Jon stood in the middle of our family room last night, a confused look on his face, fighting to hide the tears that were welling up in his eye. He had just heard the news that President Gordon B. Hinckley had died, and I could see his sweet, pure 16-year-old soul trying to process it.
Jon, are you OK? I asked.
Yeah, he said. I just . . . you know . . . never really thought about President Hinckley . . . you know . . . He couldnt bring himself to actually say it. Then he sighed: I just sort of figured hed always be the prophet.
And now, suddenly, he wasnt.
Such things can be disconcerting to those who are still coming to terms with things like faith and testimony and what it means to be a Mormon. Believe me, I knew what he was feeling. I felt it myself 38 Januarys ago.
I can still feel the burn in my chubby 14-year-old legs as I ran up the hill toward the Bountiful 14th Ward meetinghouse that brisk Sunday morning in January, 1970. My lungs ached from exertion, and my breath formed anxious little clouds in the cold winter air. I wanted to stop and rest or to at least slow down, but I just couldnt do it.
I had news real news for the ward council. They needed to hear this, and they needed to hear it right now. Mom said. She tried calling the bishops office on the phone, but there was no answer. So she had me slip on my Sunday shoes and she sent me up the hill to tell the ward council that President McKay was dead.
The news was stunning. At least it was to me. Sure, President McKay was bazillion years old. Sure, his health was frail. Sure, he hadnt actually spoken in conference for a long time. He was the prophet the only prophet I had ever known, the only image that came to mind when we sang We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet. I knew he was old he had all that white hair, for Petes sake but I hadnt really thought about him dying.
And now he was dead. I didnt know what to think. I didnt know what to feel. I didnt know what it meant. I just knew I felt anxious and concerned. And that I had to get the news to the ward council.
I didnt hesitate as I approached the bishops office door. I didnt even knock. I just turned the doorknob and burst in. Immediately, every eye in the room and there were a bunch of them, both male and female, both old and young, both the wicked and the . . . uh, well, there were a lot of them focused on me, and I just blurted out my news.
President McKay is dead! I said.
There was an audible gasp in the room, and the adults all looked at each other, trying to absorb what I had just said. Then I looked at my father, who was in the meeting as high priest group leader. Mom said you all would want to know.
And then, for some reason, I started to cry. I dont really know why. I just stood there at the door with tears trickling down my cheeks. Thankfully, I think Dad was the only one to notice, and he quickly stood and walked over to me, closing the door to the bishops office behind him.
"Are you OK, son? he asked.
Yeah, I said, trying unsuccessfully to hide my tears. Im OK. I just . . . you know . . . ran up here and . . . its cold and . . . you know . . . the prophet died . . .
Are you worried about that? Dad asked.
Well, I stammered, I just was wondering . . . you know . . . what do we do now? I mean, the prophet is dead. What do we do?
Well, Dad said, were going to spend a few days remembering President McKay. Well tell stories and well laugh and well cry. And then someone else will be called to take his place, and well move on. Well be fine, partly because of the great work President McKay did while he was here. But even as we move on without him, well always remember President McKay, and well always love him.
And I guess thats my message to Jon, and to the millions of Latter-day Saints who are for the first time saying goodbye to a beloved prophet. This is a time to remember, a time to reflect, a time to honor and a time to celebrate a remarkable life that has touched us all. When the time comes for us to move on as inevitably we must another man will be called to serve as president of the church, and we will love, honor and sustain him as we did President Hinckley.
But we will always remember President Hinckley.
And we will always love him.