Dack Van Orden was born and raised in Idaho Falls, ID. He currently lives in the Houston Texas area where he and his wife are the parents of three daughters and one bonus daughter. He has served in a variety of callings within the Church, most of which have been in various youth callings. His favorite was teaching early morning seminary. He currently serves in the high council as the stake Young Men president.
In the early 1940’s, Robert was your typical teenager growing up in Southern California. However, when Pearl Harbor was attacked in December of 1941, Robert felt a call to join the Army. In 1943, at age 17, Robert obtained permission from his parents to enlist. Whatever he imagined warfare would be like from books or movies he had seen, Robert quickly learned that war was an awful engagement. Robert was among the first wave of soldiers to land on Omaha beach during the invasion of Normandy. Later he fought on the front lines in France and Belgium. Robert watched as friend after friend died. He witnessed death over and over again.
War – A World of Darkness
Towards the end of the war, in April of 1945, Robert was among the first to enter the Dachau concentration camp as German guards fled their posts to escape capture by the Allied forces. Inside the gates he found gaunt prisoners riddled with lice, he saw common graves with bodies piled high, and a cremation ovens filled with human bones.
One of the prisoners, an old man that he described as bones covered by skin attempted to kiss his hand. At first, Robert didn’t understand. A two star general then explained to him that this wasn’t a work camp, it was an extermination camp where Nazi’s killed Jews, gypsies and Catholics. Stunned, he couldn’t believe the human family was capable of committing such atrocities.
Being born of Russian Jewish immigrants, witnessing this camp was particularly hard on Robert. Those who knew him would say there was the early version of Robert that hadn’t seen the camp, and then there was the later version that had. Robert himself would say, “In a half hour I saw enough to fill my nightmares for the rest of my life.”
Four days later his platoon was advancing towards a town called Breidenbach. While fighting behind enemy lines he became entangled in some barbed- wire fencing. Just as he was getting loose from the fence he was shot in the knee. He was rushed back to a field hospital. Over worked doctors and nurses worked on patients as best they could under the circumstances, but the cries of fellow soldiers echoed under the enormous tent. The bullet was removed from his knee after 4hrs of surgery. When he woke, the doctors told him that he would have trouble walking the rest of his life, if he would have the ability to walk at all. Robert would need the use of a cane for the rest of his life. The wound was bad enough to send Robert home.
Once home Robert had a desire to write novels. He wanted to express the things he had witnessed through language to let others know that at its worst the world could be filled with darkness and a sense of evil.
Personal Dark Times
While many of us haven’t gone to war, or experienced some of the horrors of a concentration camp, most of us have experienced dark times. I am speaking of times in our lives where we are brought to our knees in anguish and pain. I speak of those moments where we feel our hearts are literally being ripped in two or the fear of what we are facing is paralyzing.
Each of us have or will face these crushing moments of losing a job and not knowing how we will afford to feed our family or keep them in a home. They come as we face the news of a serious health concern for ourselves or someone we love. I have had several friends and family lose a child or a spouse. It is debilitating. You don’t want to move or talk to anyone. There are days where you cry yourself dry, where you cry so much that no more tears come out but you still keep crying and feeling the pain.
The Pain of Loved Ones
Throughout life I have heard many talks and sermons on Christ’s atoning sacrifice and resurrection. I think most of us could recite the events of the week leading up to it. I have marked my scriptures and added notes about the last supper and those hours in Gethsemane. I have read a discourse on the medical description of what Christ’s body must have experienced in the final hours of his life. But what I have found to be the most powerful for me, is to ponder and think about what those moments must have been like for Mary his mother, Mary Magdalene, and the few apostles and disciples that were there at the cross, and then the few moments after.
While the Romans didn’t invent the act of crucifixion they had certainly perfected its usefulness of inflicting the maximum amount of pain on a person, without killing them. As well as using it as a powerful deterrent for any who dare to oppose their rule. The process of crucifixion is as lengthy as it is brutal. Some victims were known to have been on the cross for days. In Christ’s case at about 3 p.m. that Friday afternoon, Christ willingly gave up his life for all mankind.
Christ Willingly Gave Up His Life
I want to take a quick minute here and explain Christ’s death from a doctrinal standpoint. It should be understood that his death was not due to the natural process of organ failure. Jesus died because he voluntarily gave up his life. True that the torturous nature of crucifixion brought him to the point where he could choose to give up his mortal life, but it was ultimately His choice.
Death did not have power over him, did not control him. He controlled it and decided to submit to it. He taught,
“I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again.”
In other words, our Heavenly Father passed on genetically to his literal, biological Son, the power of life. Jesus possessed the powers and attributes of eternal life independently, and this gave him the ability to choose to die only AFTER all things necessary to the plan had been accomplished.
But another factor also influenced the Savior’s death was the withdrawal of the Father’s Spirit and power.
