Beyond Ordinary: Tragedy in Trenton can't scar Christmas forever

Published: Friday, Dec. 23 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

At first I ignored the feeling, but it became more and more intense as I neared the turnpike exit for Trenton. Reluctantly — after the death of my father I vowed I would never again set foot in Trenton — I heeded the prompting and made my way to my former home at 129 New Cedar Lane.

When I arrived at the neighborhood where I used to live, I hardly recognized it or my former home. When I was certain I was at the correct house, I parked across the street and just looked at it for a few moments. Unexpectedly, a grand wave of emotions overtook my being, and tears began to fall down my cheeks. For minutes I just sat there sobbing. No thoughts really went through my mind; I simply cried out years of pain and anguish inside of me since my mother’s death in 1964, and since I was last at the home in 1972.

When I regained my composure, and as I looked down the lane with its homes festively brightened by Christmas lights and decorations, my thoughts turned to that sadly unforgettable Christmas 22 years earlier when we lost Mommy. Yet, surprisingly, I was enveloped by a sweet, comforting spirit that buoyed me up with a sure knowledge that I would see Mommy, and Daddy, again in the next life, for through the Savior’s Atonement all mankind would live once more.

I also was strengthened by an undeniable witness that my parents and I had become a forever family by the power of the holy priesthood and through the sealing ordinance performed in the Provo Temple by me and members of my missionary district while preparing at the Missionary Training Center.

My sorrow turned to appreciation of Heavenly Father’s eternal plan of happiness and my understanding of it. I felt tremendously grateful that I had become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that I held the holy priesthood of God and that I was part of an eternal family.

As I took one more glance at the home I associated with such pain and then drove off down the lane, I told myself that the headline in the Trenton Times was wrong. Because of the birth, life and atoning sacrifice of the Savior, Mommy’s death that night did not, and would not, scar my Christmas holiday forever.

In his devotional address, President Uchtdorf said, "Sooner or later, something unpleasant occurs ... and the picture-perfect Christmas we had imagined, the magic we had intended to create, shatters around us. ... But then, if we are only willing to open our hearts and minds to the Spirit of Christmas, we will recognize wonderful things happening around us that will direct or redirect our attention to the sublime ....

"In one way or another, the Spirit touches our hearts, and we see that Christmas, in its essence, is much more sturdy and enduring than the many minor things of life we too often use to adorn it. In these precious moments, we realize what we feel and know in our heart — that Christmas is really about the Christ."

I am so grateful that the Spirit touched my heart that wonderful Christmas 25 years ago. My experience that night in Trenton reinforced within me the true and sublime meaning of Christmas — that on the first Noel what occurred was truly that which the angel proclaimed to the shepherds: Unto us was born that day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

It is my sincere hope that during this holiday season the comforting message of Christ’s birth and mission may resound in your hearts, and especially in the hearts of those who have lost loved ones at this time of the year.

May that message inspire us to more diligently spread peace on earth and good will toward others. And this Christmas and always, may we lift our voices with joy and gratitude to proclaim, as angelic witnesses to those around us, “NoËl, noËl, born is the King of Israel!”

Attorney Keith N. Hamilton, an adjunct professor at BYU law school and former chairman of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, served as an LDS bishop in San Francisco. He is author of "Last Laborer: Thoughts and Reflections of a Black Mormon."

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