Drifting to Starboard
One evening after the United States Navy destroyer on which I served left Pearl Harbor for the North Pacific, I was the officer of the watch for the night shift. I retired to my bunk after supper to get some sleep before going on duty. I felt the roll of the ship as I was dropping off to sleep. Later when I relieved the watch, the roll was more pronounced, and as I stepped out into the blackness of the open bridge, I felt the bite of the wind.
During the winter the North Pacific can be quite rough, and that night the waves were large enough that the wind was starting to catch their crests and cause a white streaking of foam.
“I am ready to relieve you, sir,” I said.
The officer on duty’s face reflected the soft glow of the compass, and he reported the ship’s course and speed. He added that the captain had turned in for the evening, then said, “The barometer has dropped three-hundredths in the past hour.” This meant stormy weather.
“Does the captain know this?” I asked.
“Yes, but he did not leave any special orders.”
He closed the door to the pilothouse behind him, and I found myself alone looking out at a menacing sea.
When ships encounter heavy weather, officers are to keep the ship’s bow heading into the wind with just enough speed to maintain steering. If waves strike the ship broadside, heavy rolling occurs, which can cause injury to the crew or even capsize the ship.
After an hour the waves had become mountainous. The wind was howling, and sheets of water were being blown through the air from huge cresting waves. The ship would climb the front side of the approaching wave, reach the crest, hang momentarily, then glide swiftly down the back side of the wave, plunging into the trough and resurfacing with water running over the deck, all the while pitching and shuddering. To steady the ship I had to reduce speed.
As the storm increased, I learned that the barometer had dropped another five-hundredths. I called the captain to report the worsening conditions. He simply replied, “Very well,” and hung up.
Soon the helmsman called out to me, “I am having trouble, sir. She is falling off to starboard!” I quickly checked the compass and discovered that the bow was inching toward the trough. If that continued, we could end up in a dangerous position broadside to the waves. I ordered the helmsman to make the necessary adjustment, but before long the needle started drifting back. The helmsman tried to correct the drift again, but the ship was slow to respond.
Conditions were worsening. The wind was now shrieking at about 100 miles (160 km) per hour, the waves were 50 feet (15 m) high, and the ship’s bow kept moving toward the trough. Fear rose inside me because I knew if one of these waves hit us broadside, the ship could quite possibly capsize. I called the captain, who was awake because the violent motion of the ship made it impossible to sleep. He was worried too. He did not have any advice but told me to do the best I could.
The helmsman informed me with a frightened voice that he had done all he could, but the bow was still drifting to starboard. I was utterly desperate and fear was turning to panic as I continued my frantic mental search for a solution. The most nightmarish thoughts flooded my mind. I felt helpless and entirely humbled.
In my childlike state, I cried out to the only one who could help me—my Heavenly Father. The answer to my impassioned plea was immediate and clear. A voice in my mind said, “Use your engines. Use your engines in opposition.” I instantly understood.
I ordered, “Starboard engine ahead two-thirds. Port engine ahead one-third.” Slowly the ship’s bow responded by moving out of the impending trough. As the ship headed back into the waves, a great feeling of gratitude engulfed me. The storm continued, but I was able to maintain the ship’s direction by adding to one engine and subtracting from the other.
A skeptic might say the solution was in my mind all the time, but I know better. It came in answer to prayer.
Overcoming the Pain Made Us Better
We will never forget the Sunday when a new family of German origin moved into the Pusuqui Branch in Quito, Ecuador. The branch president introduced the Fuchs family during sacrament meeting, and we immediately felt they were special people.
After sacrament meeting I took my family to welcome them. Andreas, the oldest of their children, greeted us warmly and introduced himself as Andy. Something about that moment signaled the beginning of a friendship that was to be deep, true, and certainly eternal—a friendship that left us an unforgettable legacy.
Time passed, and the Fuchs family became very involved in our branch. I was Young Men president at the time, and I soon saw that Andy’s enthusiasm showed in all areas. When we began a service project, he was first to appear—with a big smile.
