Recently, while visiting a ward in another state, I joined with the high priests group during priesthood meeting. I happened to sit behind and a little to the right of an aged man who was certainly the oldest of the brethren in the room—perhaps eighty-five or ninety.
He looked as if he might be a retired farmer. His thinning hair was combed straight back, and it was plain that he usually wore a hat because the top of his head, much freckled and blotched, was lighter than the tan on his face and neck. The dark suit that he wore was old and shapeless from much wear. His shoulders were bent, and his two hands were propped before him on an old wooden cane.
After the usual business had been taken care of, the instructor began a lesson on “Patience.” I noticed that the old brother was nodding, his thoughts far afield, his tired eyes partly concealed beneath bushy, grizzled eyebrows. Nevertheless, partway into the lesson the teacher turned to him and said, respectfully, “I’d like to call upon Brother Parley to define patience for us.”
The old man reacted with a start. Clearly he had not been listening and had not understood the question; he only knew that the others expected him to say something.
Slowly he rose to his feet with the aid of his cane and stood trembling slightly with his many years. Turning stiffly to one side to scan the faces around him, he began to speak in a grating, aged baritone:
“Brethren,” he said slowly, punctuating every clause with emphasis, “there is much—very much—to be said on this subject. It is a thing that will face you day by day all your lives—and when you’ve seen as much of life as I have, the lessons are deeply impressed upon your mind. From the time you’re a young fellow until the day you see you probably won’t need to buy any more clothes, it’s something you’ve got to struggle with, in here”—he clapped one fist to his heart.
“Why, I remember trying to teach this thing to my little ones and watching them grow up to see if my efforts had any effect in their lives. And I remember times when mother and I would sit down of an evening and just talk over things—like people used to do before TV came in. And our little ones would come up, and we’d smile at each other and feel like maybe we weren’t doing too bad a job on this particular thing. You’ve got to teach this principle to your kiddies, brethren—you’ve got to!” he said earnestly.
Totally unabashed now, he stroked his shaven chin thoughtfully and continued: “Yes, it’s something we used to talk about from time to time as we worked in the fields together, too. They don’t talk like that much anymore, now that your field hands sit all alone in a cab with air conditioning and drive their big Farmalls over all those acres. Wouldn’t that have made a picture during the big depression!
“Brethren, I’ve been active in the Church nearly all my life, as much as my health would permit, which I am thankful to say has been robust; and I’ve heard this principle preached from the Tabernacle on many occasions. And those Brethren knew what they were talking about—who can doubt it? I’ve preached it myself on two missions, and it’s been one of the joys of my life, at home and abroad. …”
This oration rolled on for nearly eight minutes, during which many heads nodded sagely and not a few eyes looked on in awe, not to say astonishment. Here was a master of the extemporaneous, delivering a wonderful speech that said a great deal and at the same time said absolutely nothing. It covered “Patience,” but it might also have applied to any principle whatever. As an impromptu composition it was a work of genius.
At length, the old man finished: “… and now brethren, let me urge you to pay strict attention to what good Brother Cox, our teacher, has to say on this subject, which is so important a one in our lives.” His dark eyes shone as he again turned stiffly about to eye each of the other high priests in the room, to assure himself that they had paid heed to his words of wisdom.
Then he sank slowly into his place of rest once more and was soon nodding again—with, it seemed to me, a sly, knowing smile and a touch of satisfaction in the composure of his eyes, which were partly hidden beneath those bushy, grizzled eyebrows.