Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Little Purple Pansies

I joined the Church as a 19-year-old college student in North Carolina. Soon I received my first calling. I was to be the Primary chorister. I loved to sing, but this was extremely stressful. I didn't know how to conduct music, and I knew none of the Primary songs. The pianist helped me learn some basic patterns, and each week I would go to the basement of my dorm where the piano was located. With one finger I would painstakingly pick out the melody and teach myself the song, then practice conducting it. I'd make a poster, a visual, or a game. I'd spend several hours preparing, and the entire week worrying. One week the new song I was to teach was "Little Purple Pansies," a song not included in our current Primary book. I thought the words had a great message, and I still remember them:

Little purple pansies touched with yellow gold,
Growing in one corner of the garden old,
We are very tiny, but must try, try, try,
Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

In whatever corner we may chance to grow,
Whether cold or warm the wind may ever blow,
Dark the day, or sunny, we must try, try, try
Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

I had a wonderful visual/game for this song, and I knew all the words by heart so I wouldn't be bound to the book. Unfortunately I also had an entire row of 11-year old boys in the back. That day they decided to sing, "Little purple panties." The one song all year they sang at the top of their lungs. "Little purple panties touched with yellow gold...hahahahaha!" I had not choice but to continue with the song, as I knew no others. It was pure torture.

Perhaps because of this horrific experience, I now sometimes have reservations that one purple pansy in a tiny corner of the world can make any difference. I consider myself an idealistic person, and I'm involved in several "causes." But I often despair that my small efforts can have any influence in the world.

When John Remy introduced our Book Club selection for this month, Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains, I was enthralled by his introduction. The book is about a small group of Quakers who started a movement which eventually resulted in the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. John says, "I’m not selling Quakerism here, folks. I’m selling idealism. In a generation or two, deeply entrenched, unjust attitudes can be reversed by the focused and passionated efforts of a few."

I got my book in the mail last week, and I've read the first three chapters. Although a history book, it is as readable as a novel, with a great story line and fascinating characters. I'm already enamored with John Newton, a man with a great love, great ambitions, and great weaknesses. In the first chapters, I've already encountered the doubts an idealist can experience as they run up against the status quo. Olaudah Equiano, a free black man in England, attempts but fails to rescue a friend of his who is seized and placed on a vessel bound for the West Indies.

"Equiano could paint his face and pass for white, at least in the dark; he could navigate skillfully through the white world's law courts and networks of influential people. But he was powerless to stop a black friend from being plunged back into slavery and tormented to an early death. Only a tiny minority of people in Britain openly oppposed slavery, and he and [Granville] Sharp (a lawyer) were almost alone in having actively tried to help its victims. He sank into a despair so bitter that he went to sea again and resolved "never more to return to England."

I feel deep in my soul that there are things we as individuals have promised the universe we will do. I think though we may try to escape, we will always have a profound interest and investment in these things, and be led to them over and over. I'm hoping as I read this book, it will rekindle within me a greater idealism and desire to discover and accomplish my vocation.


Amira said...

Nice picture. I rather like the point of that song even though I'd never suggest that anyone sing it. I do think one person can make a difference. I've seen it happen. They weren't big differences, but even improving one other person's life a little is worth it.

I've had Bury the Chains on my list for about a year now; I'll have to move it higher up the list.

Bored in Vernal said...

Busted! I got the pansy picture from amira's blog. It's very beautiful. I wish I could figure out how to put the photo credit on, like Connor started doing on his site.

Amira said...

I'd like to know how to do photo credits too. I've tried, but I can't figure out how to put in sometime that looks decent. One reason why I post my own pictures, though, is so people will use them. I was pleased to see that you did.

JohnR said...

My first calling as a newly baptized 18-year-old was in primary. I was given a group of hyperactive CTRs (all boys). Each year they moved me up with the group, and when I returned from my mission, they reassigned me to the same group (all Blazers then).

The only way I could get some of them to sing was to let them play fast and loose with the lyrics. I don't think we ever sang "Purple Panties," but I feel a touch of collective guilt for your chagrin.

I'm glad you're enjoying Hochschild. I find that I have to continually reinvigorate my idealism. Fortunately, it's never been so battered that it couldn't recover (and fortunately Equiano recovered and went on to write his autobiography).

Idealists need each other. The world is not kind to idealists.

Mark said...

Very interesting. I enjoyed the read on how you discovered your purpose and your path the reingnite your purpose. The book you are reading sound very interesting.

Bored in Vernal said...

Thanks, Mark. I also appreciated your thoughts on making changes in the world. You said, "As we become the change that we desire to see in the world we will emanate vibrations to others who will be influenced by us, as this happens the collective consciousness changes." I think I've seen this happen before, and it is actually pretty amazing. When I read your post, I wondered what kinds of vibrations I am putting out there!

Deborah said...

(FYI: The Purple Pansies can still be found in the modern Children's Songbook -- we sang about their yellow gold just last week :)

Me, Myself and I said...

Great blog!


Peggy said...

I found your blog while googling 'pansies' to make a poster to teach my Primary kids that old classic. Now I am scared to death to do it for fear of those 11 year old smartie pants! Wish me luck!