Passing of a Scholar

I learned a few days ago that Pro. John A. Tvedtnes of BYU passed on June 3, 2018. He was 77 years old. He was a prolific writer, publishing many books on the ancient Near East and its relationship with the Book of Mormon. He was until his retirement in 2007, the senior research scholar at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU. His work on the Book of Abraham was especially important to me, as I have long held a deep interest in that work. His biography, written by his friend Daniel Peterson, is here.

Nelda Jean Graham (1933-2018)

I found out last night that my Aunt Jean, my mom’s oldest sister, passed away (in what was morning in Louisiana). She had been sick for a while and recently went into a hospice. Members of my family tell me she passed away without pain and in her sleep. She, and indeed all my mom’s sisters, is a noble lady and I know that God will reward her accordingly. Her husband, Jack Graham, passed away away in 2015. Now of my grandparent’s children, only three remain.
Her obituary:

Nelda Jean Milton Graham, a resident of Walker, passed away peacefully at her home on Monday, May 07, 2018 at the age of 85. Visitation will be held at Seale Funeral Home, Denham Springs on Wednesday, May 9, 2018 beginning at 9:00am. Rev. Merlin McCon will conduct funeral services at 11:00am. Burial will follow in Hiram Stafford Cemetery. She is survived by her son, Bobby J. Graham and wife Helena, daughter, Patricia “Patti” Graham Dunn and husband John W. Dunn, III, three granddaughters, Danielle G. Awkerman and husband Chad, Aurielle G. Boeker and husband Barrett, and Stephanie G. Saltz and husband Willie, two great-grandchildren, Graham and Opal Boeker, four sisters, Marie and Wayne Stafford, Billie and Melvin Estess, Madge Cotton, and Marlene Milton, and numerous nieces and nephews. “Good morning and it is a good morning. My day began with my meeting and greeting my Lord to praise Him and thank Him for all His blessings. Then I greeted my husband Jack, my father and mother, Bill and Bertric Milton, brother George Milton, sisters, Carol Hooper, and Linda Williams, nephews Melvin and Mark Estes and lots of relatives and friends. As you know God didn’t promise a life of ease. I’ve had my share of ups and downs but He was always there and always so faithful. So, to those I’ve left behind, I say remember me with love and a smile. Well, maybe a tear or two, but please don’t grieve. Just know that when St. Peter answers your knock at the Pearly Gate I’ll be on the other side waiting to welcome you home. Till then all my love. Nelda Jean.”

I love you, Aunt Jean, and look forward to seeing you again.

President Thomas S. Monson (1927-2018)

On January 3rd, the news came out that President Thomas S. Monson, the 16th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had passed away the day before. He was 90 years old and has now joined his wife, Sis. Frances Monson. He fathered 10 children and had many grandchildren as well. He was an Apostle of the Lord for over 50 years. had a great biography of the man and his life time of service. President Donald Trump sent a gracious notice here.

What I remember most about President Monson is gentle voice and numerous stories about service to those around him. He encouraged us, as members of the faith and as humans beings, to love those around us, even if we did not agree with them. Especially if we did not agree with them. With his passing, the work continues and goes on.

I can only say, as song goes, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” Welcome home, sir.

Dinner Dates

My year ended with some cheer with dinner dates with some friends. On December 28th, my 妹妹 (little sister), Masako, visited from Tokyo. She was visiting with a friend and squeezed some time in for me. We had some traditional Taiwanese dishes at a restaurant near Dongmen station. She shared with me the delightful news that she is moving to Taipei in February and I shared with her the horrible news that I am moving back to Beijing for work in August. I was happy and disappointed at the same time. Here are some pictures:


Since the Church and Temple are near to Dongmen, we walked over and looked at it. It is quite beautiful in the afternoon and at dusk.

On December 30th, two friends from church, Jean-Francois and Vivian Morin, treated me to dinner. I enjoyed it immensely, although they had to put up with my poor social graces. I am trying to work on them, and did warn the Morins that I am practicing. I thank them for their tolerance with someone who is a bit of a bore.

