clothing stores and Napoleon Dynamite movies. We found company in criticizing each others' campy collection of neckwear.

He left for his mission and a natural result was my concern that the temporal distance between us would strain our bond. We could not waste precious space in emails and even more precious time in our Christmas and Mother's Day phone calls to reminisce on the finer points and problems of necktie style and etiquette. Now it was important to focus our energies on supporting him with words of encouragement and hope. Other than the infrequent slogan “short ties baptize!”, it seemed that neckwear was no longer a source of common familial currency between us.

When he returned from two years of dedicating all of his heart, might, mind, and strength to bringing souls unto Christ, I was initially concerned about how he may have changed. Did the ties we wore still matter? Did they still bind us? My fears were swallowed up in joy, however, when he began the arduous task of unpacking the best two years of his life from two big suitcases. Over one hundred of the most fat and ugly ties ever produced by Third-World factories suddenly tumbled out of a large side compartment. After staring for what may have seemed much longer than necessary at the towering pile of ties, and then recovering from the initial shock of being exposed to an overwhelming amount of eye pollution, I told myself “yes, THESE really are the ties that still bind.”

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