I have brought you an iris today

Memorial Day means irises. Specifically, the irises that grow in parents' backyard along the fence next to the raspberries and across a little stretch from the zucchini. Raspberries, irises, zukes, tomatoes and apricots are the crops of my memory, the things that it seems like my mom and dad have always grown. Or had always grown. There's no more apricots and it seems like a couple of years there wasn't much to see among the irises, but perhaps I simply did not notice what was always there. The irises are blue, yellow, and purple. They always seemed to burst from nowhere, creating a sudden splash of color in mid-May. But what I really remember about them is taking them to the graves.

Both sets of my grandparents are buried in the same cemetery in suburban Salt Lake. The two graves are literally a stone's throw from each other, on two patches divided by the narrow cemetery road. Because the cemetery in question does not allow raised headstones, driving past it most of the year makes it appear like a set patches of grass. Yet a few weekends a year, it becomes a hotspot of activity, the graves attracting flowers, flags, pinwheels and other tokens of remembrance.

Every year, for Memorial Day weekend (generally early evening on the Sunday), we would go visit these graves. We took irises and, in years past, gallon milk cartons that had been cut open as makeshift vases. The irises would be propped up in the carton and the carton held in place by a bent hanger staked to the ground. Part of this ritual is also the sprucing up of the headstone. My dad would get down on his knees to cut back the grass and brush aside the clippings that have obscured the names.

Because three of my grandparents passed away prior to my memory, these annual trips is the most concrete interaction I have ever had with them. Because I do not remember them being around, it's hard for me to feel much at visiting their graves. These stones mark, essentially, strangers that I owe my existence to. Yet, I know little of them. The one grandparent I do remember, my mom's dad, raises more complicated feelings for me. I remember him well. Visiting his grave does not make me sad or wistful, particularly. But it does call to mind frequently random memories. One of the more frequent ones that appears in my brain is the time my family and he were in the small mining town in western Colorado where he oversaw a mine during his working years. One night, he called us all to the front room. When I got there, he pointed out the moon, how huge and bright it looked that night, a full moon in a place far from city lights. That was the whole reason he called us in. When I say a sense of wonder is one of the most important personality traits, this is the kind of wonder I mean: being so struck by something that you must share it, even if it's the moonrise.

Without fail, we would run into some other contingent from the extended family also visiting the grave at the same time. There are usually a brief encounter, but it's always rather cheerful, a strange juxtaposition with the setting, I think. I mean, is the annual trek one of mourning? One of more positive remembrance? I'm not sure what my parents and their siblings, the children of the bodies lying beneath our feet are feeling. But the habit holds a comforting marker of time for me. Like all traditions, it feels right simply through repetition. Before leaving the cemetery, we take a photo of our group. (How many of these pictures do we have? 10? More?)

This year, I was not in Salt Lake for the holiday. It's not the first time I've missed the cemetery trip. But, I know my family went. And, they took irises, a change from recent years when pre-potted flowers were carried in. Being away, I'm glad to know that the tradition continues. Especially with the irises.

Nearly imperceptible

Mormons are thin on the ground here in central New York. It's as if, once they were gathered to The Ohio, they've never really made a comeback. This is a bit of a change for me as I've lived my entire conscious life in locales with large numbers of Mormons. Granted, I don't really notice this all that much, apart from going to church at my branch and there only being fifteen people in sacrament meeting. But I do notice it because the closest temple is now 70 miles away. I realize this is paltry for some areas of the globe, but back home in Zion, I could get to nine temples by going that same distance.

Now, I'm not a particularly regular temple attender. I've never really much understood people who go every week or who hold that up as a symbol of their righteousness. But I do enjoy the temple and having the option of just popping over on a whim might be nice. Or, like that one time, when I didn't plan ahead and found that the Jordan River temple was closed, so went to Oquirrh Mountain, only to learn they were booked solid. Thankfully, Draper was right there for me to make use of. In other words, I prefer being spoiled.

But, this whinging aside, I did go to the temple last week. My semester's over and I've got some free time and I figured, why not? I actually had a lovely time there, as well (which is typical, but not guaranteed. I'm fickle, ok?) I also had a little thought strike me. The background for this thought actually comes from one of the papers I just finished.

In a sloppy, poorly argued piece, I wrote about the overlaps between a novel and a memoir by mid-20th century Mormon author Virginia Sorensen. At one point in the memoir, talking about the landscape of northern Utah, she talks about the need to "look sharp for color in this country." It's true. There's a lot of beauty to be found in the desert, but you have to have an eye for it. This is also true, I suppose, of southern Utah, where the overwhelming red rock may trick you into not looking closely for fine distinctions.

This need for sharpness was on my mind as I waited for the session to start. I was looking around the room at about the twenty or so of us. We were all wearing white. The party line on this has to do with purity but also with all being alike. As a matter of fact, just earlier that same week, I had explained to a classmate about the white clothing as a symbol of unity. But, as I waited, I noticed we weren't all the same. There were differences. Shirts had different cuts. Ties had different patterns. The dresses had varied trims. Different fabrics appeared in various outfits. They were all white but there was a great variety if you looked sharp.

This lead me to think that the point of these clothes might not erasing disunions at all. Rather, they're a symbol of how we can be, as B.H. Roberts suggested, "united in the essentials and tolerated in the nonessentials." Being Mormon can be hard if you feel like you're a bit outside of what everybody else is and expects. But maybe, just maybe, the temple clothes are trying to look forward to a heaven where the richness of difference is there but largely goes unnoticed, not because it's not valued, but because it's just so obviously a part of the intention that it gets set aside to get down to the work.

I realize this isn't a particularly profound insight. And I'm sure some with disagree with my rosy view of it all. But, it was the sort of idea I needed then. And will probably continue to need for a long, long time.