Cover image via TIME.com.
As I write this, knowing that it will be read on Martin Luther King Day, it is a marvelous thing to consider two remarkable men who spent their lives nurturing and fulfilling a burning, God-given desire to lift the individual lives of those around them. Their passions, example and influence ultimately changed the world. It is a blessing to honor and pay tribute to Thomas S. Monson (August 21, 1927 – January 2, 2018) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929- April 4, 1968) on this very special holiday marking Reverend King’s birthday. It is just three days after President Monson’s funeral, making this tribute especially meaningful.
Only eighteen months apart in birth age, President Monson lived to the ripe old age of 90, while Reverend King was only 39 years of age when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. They had more than age in common. They shared a love of God and a yearning for daily life to be sweeter, easier and better for each man, woman and child.
As a Baby Boomer who now lives right in the Memphis, Tennessee area, it is hard – if not impossible — for me to imagine the segregated conditions that Reverend King fought to change in his work for American Civil Rights for all Americans. We live, work and associate happily with numerous different races here in the South, as we did for many years in the Washington, D.C. area where we raised our family from the mid-80’s through 2015. Any signs of the horrible discrimination that existed are long gone. The world is a different place because of Reverend King’s work, though much remains to be done – perhaps more in our hearts and actions as private citizens than in paperwork or legislation to fulfill his dreams of equality for all Americans, regardless of skin color.
It is the same for President Monson. It is hard to imagine our world, especially within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, without his influence, kindly ways and guidance, yet much remains to be done in our hearts and actions to match his example of love, grace and charity for all – especially the lonely and the old. We know there is great room for improvement both as a Church and as individuals.
Yes, on this Martin Luther King Day of 2018, they were on the same side, God’s side, for living and loving as the Savior did.
I remember the days following Reverend King’s death when I was a young teenager. And I will always remember these recent very special day after President Monson’s. Like most members of the Church, this has been a special time to reflect on his influence in my own life. While there are many differences in their deaths, there are many similarities in their lives, teachings and example: We are to follow the Savior! We are to love, be kind and compassionate in whatever way and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves to the best of our abilities, no matter how small the deeds may be, to whomever may come our ways. And we are to pray to be ready to take action when such opportunities present themselves.
While I never had the opportunity to personally meet President Monson, I knew of his great spirit and presence through a brief experience my mother had. He was called to serve as an apostle in 1963. I was nine years old at the time and our family was still living in Salt Lake City. One day my mother attended a session in the Salt Lake City Temple and came home to tell us that she felt – before she saw – a wonderful presence in the reception area. There was some commotion and it was soon buzzed among those present that Elder Thomas S. Monson, the new apostle, was in the room. She talked about that experience for the rest of her life. She commented on his great height and size, but that this was surpassed by his charismatic presence.
The Deseret News documented this: Tall, powerful like the Prophet Joseph, zealous for the Lord as were his predecessor prophets, and inflexible for truth, President Thomas S. Monson was a giant in body and in spirit. (Deseret News, Jan 3, 2018)
A lifelong friend, the late newspaper editor and publisher Wendell J. Ashton, once described the tall, robust Monson as “like a pine tree — the top is high and ascending to heaven but the branches are broad, low to the ground, and protective of all who need shelter there.”
Whether we were able to physically be in the same room to acknowledge his physical height as my Mother did or not, we have all been witness to his spirit, works and influence.
We each have our own special memories, but one of my most tender is when he was newly sustained as the Prophet, Seer and Revelator in 2008. As we mourned losing President Hinckley and his contributions and humor, a dear friend who had joined the Church as a young adult said simply, “I love his stories! From the time I was learning about the Church with the missionaries, his stories and how he told them have always made a difference in my life.”
It took her comment to help me realize what a difference his stories had made for me too. Stepping into her shoes as a new member, I realized how very approachable and lovable his talent for telling stories made him. Yes, a magnificent and mighty Prophet of God, but also a delightful story teller and gentle teacher, like the Savior himself. No wonder he was so beloved by both young and old, converts and lifetime members. Who doesn’t want to be taught through a story?
I well remember his General Conference addresses throughout my growing up and adult years. First on the fuzzy little black and white TV in our mid-60’s Salt Lake City living room, and later on big screen videos and eventually a Sunday morning session at the Conference Center. His talks were always filled with those great stories, personal experiences and his own endearing way of eloquently (and humbly) expressing himself. He was and will always be an integral part of the fabric and the culture of the Church.
These last couple of years when his age and capacity to stand and speak have diminished have still brought, in my heart and mind, perhaps his most important General Conference messages of all.
In the April 2016 Sunday Morning Session, his very short address was entitled simply “Choices.” Each word, sentence, and short paragraph illuminated our Heavenly Father’s greatest gift to us: free agency. While I cherished the words then, it came to life in a powerful way in our Primary sharing time a few weeks later. We first taught the principles in the talk in what we thought was a creative way. The children were engaged, but a little restless. My plan had been to follow up the creative lesson with the video of President Monson delivering the actual address. I was unable to get the bigger screen TV hooked up to the video, so I would have to use my laptop with some portable speakers.
I confess, I was a little nervous as I realized how fidgety the children were after the lesson. Their interest span was about over. Would we lose this good-sized group entirely during a video playing on a laptop? I said a quiet prayer and did my best to quiet them and then dimmed the lights. The video began.
