When I saw the article on CNN.com about the passing of President Hinckley, I finally accepted what had happened. But it wasn’t until then, and it wasn’t until much later that I felt any emotional tug or release that I knew had to come eventually.
I was hometeaching when someone knocked on the apartment door and walked in with the news of his death. We were in the middle of introductions, getting to know each other and asking all of the usual interview questions that we hear a million and a half times at the beginning of a semester at BYU-Idaho without ever really paying attention to the answers.
“President Hinckley passed away today, or at least that’s what my friend that lives in Salt Lake says,” the person said. I didn’t believe it; or rather I refused to believe it. He couldn’t die; he’d already been around for about a thousand years and knew Moses, so there was no way that he could have died.
After our interrupter left, the mood of the room turned somber. Whether it was true or not, it really didn’t seem to matter what our majors were, or where we were from, or how many siblings we had in our family. If the Prophet had passed away then a great man had accomplished the task that was required of him. We went on with the rest of the lesson, interrupted later on with more people coming through the door who took it upon themselves to announce the news to everyone in the complex.
“My parents saw it on the news.”
“I just got a text from a friend that heard it on the Radio in Salt Lake.”
I remember thinking, why is it that living in Salt Lake City suddenly makes a person a reliable source for information? Your parents must be wrong. Your friend is wrong. You are all wrong. Yet deep down I knew it was true.
“Check it on LDS.org or CNN.com or something or other. I really don’t think that he died. It’s probably a rumor,” I said to the girls I was hometeaching. They tried to look it up but their internet was being its usual dumb self so we weren’t sure of the truth until later. Well I guess I should say I wasn’t sure of the truth until later. I think the others that I was with believed it much more readily than I did.
My friend Mike and I went to visit other apartments in search of desserts and amiable women to associate with, and with the more apartments we visited the more I started to believe. Around the same time, I felt more and more appalled that people were carrying on laughing and cuddling with their boyfriends or girlfriends and stressing about homework or failing a test and the regular ups and downs of college life. How could they? A Prophet of God was dead. Did it not matter to them? Why did it matter to me? Why did it seem more important to me than them?
When my parents called for their weekly report on my life, I first saw the article on CNN.com. I paid no real attention to it other than its confirmation that the Prophet had indeed passed away. I was restless while talking to my parents, aware that I still had social “obligations” to take care of like saying happy birthday to a friend whose birthday party that I had missed. It was frustrating to have to repeat myself because my parents would take turns on the phone and ask the same questions.
After my parents finally hung up the phone I concluded the rest of my social obligations for the night and returned home to an apartment of sleeping roommates. I brought myself to the computer and found the article waiting for me on CNN.com. By now I had come to terms with facts, and I had begun to reflect on the life of a man that I had never met but always known. I stared at the smiling, cane holding picture of President Hinckley on the website and thought back to the time that our mission had worked hard for 97 baptisms in one transfer to celebrate the birthday of our beloved Prophet. We thanked the Lord every morning, every night, and in every single prayer for a Prophet of God. His picture had covered our planners, adorned the walls of our messy apartments and he was part of our every day conversation with each other and all the members we came in contact with. I remember standing on a doorstep under the hot California sun and being a little more defensive than usual when the homeowner decided to tell us that our Prophet was a lying old man. We worked hard because we knew that President Hinckley worked harder. We were focused on a higher ideal than just the mundane duties of missionary work. We wanted to show love and appreciation that gave more than we could.
Sitting in the glow of the computer with my roommate asleep, I thought of all the times that I had heard him speak at conferences. At one particular Christmas in California I felt the excitement of the season and the gentle hush that filled my heart when the Tabernacle Choir sat down and the Prophet of God stood up to speak. A prophet of God speaks, I told myself. I sat in awe and clung to every word that fell from his lips like it was the fabled balm of Gilead that could heal my tired missionary soul. I don’t remember the words that he said, but the feelings remained in my heart.
I remembered being 11 years old and scrambling down the cement stairs as quietly as possible with a camera in GM Place, the home of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team and the Vancouver Grizzlies. It was a regional conference and I wanted to get a picture of the Prophet as he spoke. I still don’t know whether what I did was allowed, but the memory still remained of the Prophet standing on the floor of the stadium speaking to all of us. In my testimony President Hinckley was always part of the foundation. The work goes on regardless, but the memory of a man that loved the people he served sits fresh on my mind.
I looked again at the smiling, cane holding picture of the Prophet and it finally dawned on me that he loved us, and you could see the love that he had for us in his face. Maybe that realization had hit a familiar chord in my heart because that was when my eyes began to get teary, and I felt a few drops slide its way down my face. Maybe I had taken that love for granted and that was why I felt the need for tears. I knew though in my heart that the words of the old hymn rang true. “We thank thee O God for a Prophet”.