Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tribute to President Hinckley

Back in the olden days, whenever those were, elegant elderly gentlemen walked about in public with elegant walking sticks or canes, as we call them today, even if they didn’t need them for assistance. The walking stick was associated with gloves, a top hat, and a well-groomed beard and/or mustache. These fashion accessories seemed to be acquired along with age and dignity.

Several years ago, when President Hinckley experienced some episodes of vertigo and was advised by his physicians to carry a cane, he obediently followed their orders and carried a cane. We rarely saw him depend on it as an assistive device, however; he appeared to find it useful to wave at the crowds and point out objects of interest in the distance. It became a joyful extension of his hand, his reach, his warmth, and his ability to charm everyone he met.

Soon canes began to arrive at the LDS Church Headquarters Building in Salt Lake City. They were gifts sent by loving members and represented every possible variety of cane or walking stick known to mankind or womankind, I imagine, and they came from many countries and cultures. One day I expect to see this impressive collection of President Hinckley’s canes as a permanent exhibit at the Church Museum of Art and History.

I was privileged to be in President Hinckley’s presence on several occasions. The last time, about five years ago, took place in the Salt Lake LDS Temple in a meeting to launch the Tabernacle Choir’s summer tour of the east coast. Flanked by beefy white-suited bodyguards, the small white-haired man entered the room, which was suddenly quiet as everyone rose to their feet in respect for the Prophet. And President Hinckley did carry a cane that day. It was hooked over his arm, as usual. The bodyguards each had a hand by his elbow, should he need assistance, which he didn’t.

For one moment, as he walked by our row, I was just a few feet away from him. In that moment I gazed directly into his bright blue eyes, and I was filled with an indescribable sense of warmth and well-being and love.

In the meeting, which he conducted, he praised the choir as one of our greatest missionary tools and beamed as they sang to us. Their singing was remarkable, too, as choir members were seated among the rest of the group assembled at the meeting, and simply stood in place in when it was time for them to sing. The effect was surround-sound, one I won’t soon forget. President Hinckley blessed them for their efforts, blessed their families and loved ones, and wished them well on their tour. Then he waved his cane, taking in the whole assembly with the gesture.

“All right, let’s all go home now. It’s dinner time.” And with that he was escorted from the podium and out of the room.

News of his sudden passing surprised us, as he had been following his normal routine and had been seen in public shortly before his brief illness. We always knew he was mortal, but in our hearts we never wanted him to succumb to the inevitable end of mortal life. That was a selfish wish, of course, and though he had expressed his loneliness for his dear wife and said he hoped they would not be separated for long, and though he had announced that he was in the “sunset of his life,” we simply didn’t want to let him go.

Because the cane had become a part of President Hinckley’s public appearances, according to Meridian Magazine, “a group known only as ‘Cane Wave Tribute’ is proposing that Church members line the streets between the Conference Center and cemetery, hopefully with thousands of admirers, waving canes as the cort├Ęge passes.”

On Saturday, I’m sure I’ll be touched by television coverage of crowds of respectful mourners carrying canes for the most beloved, elegant elderly gentleman I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

It’s a lovely thought and should be a remarkable sight. And a fitting tribute to the distinguished gentleman that he was, minus the beard and top hat and gloves. Many have spoken eloquently about the man and his remarkable life and accomplishments, but my favorite memory of our prophet will always be of that warm summer evening, looking directly into the kind blue eyes that sparkled with life and love and wit.


Jenna said...

Really lovely, Janet. Wasn't he the embodiment of everything warm and right in the world? I found your blog through LDS Ring whatever it is. Great reading!

Jen said...

What a sweet post. Thanks for your tribute to a great prophet.