Pain and Desire

By Ruth Hammond Barrus

If one were to observe my graying hair and a gradual accumulation of wrinkles on my forehead, he could easily conclude that I am slipping toward that part of life called middle-age. But if one could look into my heart and see the desires, energy, and determinations contained there, he might say that I am either trying to be young or very foolish. I can't look at a high mountain without desiring to climb it and feel again the wind in my face and view the broad, dusty horizons stretching out in all directions. I feel a restless urge for physical activity and for the fruition of some of my dreams of a lifetime.

This restlessness, I am sure, stems from many causes. I have always been an active person, participating in athletics of all descriptions; then, fifteen years ago, a major operation precluded any strenuous physical activities indefinitely. My health during this time was poor, and the task of caring for my family and meeting the demands made on me musically became an exhausting effort. In 1947 my illness became critical, and I lay a full year in bed, not knowing when night came if I would live to enjoy the morning. My fears were softened, however, by the faith and assurance I had that I would live.

During that year, I learned many things, the greatest being the development of looking at things more objectively. All my life I have been the type of person who has taken all scoldings personally, whether directed at a congregation, classroom, or family. A frown on anyone's face has been a symbol of my misbehavior. I have felt that I have been blessed with certain powers of expression both in music and in writing; but I have been shy to air those expressions because of the seeming (unintentional, as I know now) indifference of those around me. As you can see, I was a very conceited person.

This illness filled me with a keen sense of the passage of time. Much time had already been spent and little time was left.

When the climax came, the doctor informed my family that death was inevitable. I did not want to die! I did not want to leave undone the mission the Lord had given me to do! My husband firmly took my hands in his and temporarily forced strength into my body. Ice water to my head seemed the only last thing that stimulated the painful breaths. With an oxygen tube in my nose and ice water saturating my head, and between gasping breaths, I fiercely exchanged brief utterances with my husband about our happy life together, and that this life must not end now! My mother, who for days had not removed her clothing, stood anxiously by, silently and intently pleading with me not to go. Our Bishop and Stake President came to my bedside in the middle of the night. Before putting their hands on my head for administration, my Bishop informed me that my friends in Sugar City were holding a special prayer circle for me at that very moment. All these people praying for me were men and women of great faith, and my whole being became filled with their faith, which developed in me a faith so powerful that I trembled with its force; and I knew that I would live! Gradually breathing became easier, and a glorious, painless semi-consciousness spread over me. The Lord continued to bless me; for miraculously, and three times within ten days, my life was given me.

The agony of my recovery still haunts me. There wasn't an organ of my body that did not have to recover from serious shock and injury. Drugs, which had been poured into my body for months were now withheld from me; and the physical and mental anguish resulting nearly drove me mad. I am sure I would have lost my mind had it not been for the continued answering of my prayers. The minute I became a little over-tired, my mind became confused; a terrible lassitude and sickness spread over my entire body; all sounds hurt me. I would lie face down on my bed, perspiring at every pore, clinging to the bed-covers, and praying with all my heart that this terrible feeling would pass me by. Sometimes two or three hours would go by before the feeling would pass; but it did pass. As time went by, these feelings came less and less frequently; and by the time another year had passed, they had disappeared altogether.

The most discouraging experience (and I laugh at myself now, as it should have been the most encouraging one) was trying to learn to walk and run again. That was the first time I had indulged in uncontrolled, childish tears. Every muscle had to be re-educated and trained to do the things I had always done before quite easily. I had been walking a week when my youngest child fell in our little irrigation ditch. I started to run towards him, but fell flat on my face. I had no running muscles and, I found later, no jumping muscles.

I do not desire to dwell on this illness, except long enough to illustrate why today I have such a strong appreciation for life. For the first time in many years my health is good; my heart is strong. I can do things again, and my enjoyment knows no bounds.

I have a strong sense of living on borrowed time, and with that time I want to do something useful for those around me; for only that way, I feel, can I show my appreciation. I pray now that I will not expend my energies foolishly, but that I will be directed to do those things that I have talent for and may give service in.