Whitney Shantel Cotton (1991-2017)

This week a cousin if mine passed away. I was asked to be a pall bearer at her funeral. When it happened, my first thought was what it was going to do to her family. Her young daughter, mother, two uncles, and grandmother (my aunt) were understandably devastated. It was a senseless waste. I wrote a poem about this obligation and my feelings toward it. Here is her obituary, beautiful but unable to fully capture the person she was and is. My mom waited for you in Heaven, love. She waits for me as well.

A Time of Loss

Yesterday was the 8th anniversary of my mom’s passing. The loss of those below came at me so fast that it was only today I could even write about it.

I found out early in the last month that my good friend, David Beckham, died in Idaho on February 7th. He was in one of the wards in Stockton when I was there as a missionary. He did whatever he could for us, despite the fact that he was on disability from a workplace accident. He drove us around and was the go to guy for anything we needed. After I left my mission, he even defended me from accusations made against me by some in the mission. It may not be common knowledge, but I was sent home a month early because of my temper and losing it with a fellow missionary. Unfortunately, I lost contact with him after this and saw him infrequently post on Facebook. I will definitely miss him. As I posted to his niece, if I ever do get to Heaven, I know this man will be waiting for me.

Another loss is that of Coach Billy Burge to cancer on February 24th. He was a long time teacher in Walker and worked with my mother for what seemed (and probably was) decades. He was my PE coach in junior high and driver’s education instructor in high school. He taught more than half the town of Walker and will be missed by all. Thanks, Coach.

In addition, on March 8th, my dear and only maternal uncle, George Elvin Milton, was felled by a heart attack. He spent two days in the ICU before he was removed from life support on March 10th. I have spent most of the 2 & 1/2 weeks in depression over his passing. He was the patriarch and rock of my extended family. My grandfather died when he was 17 and my mother was 3, and he became in many ways the father figure for her and her sisters. He was a dedicated family historian and helped nurture this passion in myself. The only consolation for me is that he is now having a chance to talk to the many ancestors that we spent many an hour discussing. Sir, I love you and miss you, but I know you are in the arms of your parents and the Lord.



I Remember

For a nation that proudly touts the five thousand years of Chinese civilization, there remains an event that the government yearly endeavors to erase from the consciousness of the its people.¹ According to this article at Foreign Policy, it seems that they are succeeding, at least within the boundaries of China. I, however, choose to remember. Even today, the beautiful idealism displayed there brings tears to my eyes. I have read and seen in documentaries many accounts of those days. I have read the biographies of many arrested and sent to the laogai. If placed in a similar situation, of standing up to a despotic government, I often question if I would have the strength to stand by my convictions. I state with pride that I would, but in searching the depths of my heart, I must state with certainty that I cannot be certain. I was not there and another such moment for me has not come. Therefore, I can only do what little I can. I remember.


For me, this picture encapsulates the measure of a man. Faceless, nameless and no doubt afraid, he stood up to the Leviathan in the only way that he could. His punishment was no doubt detention and execution, but in this moment he stood up for an entire nation. Everyday in classes that I teach, my students talk about the latest superhero movie or basketball star. Here, among the ashes of history that some would bury, stands a hero greater than Superman or Ironman. I remember.

Here is a poem by the poet, Meng Lang²:

· 孟 浪 ·




Mnemonic for 6/4: Three Nines Make Twenty-Seven
By Meng Lang

Between a bloody hand and a bloody handprint
Oxygen is interposed; smearing and rubbing have faded
What is setting forth and what is arriving—they collide together
Memory’s guards escort forgetting; some look on but take little in
Yet I want to give you a plain view of the invisible
That erstwhile partitioning and jettisoning, done directly
Those flames in the cranium that overleapt, again overleapt
Sin, ah sin, somehow learning to vanish
Twenty-seven years, the shame of an entire nation

Traces, criminological studies, having mastered ways of escape
Insert themselves in government and sit still, pretending innocence
Procession of vehicles, crowds—a thin, drawn-out line, a nerve fiber
Extracted by this pair of hands that were cleansed by means of sin
Roughly kneading a billion-some balls of dough: angry faces
Turn away, turn away, in the end to be twisted and wrenched
Ah, that wrenching sacrifice, its savor, nursing bereavement
Heavy rumbling, clamor and din, magnificence like a jetting fountain
Twenty-seven years, the enzyme of an entire nation…

