“The Yard Sale,” Ensign, Apr. 1993, 56
We are selling my father’s earthly possessions, sorting through the cupboards and closets, cleaning out the older books and magazines that will fetch no price, and laying out on tables the articles of his material accumulation that may bring a few dollars to the estate.
The process is not done for greed. Money is never the issue where sincere love exists. In fact, many of the articles are purchased by family members for the memories they hold. No, the sale takes place because Dad would have wanted it that way. He was a businessman, and for him sentimentality never superseded common sense.
We would have donated the things to charitable organizations—but he would have told us to have a yard sale. So we place price stickers on toasters and lawn chairs and glassware, reminding our fragile sensibilities that Dad, being a practical man, and more than a bit of a character, is probably standing nearby analyzing our efficiency.
As the items are purchased, packaged, and taken away, I find myself thinking about eternity. Funny companions to ponder, eternity and a just-sold decorative mirror. I suppose my mind is drawn, when I see Dad’s mirror, to the beautiful mirrors in the temple sealing rooms. Glistening clear mirrors that face each other and offer our mortal eyes a small glimpse of eternity.
Where has my father gone? Oh, I have a testimony of eternity for myself, but for him? I feel much like the poet Emily Dickinson when she reportedly spoke of the death of her father: “I am glad there is eternity, but would have tested it myself before intrusting him.”1
Where has my dad gone? How does he spend his days? Does he know that we miss him?
It’s difficult to be left, as Dickinson put it, “upon the mortal side”2 with so many questions, and so I wander through the pictures in my mind that bring me closer to my earthly parent. I see photographs of him as a young boy, the year is 1926 and he has just come through a near-fatal bout with polio. His small legs are weak and his left arm is completely crippled, yet the picture shows him smiling. Not the faint, wilted smile of an invalid, but the broad, mischievous grin of a boyish brigand prepared to wrest from life his just portion. I see photos of him as a young father cradling his baby daughter in his one strong arm. I recall snapshots of him and me on fishing escapades together. I was his eight-year-old tomboy and he was my pal. Where is he now, this pal of mine?
My dad was not a member of the Church, and I have many treasured pictures of him venturing from his home in Lake Tahoe, California, to attend my husband’s and my graduation from Brigham Young University, celebrating the arrival of our children, or showing up for Christmas dinner. He always complained that he felt a bit uncomfortable in Utah “surrounded by so many Mormons,” but it never hindered his coming. He came because he loved us, and love overcomes many barriers.
In his later years, I see my father teasing the grandchildren, enduring the hardships of living alone, and mellowing in his insistence that there’s only one way to look at things. In fact, eight months prior to his unexpected death, he came to stay with us for a time, and we had wonderful conversations about family, and life, and things of the Spirit. As I look back on those precious times, I realize that even then his vision was reaching toward eternity. Where is he now, that kind man who lived a life of simplicity and integrity?
My mind is brought back to the present moment as someone asks for a price on the salt and pepper shakers. Salt and pepper shakers, toasters, lawn chairs. I am still so much a part of earth, and he has moved beyond me. Where has he gone? I quote a price on the salt and pepper shakers, place them in a bag, and hand them to the new owner.
I settle back into the well-worn lawn chair and feel the warm sun on my face. I glance around at the few unsold articles remaining, and curiously my mind catches a tiny fragment of insight regarding the here and the hereafter. I become vividly aware that my mortal thoughts cannot comprehend eternity, cannot possibly figure out the place where the spirit world resides or learn how those within its domain spend their time. Those things are not mentally accessible to me. The things I can know of eternity are witnessed in my soul. Through Christ, my spirit “feels” eternity, feels the love that surrounds and cares for my dad on the other side, and turns our hearts to each other.
All earthly possessions will pass away; so will earthly pain and physical limitations. But the love that emanates from the Savior remains. My dad stands without a crippled arm. Blessed with an understanding of the plan of salvation, he will be free to choose to follow that plan, for not many months from now I will take my father’s name to the temple and offer him the sealing ordinances of eternity. It is then that the two of us will experience the love which overcomes all barriers, as witnessed in the scriptures: “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, …
“And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.” (D&C 2:1–2.)