Wednesday, February 13, 2008

He Was What He Seemed To Be

Like many of you, although saddened by the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley, I have been inspired by his life through the years, and was happy that he could leave mortality still vigorous and in sound mind.  I know some of you may have had much contact with him; I haven't, but he had the rare quality of making all of us feel that we were his friend, and that he was speaking just to us individually in his public discourses.  Shortly after my accident, he did write a sweet letter to Jo Anne inquiring about how things were going with us and expressing his love for us both.  It is a treasured keepsake.

The many wonderful tributes that were paid to him at his memorial service were appropriate and true.  Elder LeGrand Richards once said, "There is nothing like a good life that makes for a good funeral."  That certainly was the case with President Gordon B. Hinckley.

I love to read about the Civil War and am intrigued and impressed with many men and women of that era. Among these are Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, but also Robert E. Lee.  At his funeral, one of the tributes reportedly paid to him was, "He was what he seemed to be!"

I can think of no more impressive tribute.  President Hinckley was what he seemed to be; there was no gap between his talk and his walk.

I believe the same thing could have been said about Joseph Smith.  As a very young man in his 20's, he met Newel K. Whitney in Kirtland, Ohio for the first time.   Elizabeth Ann Whitney recorded what transpired at this first meeting with young Joseph Smith: “Joseph Smith, with his wife, Emma, … drove up in front of my husband’s store; Joseph jumped out and went in; he reached his hand across the counter to my husband, and called him by name. My husband, not thinking it was any one in whom he was interested, spoke, saying: ‘I could not call you by name as you have me.’ He answered, ‘I am Joseph the Prophet; you have prayed me here, now what do you want of me?’ (Woman’s Exponent, Sept. 1, 1878, 51)

The thing that impresses me so much in Elizabeth's account of her and her husband's first encounter with Joseph Smith is that he, without pretense or dissimulation of any kind, simply announced himself as "Joseph the Prophet."  At this young age of his life he absolutely knew who he was, and his life, until he was martyred at age 38, was a testament that he was indeed "what he seemed to be!"

Those who know us best, the members of our own families with whom we live day in and day out, are undoubtedly the best judges of whether we are what we seem to be to others.
Many years ago, Elder L. Tom Perry, came to town to reorganize the old Santa Ana Stake presidency. As Jo Anne and I were ushered into the stake president's office, Elder Perry kind of glanced at me and then proceeded to interview Jo Anne: "How does he treat you and the children?" "Does he make sure you have family prayer and family home evening regularly?"  He fired other similar kinds of questions at Jo Anne and then thanked us for spending a few minutes with him.  Jo Anne covered for me pretty well, and I was absolutely amazed when I was called to be the first counselor in the new stake presidency.

A number of years ago I was feeling pretty good about my life and that maybe I was about prepared to be translated.  I was in my office working on my computer using my voice recognition software.  It is usually very obedient and responds immediately to every command I give it.  This day however, it just would not do what it was supposed to do.  I was working on a very "important" document that I needed to complete and just could not make any progress with it.  As time went by I became more frustrated and upset and finally -- and I don't know where it came from -- in a very loud voice I addressed my computer with the D.... word.  Jo Anne had left me in the care of my youngest daughter Jackie that afternoon.  There is a baby monitor in my office and that day the receiver was in Jackie's bedroom upstairs.  Several seconds after I had uttered the D.... word, the door to my office burst open and in marched Jackie.  She said "Dad, did I hear from you what I thought I heard just now?"  Shamefacedly, I muttered under my breath that, yes indeed, she had heard what she thought she had heard.  She said, "I thought so, and you a patriarch!"  With that she turned on her heel and marched back upstairs.  It is so hard for me to be bad.  This experience, and several others like it, keep me humble and make me realize that the "natural man" is still very much alive and well inside me and that thankfully repentance is an eternal principle.

A statement by President Joseph F. Smith has always helped me to keep things in proper perspective. In 1905, President Joseph F. Smith made the following profound statement about true greatness: “Those things which we call extraordinary, remarkable, or unusual may make history, but they do not make real life.... After all, to do well those things which God ordained to be the common lot of all mankind, is the truest greatness. To be a successful father or a successful mother is greater than to be a successful general or a successful statesman” (Juvenile Instructor, 15 Dec. 1905, p. 752)

Hopefully when we eventually pass on into the spirit world it can be said of us by those who knew us the best, "He was what he seemed to be!"


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