The bloody handprint is printed on the sky; who would now
Point falsely? Is God’s fingerprint to be molded in plastic?
I hereby point out, this nothingness is to no avail
On the wide land, only this last bit of greenness remains
From tips of grass shake down that wordless dewdrop
She, the one who bears the whole sky’s weight
Her long sigh is heard from the deepest place
A mnemonic for something—not to be held back, not to be obstructed
Three nines make twenty-seven, followed by four sevens which make twenty-eight

( Tr. by XM )

¹Before any wumao heads explode, I want it to be understood that I despise all governments, including my own to a great extent. My politics tend toward libertarian. I have always maintained a great respect and love of the Chinese people. The government and party, despite what they wish people to believe, are not the people and thus can go to hell.

²This poem was originally published in the Mingpao newspaper, Hongkong, June 1, 2016. It was passed to me through Ohio State University’s Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Resource Center.

Xu Lizhi

I heard of the poet Xu Lizhi several weeks after his death in 2014. His poem, “A Screw Fell Down to the Ground” 《一颗螺丝掉在地上》, touched me. It seemed a lament to every lost soul forced by circumstances to chain themselves to the cold, crushing wheel of progress. This is not to say that I view progress as necessarily bad, but that in it there are winners and losers. Xu clearly saw himself as one of the losers. Rarely do such get a voice. Here is an excellent article about him in Time magazine, titled “The Poet Who Died for Your Phone.”

Here is another of his poems, perhaps my favorite. The translations are not my own but come from this site.


“On My Deathbed”
I want to take another look at the ocean,
behold the vastness of tears from half a lifetime
I want to climb another mountain,
try to call back the soul that I’ve lost
I want to touch the sky,
feel that blueness so light
But I can’t do any of this,
so I’m leaving this world
Everyone who’s heard of me
Shouldn’t be surprised at my leaving
Even less should you sigh or grieve
I was fine when I came, and fine when I left.

Home After a Year and a Half – And Very Late, Part II.

A couple of things happened at home that were not pleasant. I found out from Dad that my cousin, Danny Fred, had been killed in a hit and run by a drunk driver in Rockland, Maine. He was the same age as me and had lived a difficult, but interesting life. I regret that I did not know him as well as I should. I think I may have talked to him once in the last twenty years. For example, I had no idea that he had children. The news story of his accident stated that he was walking on the side of the road with a friend and her daughter. includes a very nice obituary for him.

Daniel Fred Cormier, 35, died tragically on the evening of January 30, after being struck in a hit and run car accident in downtown Rockland, Maine.

Daniel was born on August 29, 1979 in Augusta. He grew up in Alexander and was, as his brother Patrick described him, a “nomad” in adulthood, traveling throughout the country, touching lives and making friends everywhere he roamed. Living for extended periods in California, Florida and Pennsylvania in addition to Rockland, where he resided for the past several years.

As a boy and young man he showed surprising natural talents. As one friend recalled, Daniel as a fifth grader playing chess against a local competitive chess player visiting Alexander School and winning against the man not only once, but three straight times. Later, Daniel became a proficient self-taught guitar player.

He had a lifelong knack for making people laugh. Daniel’s green eyes would light up as he told jokes and enjoyed the jokes of others.

He is survived by his mother Mary and father Danny of Calais; brother Patrick of Alexander; sister Anita and nephew Austin of Portland; and his children including daughter Winter, 14, and son Christian, 3.

*Update: My cousin Patrick has a news story on Facebook where the man filed a motion for release due to police abuse. I know I need to forgive, but a part of me clings hard to old feelings of retribution.

In addition, an associate of John (my oldest brother), Timmy Garrison, was killed up in Wiggins, MS. He was the local distributor for Woodmizer, which is the brand of John’s woodmill. There was a lot of speculation on Facebook and other places online, but eventually they arrested the his wife, her purported lover, and the lover’s cousin who they hired to come up and kill him.

Here is his obituary. I met him one visit up there in the company of John while on some business. There are some messed up people in this world.