“Will you please forgive me? I want to be honest,” she whispered after handing me the familiar old wallet that had been missing for nine years.
With head bowed she briefly explained that she had never stolen anything before or since. As she turned to walk away, I heard a sigh, as of relief, escape her lips.
Occasionally in a lifetime, one experiences, even with a stranger, the reverent feeling of being in the presence of the truly pure in heart, and it was this feeling that was present as I fingered the old worn wallet with the broken zipper. The memories of years gone by returned to my mind with the clarity of only yesterday. The snapshots of the special friends during that time, along with an activity card and other identification cards, gave evidence that it was indeed my old wallet. With assurance I instinctively glanced into the pocket for paper bills and was not surprised to find what appeared to be the very same ten dollar bill that had been there the day I lost my wallet.
It had been nine years since as a student at BYU I had used the telephone in the Joseph Smith Building and had carelessly left my wallet in the booth.
After futilely returning to the lost and found department regularly for several days, I finally gave up my desperate hope of ever getting my wallet and the much-needed money back. The money was all I had, and I was in the habit of measuring my expenditures with great care. The loss of $10 without an understanding landlady could have caused some real problems. But that incident, like many others, faded into the background as more important events crowded in.
Years had passed, and on a snowy afternoon the mailman delivered a rather fat letter, and no wonder, since there were two letters enclosed. The expected one from Mom included a few questions about the other letter which began, “To whom it may concern: Anyone knowing the whereabouts of Ardeth Greene please forward this letter. It is very important that contact be made as soon as possible to settle some unfinished business at BYU.” A name and address were given.
My first reaction was a bit indignant since I knew of no unfinished business for which I was responsible. And then my mind flashed back to my first experience with a bank account when I had written a check for groceries on the wrong bank. Then I became a little less indignant and wondered what unfinished business I needed to set in order.
With some anxiousness I found in the Salt Lake telephone directory the name of the person who had signed the letter. I quickly dialed the number and asked for the person by name. A very pleasant voice responded, “This is she.” I identified myself and began with some apologies for any unfinished business only to be interrupted by a clear and intense voice speaking rapidly as if to spill out all the words at once. She continued unloading her story until finally there was evidence of a heart burdened for a long time now relieved from foreign and contaminating elements too long contained.
As the words spilled out, I learned that this young woman, now a wife and mother, had been in nurses training at BYU. She had worked to put herself through school, but she needed an additional ten dollars for tuition, so she had turned to her boyfriend for help. She had promised to return the loan by the following Friday. When Friday arrived, in spite of her earnest prayers, she was still short ten dollars.
Seemingly without reason, she had walked into the telephone booth and found an old worn wallet. She explained how her heart started to pound since she’d never been tempted like this before. She held her breath as she opened it to find a single ten dollar bill. Then the question: Was this indeed an answer to her prayer?
She interrupted her steady flow of words to explain that since then she had learned that Satan knows when we are being tested and when under pressure we might weaken. We can be sure, she explained, that he will be there if there is a chance we might fall.
And then picking up the story again, she told of paying her boyfriend, whom she later married, graduating in nursing, and now raising a beautiful family and rejoicing in the blessings of the gospel.
Her voice choked with emotion as she painfully related the details about the old wallet. She emphasized how she had been taught right from wrong and how she was well acquainted with the principle of honesty. Her conscience had prompted her, but she listened to the wrong voice and acted contrary to that which she knew was right. She explained how taking the money had seemed justified at the time and hardly seemed like a sin at all. But for nine years her faithful conscience had never been at peace in that particular matter.
“A wrong sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on.” (C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, p. 6.)
She poured out her heart as she told of the suffering for what she acknowledged as sin—sin because she had known better.
“Sin is the transgression of divine law, as made known through the conscience or by revelation. A man sins when he violates his conscience, going contrary to light and knowledge—not the light and knowledge that has come to his neighbor, but that which has come to himself. He sins when he does the opposite of what he knows to be right.” (Orson F. Whitney, quoted by Bruce R. McConkie in Mormon Doctrine, Bookcraft, 1966, p. 735.)
For nine years, through many moves, the old burden had lain deeply tucked away in her top dresser drawer. It seemed impossible for her to throw away the wallet, though she’d considered it many times. There is no way you can throw away a wrong, and yet, there was no way, as far as she knew, to return the wallet.
One day while she was straightening the drawer, the old wallet surfaced again. This time she felt she must get rid of it, but only the right way. She had learned many valuable lessons over the years, and she had a quiet assurance that even this had served a purpose.
She thoughtfully opened the old wallet once again, and while examining it this time her fingers uncovered a small, orange card tucked away in a tiny compartment not previously noticed. This orange card would prove to be the key to unloading her burden. The card gave the address of the Calgary Clinic in Alberta, Canada, where the medical exam for a student’s visa had been given. She became excited with the thought that this time she might clean her top drawer in every detail.
With a prayer in her heart she took a chance and sent a letter “to whom it may concern” to the Calgary Clinic to be forwarded if possible. It was forwarded first to my parents in Canada, and then back to Utah where it finally reached its intended destination. Contact had been made, but the wallet was yet to be returned. During the telephone conversation she indicated the wallet would be mailed that very day.
When one sees in another a keen sense of right and wrong and a great virtue carefully tuned by the Spirit through struggle and final victory, there is a reaching out for association with that person, a desire to meet one so honest in heart, so I asked her if she would consider delivering the wallet in person. She seemed a little embarrassed at the thought, until I assured her it would be an honor and a privilege to meet a person possessing such honesty of character. She agreed that she would that afternoon bring the object of our common interest to the office where I was working.
At the appointed hour as I returned from lunch, I saw a young woman with her back toward me seated by my desk. Her shoulders were narrow but straight, and she sat erect on the edge of the chair with both feet squarely on the floor directly in front of her.
As I approached, she shifted nervously and then stood up.
As though she had rehearsed this experience in her mind a hundred times, she reached out her steady hand, looked me squarely in the eye, and handed me the wallet. Her steady gaze reflected the radiance of a good and honest life.
Then her eyes dropped as she whispered, “Will you please forgive me? I want to be honest.” Words would not come. I could only reach for her hand and nod affirmatively. From my office, I watched her walk away from my desk and out the front door.
“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42.)
I went to the window to watch her with her shoulders square, head erect, and with a lilt in her step as she turned the corner out of sight. Returning to my desk I again heard her words, “Will you please forgive me? I want to be honest.”