Part of the reason that Christ was able to die was because, by necessity, the Father had to completely withdraw Himself from Christ while on the cross. This included withdrawing his life-giving, life-sustaining influence and powers. Christ had to experience both spiritual and physical death. He had to know what it was like to completely have God’s spirit removed from him, that he might know how to succor his people according to the flesh.
The Father removing his spirit from his Son not only caused spiritual death, but opened the door for Christ to have the sole power to determine his own physical death. If the Father had not withdrawn himself from Christ while on the cross, as he did in Gethsemane, Jesus would have been sustained and nourished by the life and light of his Father’s spirit, thus he could not have died by an act of his own will. We should all be eternally grateful, that both the Father and the Son possessed the deep love towards all of mankind to complete this incredibly vital, and incredibly difficult part of the plan.
The Depth of Despair
The Passover would start at sunset, so those that were with him at the cross would need to act quickly to prepare his body. Joseph of Arimathea, at his risk, approached Pilate to procure the Saviors body. Upon receiving permission, he and Nicodemus had the task of preparing the body of Christ for burial.
One can only imagine the feeling of despair and finality that moment must have felt. They had to quickly, but reverently take his body down, pound out the nails in his hands and feet to remove him from the cross, and then start to wash his body. Due to the shortness of time before the sunset, they did all they could. Wrapping his body in fresh linens and placing a few spices in the sepulcher before leaving.
A few of the women, made plans to return after the Sabbath to complete the anointing and insure a proper and honorable burial. Those apostles, disciples and friends of the Savior had to be physically, emotionally, and even spiritually exhausted by the terrible events of that Friday. The next day must have been the darkest of days. Their sorrow and anguish must have been beyond words. Not only had they witnessed this horrible event to one of their closest friends, but to one they saw as the Messiah and Savior of mankind. Elder Joseph B Wirthlin once stated,
“It was a Friday filled with devastating, consuming sorrow that gnawed at the souls of those who loved and honored the Son of God. I think that of all the days since the beginning of this world’s history, that Friday was the darkest.”
Roberts’ Continued Challenges
I return now to Robert.
Robert did try his hand at writing novels when he returned home, but no publishers wanted to pick up any of his writings. He bounced from job to job trying to make ends meet, but nothing ever took hold. One day his father suggested that he and his brother Richard team up. Richard was a struggling musician, that had turned to working part time at a floral shop to survive. The two brothers decided to give it a shot.
Robert would write the lyrics, while Richard composed the music. But success would not come easily for them. They were forced to try to write songs across all genres of music but could never find their sound.
A Welcome Success
Failure after failure plagued the brothers until one day, they wrote a song called “Tall Paul.” The song was sung by Annette Funicello. Tall Paul reached number seven on the billboard top 100 songs, but more importantly it opened the door for the brothers to meet with Jimmy Johnson, the general manager of the Walt Disney Music company.
This eventually led to a meeting with Walt Disney in his office to discuss an upcoming film about twin sisters that had been separated shortly after they were born but then meet up at summer camp as teenagers. Robert and Richard were able to create songs for the movie that would become know as, The Parent Trap. This success with the Disney company propelled the brother’s careers.
They are mostly known for their work on a film that came shortly after about an English nanny that flies in by her umbrella, Mary Poppins.
If you haven’t put it together yet, Robert, is better know as Bob Sherman. He and his brother Richard wrote and composed over 200 songs for the Disney company. They also have contributed a number of songs for the Disney theme parks. Despite his early life of pain and death, witnessing some of the most horrible things that humans can do to each other, Bob Sherman was able to write music lyrics that bring smiles and laughter to children of all ages, including the child in myself.
In fact, some say that what made the Sherman brothers so successful was the fact that they didn’t just compose kiddy songs, but that they used lyrics that often had deep and powerful messages while being attached to a whimsical tune.
Finding Hope After Devastation
One of their most popular songs written by the Sherman brothers starts with, “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears. It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears.” Indeed it is, our world is filled with days of laughter and days of tears. Days of hope, and days of fear.
Again, from Elder Wirthlin,
“Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays. But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come. No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or the next, Sunday will come.”
Life can have a way of being harsh and unkind. I think of Mary being filled with despair as she headed to the tomb that Sunday morning. Feeling like she was at the lowest of lows as she entered the garden, she absolutely crumbled when she came upon the tomb.
Seeing the stone removed, and upon further investigation finding that His body had been removed, she was devastated beyond consolation. Without even looking up, she mustered up all she could to respond to the gardener’s inquiry,
“If you’ve taken him, tell me where you have laid him, so I can take him away.”
To which the gardener of our souls responded with a single word, “Mary.” Instantly all the pain, all the anguish and hurt inside of her was washed away and replaced with joy and hope. Could it be? Is it possible?
Because of Him
I testify that it is possible. I testify that he lives. And because he lives our dark Fridays will come to an end and we will have our Sundays. Because of him death has no sting, despair becomes hope, guilt becomes peace, regret becomes relief, because of him, there is no such thing as the end.