This morning I noticed a phenomenon that raised certain scientific questions in my mind. I frequently have such scientific questions. One time I wondered if plants might be made to grow faster by adding some tension to them. I thought of a device by which one could experiment with this hypothesis. It necessitated attaching strong thread to gentle steel springs and tying those springs to half of the test plants. Every couple of days the setup would have to be readjusted and measured to determine if those plants that were being pulled by the springs grew faster than those which did not receive similar encouragement.”
I never carried out that experiment. I was just curious. This morning’s curiosity did not involve another noble plan to increase the world’s food supply by making plants grow faster. It was far more subjective.
After my shower I noticed that my hair seemed to dry faster than it used to. I had noticed this phenomenon several times of late. In considering the matter, the first explanation that occurred to me was that perhaps the Department of Water and Power had changed the chemical content of the water. Or perhaps it was the different shampoo I had used. As I shaved I pondered those things. Then as I ran a comb through my already-drying hair—Eureka!—I discovered the answer! It was not any of the eight or nine factors I had been considering. Instead, it was the simple fact that I had much less hair than I used to have. Since there were fewer hairs to get wet and more space between them, the individual strands would, of course, dry much faster.
The fact that I had substantially less hair than I used to have led me to another “scientific” deduction: people have less hair in their later years; therefore I must be getting older. Now that hardly seems possible because I usually feel like I am just beginning. I am blessed with a childlike wonder, and I am so curious about so many things. There are great books yet unread and wonderful places still unseen. But most of all, I realize that there is a whole world yet unwon for the Savior. I am getting older and I guess I will never read all those books, or see all those faraway places or meet all those potential friends. And likewise, in my remaining time on this earth, I will never get around to telling everybody about Jesus.
I ponder that last fact from time to time, and I find it somewhat disturbing. One night I had a dream about it, or perhaps I should say I had a nightmare. In my dream I saw a wide rank of people stretching like a ribbon to the horizon. They were mostly older people, but there were some younger ones as well. There were even some small children. All of them were marching in lockstep fashion right off the edge of a precipice. There seemed to be an active volcano down below. I heard rumbles like thunder and saw flashes of lightning coming from there. Being the curious person I am, I tried to count how many people wide that rank was. And because it was a dream, I managed to do it. Each row had 32 people across. Without hesitation, together they took the same steps that led them all off the precipice into the smoking, flaming holocaust below.
Still curious, I counted and calculated. I cannot recall now how many I counted, but in the midst of my mental figuring, I was suddenly caught up in a sense of horror. What a tragedy! Before me lay all humanity, marching into a Christless eternity, and I was callously calculating how many, to satisfy my curiosity.
At that point in my dream I cried out, “Lord, forgive me for being so callous!” And immediately the scene changed. I was in another line of people, mostly single file, but occasionally two together, sometimes three. They were stepping upward, with joy radiating from their faces as they were lifted into the sunlight. Among them I saw some people I knew, some I had talked to. I became aware of a milieu about me. They were milling about, chatting. In that moment my hand was outstretched, and my index finger was pointing toward the horizon where the sun and the stream of people converged. I was shouting, “That’s the way, that’s the way. Go there!” And some did.
It was just a dream, but there was truth behind it. All too often a professional’s approach to such matters is one of clinical curiosity rather than caring. The compilation of statistics does not necessarily give rise to concern. If we are not prayerfully sensitive, we may fail to remember that every person who departs this life without the Savior constitutes a tragedy of infinite magnitude.
I am glad it was only a dream, and I am glad that I am a curious person. My life has been much more enjoyable because of my innate curiosity. But my life must be more than enjoyable. It must be meaningful. It can only be meaningful if I am a caring person. It may sound simplistic, possibly even superstitious, but the real issue is not merely the here and now. Rather, the real issue is the reality of heaven and hell and the shortness of life.
Winter days are short, and February is a short month. Somehow that serves to remind me of the shortness of life. I have noticed recently that the years are not what they used to be for me. Each one seems a bit “shorter” than the one before. It makes me more aware than ever that I must use my time wisely; that I should be seeking more ways to tell more people that God cares for them enough to send his Son to die for them, and that he wants them to respond to him.
In considering the shortness of life, some might sermonize that we ought to treat each moment as possibly our last. Others might argue with equal fervor that we ought to relax and approach life with long-range plans. I have operated at times in each mode. I don’t mean to be morbid, and I have come to a conclusion: Panic is not the answer to life’s brevity, and there may be more time than we fear there is. On the other hand, there may be less time than we think. In any case, there is no time we can afford to waste.
I am eagerly looking forward to seeing my Savior face-to-face some day and being in his physical presence forever. I would like that moment of greeting to be without regret over squandered opportunities. I would prefer to have my life’s net overflowing with the souls of people. I would like it so full that my boat tips and rocks precariously as I approach that final shore. With him to guide and secure me, it will not be a risky maneuver after all, and I long to hear him say, “Well done!”