When I was a teenager, my idea of a great summer vacation was to curl up in a chair and read books.
If somebody in the family suggested doing something, I often went along. "Want to go bike riding?" Sure. "Want to go out in the backyard and dig around in the dirt?" Absolutely. "Want to go pull dandelions out of the front lawn?" Excuse me, I'm deaf. "Want to make a time-lapse movie of Matchbox cars crashing?" Let's make them catch fire with lighter fluid!
I grew a garden one summer, and learned a whole bunch of stuff never to do again.
By the time I was in college, my idea of summer had transformed completely. I worked several summers as a student assistant at BYU's Theatre Workshop for high school students, for which I wrote songs, built sets, assistant-directed and sat around playing guitar and pretending I was cool.
I worked the summer before my mission at Robert Redford's Sundance Summer Theatre, where I learned that I'm not a particularly talented actor.
Now, though, I'm watching some young men I know spend their summers in ways that make me wish I could go back and do the summers of my youth over again.
Two summers ago, one of the most talented young men from our stake's drama program went with his family to be in the Hill Cumorah Pageant -- only Baydon Hilton wasn't there to act. He went early and served on the crew.
The young men of the crew put together the stages and sets, rehearse the special effects, help set up lighting and sound equipment, work wherever they're needed.
Through those weeks, they live by missionary rules, rising early, doing scripture study, having firesides and testimony meetings. It was like a rehearsal for Baydon's mission. He loved it so much that he went back the next summer and did it again.
This year, while Baydon is on his mission, his equally talented younger brother Jordan is taking off to do the same thing.
What I admire most is that both of these young men could have starring roles in summer theaters almost anywhere. They're also gifted athletes, and could have spent the summer dazzling people with their skills.
Instead, they've chosen to stay backstage and serve with the strength of their arms, with the skill of their hands and with the fire of their faith.
They chose to spend their summers doing something that wasn't about them.
I'm not even sure I want to be that good.
Then there's Matthew Case, who, as a priest six years ago, happened to show up at church on the night we were holding tryouts for "Bye Bye Birdie." On a whim he tried out, and when I asked the young men to do Elvis imitations, Matt really threw himself into it and got the part.
I worried that somebody who tried out as a lark might not be dependable, but Matt was there at every rehearsal and did a great job in the performances. He's the kind of guy who's game for any good thing -- and then follows through on what he says he'll do.
Since then, he graduated from high school and went on a mission. Now, during a break from college, he and a friend, Eric Brewer, decided to cross the country on bicycles.
I've talked about doing that very thing for years -- but always in the mode of "wouldn't it be cool." Matthew and Eric did it.
No, let me be accurate. They are doing it. They left on May 10 and hoped to reach the Carolina coast by the Fourth of July. (Now it looks as if they'll arrive closer to July 10.)
Starting on the Oregon coast, they have braved mountains, headwinds and the rigors of camping on lawns and going without showers for days on end.
They aren't on freeways. They're on what we would consider "back roads" -- what William Least Heat Moon called "blue highways" in his book of that name. They pedal into small towns and sometimes end up camping on the lawn at a church, though sometimes they stay in motels and once they were given a night, free of charge, by a family who ran a bed-and-breakfast.
They're even posting on a blog to tell family and friends about their experiences (snipurl.com/mattbike1).
In Nebraska, a local paper wrote an article about them. They're obviously having the time of their lives.
Eric's father, Scott Brewer, is posting maps that mark out their progress day by day (snipurl.com/mattbike3).
All these young men -- Matthew, Eric, Jordan and Baydon -- have the ambition and the wisdom to use some of the freedom of youth to do something.
No, let me clarify: to do something. To have the kind of experience that they'll remember. To plunge into larger-than-life, larger-than-self adventure that might change their lives.
There are many good things you can do with your summer vacation. I read a lot of good books when I was young. I learned a lot about theatre. I made some good friends. That wasn't wasted time.
I wish, though, that I'd been more like these young men -- that I'd gotten out of the house, away from home, and done more of the things I only talked about or dreamed about.
When adult responsibilities set in, you aren't always free to go and make a dream come true. You have to take other people into account.The freedom of youth is a precious gift. It's good to see it used so well.
Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. He wrote the script for the above-mentioned Hill Cumorah Pageant. "In the Village" appears Thursdays in the Deseret News. A longer version of this column is available in the Mormon Times section of deseretnews.com. Leave feedback for Card online at nauvoo.com/contact_