Rough Stone Rolling

Converting Oneself One Day at a Time – A Mormon Blog

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December 22nd, 2008 · 12 Comments

stand by me 2 

When I was in the 7th-9th grade, I palled around with a  borderline delinquent named Doug.

Together we would sluff the Evergreen Jr. High spirit assemblies (opting instead to get breakfast at the Hungry Hermit on 33rd South) or take a cab downtown to grab some dinner and catch a midnight movie when our parents thought we were sleeping over at each other’s house. When we were 12, we’d dig in the bars’ trash bins around Salt Lake City looking for mini-bottles for our collections. When we were 14 we’d walk out of Jeans West in different clothes than what we walked in with.  I liked hanging around Doug ’cause he always had pocketfuls of cash (pilfered from his dad’s office safe) and it seemed we were always off on some exciting (albeit illicit) adventure. I guess that made me a borderline delinquent, too. We were just damn lucky we never got caught.

Doug was, understandably, a pariah in his ward. He was the example parents pointed to when telling their kids to shape up and fly right– the Romper Room “Don’t-Bee” to the CTR “Do-Bee.” In a way he performed his service as the ward cautionary tale, and for filling the measure of his creation he was rewarded with righteous social banishment.

In the ninth book of The Republic, Plato famously observed that “the virtuous man is content to dream what a wicked man really does.” Elaborating on that thought, Freud argued that lawbreakers (sinners) make it possible for the rest of us to adapt to the demands of normality by acting out, and being punished for, our own unacknowledged impulses. Going one step further, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim observed the criminal (sinner) contributes to civic well-being (righteousness) not only by promoting a sense of solidarity among law-abiding citizens (the obedient), united in condemnation of the malefactor, but by providing a cathartic outlet for their primal vengeful impulses. This is probably why true crime has always been such a popular industry.

I think every ward has a Doug, and I believe he (or she) provides a valuable gauge for members trying to measure their own– or their families’– spirituality. Take, for example, when a member’s “little Megan” is constantly disruptive in primary. Despite ourselves, we would think “my Brianna is never disruptive– she’s a good girl.” Or, if a fellow priesthood holder openly challenges conventionally accepted tenets in class, the others might be prompted to think, “Oh my brother, why dost thou kick against the pricks? I never kick against the pricks.”

There’s the daughter who became pregnant and the husband who cheated on his wife, the missionary who was sent home and the sister who had that nervous breakdown, the family that stopped coming to meetings and the scout leader who campaigned for Bo Gritz and told his home teachees how to get around paying their taxes. We love them all and, in part, use them to build our own testimonies. Without the fallen, after all, how could we measure ourselves in the ward eco-system (besides callings, that is)?

It isn’t enough for us to draw from examples given to us in the scriptures. We have to vicariously experience the penalties of sin through our contemporaries– we have to witness the execution to be deterred. That isn’t to say the Lord provides  “fall guys” for us, but it is convenient how there’s always one in a congregation to point to.

Doug’s mom and dad always blamed me for being the bad influence even though in our friendship I was always the follower. I guess I was an easy enough target, being the non-member kid and all, and not being their own son. But by the time I was 15, I outgrew my delinquent ways and Doug just got worse. He started doing drugs and eventually went to prison after being caught breaking into a Spoons n’ Spice in Sugarhouse. Real public enemy, that kid.

The last I saw Doug was in 1981 when I came home from my mission. He was out of prison but still doing drugs. He was also clearly uncomfortable to see me again and acted like he couldn’t wait for me to leave.

I got an email from my kid sister Erika this morning. She ran into one of Doug’s little sisters who, recognizing E’s last name, asked if she was related to me. She told Erika that Doug died of congestive heart failure in 2006– no kids, never married, still on drugs. His friends used the next few days to help themselves to Doug’s stuff before the smell became too awful, and then they called the police. A crappy ending to a progressively crappy story.

It’s too easy to say Doug would be alive and happy today if members of his ward had taken a loving interest in him. There was a tendency of labeling and prejudice among those folks at that time, but I’m certainly not going to get all self-righteous and say they let him stray and die. I knew the kid– he was my friend, but he was also a hard case, bent on self-gratification. He ran from anyone who tried to be a good influence to him.

On the other hand, so many other kids in that ward grew up to be faithful members and good parents– including his siblings–so I guess Doug did fill the measure of his creation.


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12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 cheryl // Dec 22, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    As I read your story, all I could think of was his mother. How did she feel? Did she take it personally? Did she do all she could? It’s strange, but for some reason, this last year has really put me into a parenting mode –all I can think about is how much I love my kids, how I hope to do right by them, how I pray they will love the Gospel, and how I hope they will be happy, even if their choices don’t reflect what I’ve taught them. For the first time, I’m focusing on Mary and how she would have felt being the mother of Christ; I see her stewardship and her responsibility almost as the same as mine. We’re both mothers, we both need to teach our children, and we love them with a fierceness I never knew existed. Of course, although she had to see her Son die, His mission would be the greatest of all. My kids don’t quite match up to the same expectations (thank heavens!), but I sure hope they’ll turn out to be their best.

    Anyway, as much as I feel for your poor friend Doug (and the people that could have helped him), I think I’m feeling more sorrow for his mother. I hope she knows it wasn’t her fault…

  • 2 David // Dec 22, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    I hopes so, too, Cheryl. Doug’s mom died in 2001, also of congestive heart failure. When Doug went to find peace, I’m sure they had a lot to talk about.