Andy was an extraordinary person, due to the goodness of our Heavenly Father and the guidance of his earthly parents. From an early age, Andy had been nourished by their affection and patience. He and his father, Horst, shared many activities and were indispensable to each other. This example so matured Andy that at age 14 he was a person of ability and usefulness. His many abilities never ceased to surprise us, but he was humble about them. He was totally dedicated to learning the gospel of Jesus Christ and lost no opportunity to talk to people about the Church.
No one supposed Andy would leave us so soon. We still remember that painful Saturday when we learned of his tragic death.
That morning Andy decided to ride his bike to the top of a hill in the area. He had already done so once with his father and was determined to repeat the feat alone. After getting his father’s permission, he set out. As he rode up the hill, a truck transporting wood down the hill careened wildly. It struck Andy and killed him instantly. It was difficult for us to accept that this tragedy had occurred to such a bright, promising young man.
The truck driver was seriously injured. He was taken to a hospital in Quito under police watch so he would not escape justice for what he had done. Surely, we thought, he should be held accountable for the accident. But from Horst Fuchs we all learned to forgive.
The branch president and I went with Brother Fuchs to identify Andy’s body. While the death of his son was very painful, he forgave the person who had taken Andy’s life. He refused to hold animosity in his heart. A few days later he visited the truck driver in the hospital and told him that he forgave him. He offered his help and spoke to him about the gospel of Jesus Christ. While the truck driver was recovering at home, he started receiving the discussions from the missionaries, who were accompanied by Brother Fuchs. Brother Fuchs also intervened in the justice system to have all charges against the man dropped.
I know this demonstration of love has its foundation in the gospel of Jesus Christ—the gospel by which the Fuchs family lives. The Fuchs family is indeed exceptional. Their example showed us that only through Christ does great strength come, as well as comfort and support.
Overcoming the pain made us better people. Although we understood that there would be tears along our path through life, our branch saw from Andy’s legacy and his father’s example that we must have faith and work diligently to live and share the gospel every day. And because of Jesus Christ, we have faith that we will meet Andy again.
Just the Help I Needed
An act of service on the part of my neighbors taught me a memorable lesson on the importance of identifying others’ needs and helping to meet them.
As a single mother of three children, I had learned to be rather self-reliant in caring for my family. However, in the spring of 1989, changes in my circumstances brought new challenges. My older son, a returned missionary, was married and serving far away as a United States Navy officer. My daughter and younger son were preparing to leave within two weeks of each other for missionary service. For the first time, I would be alone.
Well, I would not be completely alone—there was Mischa, our large, beautiful Samoyed dog. One of the children took her for a walk every day, but now that they would all be gone, this task would become mine. The problem was, I was scheduled to undergo surgery for bone spurs in my heel, and walking would be extremely painful for at least several weeks.
During one of the last walks my younger son took with Mischa before leaving for the Missionary Training Center, he was stopped by our neighbor. The man said he would walk our dog every day until one of the children returned home.
The first evening our neighbor came to walk Mischa, she would not go with him because he was a stranger. So he stayed and just played with her for about 15 minutes. He came the next night to play with her and make friends, but she still refused to go for a walk. Finally on the third night, she was willing to go, and soon she was waiting impatiently for her new friend each night.
Long after my foot had healed from the surgery and I could have taken over the responsibility, my neighbor continued to walk Mischa. When a night job kept him busy three nights a week, his wife took over. For a year and a half until my daughter returned, these wonderful neighbors walked my dog for at least one hour every night except for three nights when they apologetically took a brief vacation out of town. That totaled more than 547 hours of service!
I am convinced my neighbors were in touch with the Spirit, and I am grateful they identified my need and responded to it. It was not something I would have asked them to do. But given my responsibilities at that time, no other service would have been of greater help to me. Following Alma’s admonition “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8), these neighbors set an example of loving service that will always remain with me.