I remember the day I discovered I was alive. It was one of those clear mornings in late spring that fill you to overflowing with sensation. I was six at the time and on my way to catch the school bus. I was about halfway through a small field when I heard an unseen voice call out. “I’m a pretty little bird,” the voice sang—at least that’s what my mother told me meadowlarks sing.
At the sound, I suddenly felt a strange emotion pass through me. I stood still, and for the first time really noticed the world around me. I looked up. The sky was a sea of changing color in which clouds floated like feathered ships. The air itself smelled clean and young, and the grassy field where I stood was filled to translucence with sunshine—wildflowers of gold and yellow.
Somehow the meadowlark had awakened me to the beauty of the earth and to the fact that I was part of it. I still can’t put into words all that I felt, but I think that day I came about as close as I’ve ever come to feeling God’s presence.
I also remember the day I discovered death. I was 16 and had a brand-new 20-gauge shotgun. I had gone pheasant hunting that morning and, like every hunt since I had been given the gun, had failed to hit anything. It was late afternoon, and I was skirting a hill north of my home when I saw a bird standing about 20 yards in front of me. I raised the shotgun and fired. A cloud of dust and feathers signaled a direct hit.
I ran to the spot and there found, flapping painfully on the ground, a wounded meadowlark. It stopped moving as I reached down to pick it up. Instantly, the excitement drained from the day, and in the pit of my stomach grew a sickness I’ve since learned to call disgust. I had killed, not for food or for any other useful reason, but simply for the pleasure of killing. I was ashamed. The meadowlark was gone, and with it a small part of my youth.
I’ve learned much about life since that day, and something also of death. I’ve learned that the Lord gave this earth to us to use, to gather from it what we need to live and find joy. But He never intended that we abuse His gifts. “All things which come of the earth,” He has said, “in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
“Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.
“And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.
“And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things” (D&C 59:18–21).
In moments of thanksgiving, may we remember all the Lord’s gifts and the purposes for which they were given. May we thank Him not only for pheasant on the table but also for meadowlarks in the field.
R. Val Johnson does family history name extraction in the Eastridge Third Ward, Draper Utah Eastridge Stake.