    As I was writing this entry I, too, was thinking of my own kid. D’s the age I was when I started running around with Doug, but she’s such a straight arrow, the stuff we did would never occur to her. My son, who is now 25, was the same way. When D’s an adult I’ll share with her the more colorful stories of her old man, but not before.

  • 3 cheryl // Dec 22, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    But, you know, I don’t think it’s wrong for kids to learn from their parent’s mistakes. My mom would tell me (when I was a teen) about some of the dumb things she did (drinking, sneaking out, stealing the car and skipping school) and how she regretted it. But for some reason, it never made me want to copy her; quite the opposite. And she turned out just fine (like you, eh?), so I think it helped me to see that making mistakes weren’t the end.

    But yeah, I know what you mean. There probably should still be discretion when it comes to past mistakes –especially depending on how young our kids are at the time of disclosure!

  • 4 Yet Another John // Dec 22, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    This story, like so many of your other posts, hit close to home for me. Growing up, I was friends with a kid who wasn’t a particularly bad kid, but just had a harder time understanding later consequences of certain choices. He had good parents, good siblings and good friends. After high school, he had a rough spell, then joined the Army and seemed to pull his life together. He married, had two kids, eventually landed a pretty good job at Dugway Proving Grounds.
    His #1 buddy, alcohol, began to play a bigger and bigger part in his life and eventually he lost his family and his job. He took his own life two years ago.
    His siblings, for the most part, have done well and his parents were active. Most of his high school friends have solid lives in community and/or church. The difference? I think it comes down to agency. Yes, we all have outside factors (genetics, friends, physical circumstances, health, etc.) that influence our actions but in the end, personal responsiblity plays a bigger role in our lives than many like to admit.
    Now, the older I get, the more I realize it is not my place to judge, and I am by no means safe or immune from bad choices, but I do think there is only so much we can do for others, in the end it is between them and the Lord. Certainly we should fellowship and encourage, teach and exhort and should accept the same from others. Anything more than that, however, starts to drift into the area of Satan’s plan of forcing men to Heaven.

  • 5 Ray // Dec 23, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    There’s a lot of wisdom in, “Judge not.” Someday I hope to understand why each of us does what each of us does, but right now I have no clue.

    Thanks for a beautiful post.

  • 6 David // Dec 23, 2008 at 5:03 pm


    While a lot of this “age of enlightenment” has poisoned our thinking with secular trappings, I do think we are learning to be more tolerant, empathetic and inclusive than we were. At least that’s what I see in the wards I attend today as opposed to that particular ward then.

  • 7 Ray // Dec 24, 2008 at 4:41 am

    I agree with that completely, David. I have seen incredible change in that regard over the years, even if we still have a long way to go collectively.

    You might be interested in what I wrote on my own blog yesterday: “My Dream: A Collective Mighty Change of Heart”

  • 8 Karron // Dec 27, 2008 at 3:31 am


    I hear such regret in your written voice. As a mother of one of ‘those kids’ in church who went way off the beaten path in his teens, and was shunned by those who are oh so perfect, I understand Doug’s pain and the pain of his parents.

    As I watch my son’s daughter struggle with the need to be independent and walk to her own beat, while dealing with the goody goody in front of the parents, but hateful witches behind their back, girls, my heart breaks. But all in all, my kids have always been individuals and not part of a herd mentality.

    So many people in the church think that just because their kids have never been caught out doing things that are unacceptable, not to mention illegal, it does not mean that they haven’t done those things behind their backs. The stories I could tell you would curl your nose hairs.

    It took a long time for me to understand that it wasn’t my parenting that made my son walk on the wild side, it was always his choices. Just as it was the choice of the man who murdered him to pull the trigger of that gun, just because he wanted to kill someone.

    Consequences can be eternal, or mortal, or simply regretful of every bad choice we make. Or, they can be life changing events that create change in ourselves, and the lives of all those around us.

  • 9 David // Dec 27, 2008 at 7:18 am


    Good thoughts in your blog entry. You would have been at home in my last ward, full of Hollywood artists, pre-membership tat wearers, hippie types and lots of non-member significant others.

  • 10 Tammie // Dec 31, 2008 at 4:30 am

    Did you know that Doug had a learning disability. It was very difficult for him to read because of this and so he was not a ‘normal’ student. He was classified as stupid, disruptive, etc. Back when he was in elementary and even still today children with learning disabilities have a very long road to haul. He wanted to have friends and to fit in and because of his slow learning the only way he knew to make ‘friends’ was to buy them. This insecurity in him lasted until the day he died. The only way to prevent this kind of thing happening to others is to actually take a look at each person/ child as take them who they are and not place them in a slot of ‘normal’ or ‘ not normal’. Doug was a smart person who just could not read well because of his dyslexia. The words would flow off the page before his eyes. Next time we see a person, child or adult acting ‘different’ we need to stand back and look closer at them and see what might be their hold back. Most people just want to be loved and accepted. Doug is at peace now, this I know.

  • 11 David // Dec 31, 2008 at 4:53 am


    Please refer to Tammie’s comment. It offers a whole other facet of Doug that I was unaware of and which I think you’d appreciate. Tammie is Doug’s sister (we only recently became reacquainted online) and, from what I recall, is a very cool person.


    Meeting you on Facebook was a trip, but having you come visit my sounding board makes me a little self-conscious. I mean, you knew me when I was a punk!

  • 12 Tammie // Jan 1, 2009 at 12:41 am

    Punk, that’s the way I know you and will always love you. I will always remember my visit to the haunted old mill and you made the visit so awesome. I think it is good for people to see how we change over time. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Loving unconditionally is what life is all about and appreciating who each of us is. The goal I think should be go get each of us to the finish line in one piece, or is that peace.

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