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Defending the Faith: If heavenly reunions are true, then what else matters?

Published: Thursday, March 29 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

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My only sibling — my half-brother, Kenneth Walters (we never thought of ourselves as half-brothers) — died unexpectedly last Friday morning, March 23, in Southern California.

I'm devastated. It's worse than losing my very elderly, suffering parents, who were ready to go.

Curiously at my age, I feel utterly bereft. Orphaned. He and I were extremely close, and now only I remain from that little house where we grew up in San Gabriel, Calif. In fact, the house itself was demolished a couple of years ago.

From my earliest years, we traveled together. On both American coasts, in South America, Europe, even to Tombstone Days in Arizona. Out of kindness, though he didn't like the Rolling Stones and was 10 years my senior, he took me and a gaggle of my pre-teen friends to a Stones concert. And, since my father wasn't yet a member of the church when the time came, it was Kenneth who ordained me an elder and took me to the temple for the first time.

We had many more travel plans. Now they're canceled.

The years likely stretching before me seem, at the moment, bleak and desolate without his remarkable generosity and his never-failing enthusiasm for whatever I was doing. Sometimes, he would join me from California when I was lecturing in Missouri, North Carolina or wherever, just to be supportive.

Several years ago, he attended a presentation of mine at BYU Education Week, in the Wilkinson Center Ballroom. The audience was very large, and a mass of people crowded around me afterward with questions. But the next lecturer needed to set up, and we were encroaching on his time.

"Danny!" Kenneth finally called out, calling me by a name that only he, my older brother, and a handful of derisive Internet critics have used for me since roughly my fifth birthday. "We need to go!"

"You dare to call him 'Danny'?" responded an incredulous woman standing beside him, affronted on behalf of my supposed status and dignity.

He thought that was hilarious.

How dearly I would love to hear him call me "Danny" — or anything else — right now.

All I can do under present circumstances, though, is hope. Not only for a future reunion with my brother, but with all those — parents, aunts and uncles, friends, teachers, Scoutmasters, church leaders, intellectual mentors — who've gone before.

On Friday afternoon, incapacitated by grief, lost, I went with my wife to the temple. I confess that I was distracted, hearing only parts of what was said. But there's a place in the temple that represents our reunion with loved ones beyond death's veil, and, on Friday, entering that room, I suddenly struggled to control my emotions for a few seconds as the thought powerfully, distinctly and rather unexpectedly entered my mind: "Kenneth did this for real, not just symbolically, a few hours ago."

Decades back, I read an article in a church magazine about the Hill Cumorah Pageant. I remember nothing from it beyond one sentence: Referring to the sadness of parting from co-workers in the Pageant's cast and crew after intense days together, a volunteer remarked that the pain was bearable because "friends in the gospel never meet for the last time."

That sentiment has remained with me ever since. I believed it then, and I believe it even now. If actuarial statistics are correct, the wait will probably be far longer than I had wished and hoped, but I will see my brother again, hear his voice and embrace him. He will, as always, have prepared for my arrival. If he can, he'll be there to greet me.

"All your losses will be made up to you in the Resurrection," testified the Prophet Joseph Smith, "provided you continue faithful. By the vision of the Almighty I have seen it."

My brother, a longtime youth leader, high councilor, member of bishoprics and bishop, was faithful. Now it's up to me.

President Harold B. Lee once recounted an experience of his. He was speaking with a young military officer from Asia who had come to the United States for training and joined the church.

Then-Elder Lee asked him how his conversion would be received back home.

The young officer responded that it might end his military career.

"Are you willing to pay such a high price?" Elder Lee inquired.

"It's true, isn't it?" the young man responded.

"Yes, it's true."

"Then what else matters?"

Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. He is the founder of MormonScholarsTestify.org. He blogs daily at dcpsicetnon.blogspot.com

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