“Brothers and sisters!” boomed his unmistakable voice. Immediately the presence my Mother had testified of filled our Primary Room! Our wiggly children were qiocl;u under his magic spell as he jumped into telling us of Alice in Wonderland and the Cheshire cat. They were quiet and attentive, each little face fixed on the computer screen. An outpouring of our Heavenly Father’s love and spirit filled the room! My own heart swelled as I realized his influence, by presence and inspired words, with our little ones.
His very short talk was just the right length to teach and testify of both the principles of freedom of choice and his calling as our Prophet. It was a shared experience with our Primary children and teachers that I will never forget.
In that light, how fortunate we are to be able to go back and experience his words and teachings again and again! The technology of our age makes that possible for which I am infinitely grateful. Can you imagine how marvelous it would be to listen to the early prophets speak from the pulpit at General Conference? Joseph Smith? Brigham Young? John Taylor? Wilford Woodruff? Perhaps in the next life we’ll be able to hear them preach and teach!
On December 31, 2017, the Sunday just two days before he passed away, we had another very meaningful singing time in our Jackson Ward Primary. This time I was the Chorister and we had a New Year’s theme. I presented my own little mantra “My best will be seen in 2018!” and we repeated that several times out-loud with enthusiasm. Then I surprised them with a large stretchy bag, somewhat like Santa’s pack, that had been filled with objects that would remind them of Primary Songs.
A child was chosen to be blindfolded and reach into the bag and pull something out. We then decided on a Primary song to sing that matched the object and how it could inspire our personal actions in 2018. A pair of binoculars turned into “I Love to See The Temple” and ways we could prepare to be worthy of the temple. A pretty little ceramic bird turned into “In The Leafy Tree Tops The Birds Sing Good Morning” and the importance of being friendly. A wrapped giftbox turned into “My Life Is a Gift” and the importance of following God’s plan. And so on.
My favorite, however, was when the framed picture of President Monson came out. They all know and love him! Should we sing “Follow The Prophet” or “Latter Day Prophets?” In the end, we decided to sing “Latter Day Prophets.”
In our Primary room, one wall is dedicated to the pictures of all the Latter-day prophets. It’s fun to sing as we point to each Prophet! On another wall is the picture of President Monson, his Counselors and the twelve Apostles. We are surrounded by our Heavenly Father’s glorious plan of leadership!
I moved over to the wall that has all the prophets and pointed to each as we sang. The children boomed out the names of prophets of the last dispensation in song and my heart filled with gratitude! From David O. Mckay, who was the prophet when I was born in 1954, through President Monson, I have personally heard and can testify of eight of the Latter day prophets!
While we didn’t know during that special Singing time on December 31, 2017 that by the next Sunday he would be gone, we did know how much we loved him and would always include in our lives, thoughts and prayers he was. In the days since, there has been a worldwide outpouring of love and affection for him. The New York Times, in their cursory review, declined to “pay tribute” feeling that their job was to be journalists.
As members of the Church, however, it is not a job but a joy to pay tribute! While his worldwide accomplishments within the Church and helping its development worldwide are legion, we have heard – and will continue – to hear of his quiet, kindly deeds to “the one.”
His funeral will be a treasure to watch again and again, as his beloved daughter – so alike him in voice and speaking style – shared his legacies. The Tabernacle Choir’s songs told so eloquently of his love and tenderness for each member and his awareness of each of us, so much like our Savior! “Consider the Lillies,” and “Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd” were not just songs, but President Monson’s personal themes of compassion, faith and personal interest in each and every soul.
The songs, so tenderly sung by the Choir, testified of his desire to encourage and lift all those around him! In any way possible, from one-on-one visits to huge gatherings in sports arenas and on the Internet.
And to that, we can come back and honor and pay tribute to both President Monson and Reverend King this Martin Luther King Day.
It is true that the despair and sadness in our troubled world is real and endless. But President Monson taught us by word and deed that much can be said and done individually to “create a bright spot in someone’s life” (his words for a deed of service) … and in turn brighten our own! Perhaps that why he himself was always so happy regardless of the burdens he surely carried. And that’s a message too.
For Reverend King it was about treating everyone, regardless of skin color or economics the same. Translated into action that means simply being friendly! Allowing everyone to sit, eat, travel, go to school, play and work together as equals and friends! For President Monson it was about making it a point to personally visit, call on the phone or send a letter, just to say “Hello! I’m thinking about you and you’re important!” To remember to say, “thank you!” often. To make it a point to remember names, wave hello, sit next to someone – and most especially when they are old or alone. What simple, lovely, day-changing actions!
As we say goodbye to President Monson for now, we will always follow this magnificent Prophet and welcome the next who will further guide us in these latter days.
So sing we “Happy Birthday” to Reverend King and sing we now at parting, one more strain of praise from “Follow The Prophet:”
Heavenly Father loves us and wants us to return.
He blesses us with prophets who help us to learn.
President Monson humbly led God’s Church today.
As we heed his words, we’ll walk a righteous way.
I’ll be following our new prophet and treasure this journey with you!
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life. She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She and her husband, Bob, are the parents of five children and grandparents of eleven. They are now happy empty nesters in Jackson, Tennessee, close to Memphis, where they center their online business for an amazing herbal detox. CLICK HERE