Compassion of a President


No artist has ever done justice to the brilliant crimson hue of the sun setting behind California’s Catalina Island. In winter, the shoreline trembles to the thunderclap of each angry wave smashing against the beach, and white capped waves dance and disappear in a scene of winter frenzy.

But when the weather is balmy and mild, the ocean changes color to match the sky with impressive shades of violet blue turquoise, and emerald green. Strange birds seemingly hang motionless in the air balanced on the head wind; pelicans plunge into the foamy surf in search of food; grey whales flip their tails or blow water geysers into the air; porpoises play like so many children in a game of tag; and seals bark at the wind.

The scene is vibrant and alive. And no two days ever seem the same.

It was a scene much enjoyed and appreciated by President and Sister David O. McKay whenever they had the opportunity to rest during visits to southern California. Often they would sit for hours, holding hands, entranced by the changing panorama.

On one occasion, as nearly as I remember it, I was visiting with the President and his wife and we observed a huge sea lion struggling from the water, slowly moving above the high-tide line. We could see its sides heaving as it gasped for breath and finally collapsed from exhaustion on the beach.

President McKay took an immediate interest in this event and shared with me the knowledge that this great seal had been in a fierce battle to protect its mate and herd from a marauding band of pirate seals. After successfully fighting off the attackers, the sea lion sought the refuge of the cove to nurse its wounds and possibly to die in peace.

I listened in stunned silence. How did President McKay know all this? He seemed so certain and precise in his description.

At his suggestion we walked out to the point of the hill overlooking the ocean to get a closer look. What President McKay had said about the alleged battle appeared true; the seal was bleeding profusely from wounds on its back and side. Except for laborious breathing, the animal did not move or blink its eyes.

Becoming impatient with its inaction, I picked up a rock to hurl at the beast with the intention of making it move back into the water and swim away. As my muscles flexed I felt President McKay’s restraining hand on my arm. He didn’t say a word, but in his touch I felt a powerful, silent exhortation to be kind to God’s creatures.

We continued our way down to the beach and gave aid to this slick-skinned animal. I shall never forget President McKay’s kindly words and gentle touch as he seemed to soothe the suffering and torment of that sea lion.

He was not afraid of the animal, and the sea lion seemed to know that President McKay was a true friend. When the bleeding had stopped and the sea lion was sufficiently rested, it slipped back into the water, gliding away to rejoin its mate.

As I reflected on President McKay’s compassion, his love of beauty, and his sensitivity to all living things, I was reminded of the scripture that “I, God, created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind; and I, God, saw that all things which I had created were good.” (Moses 2:21.)

On that memorable day, in its jewel-like setting, I learned a lesson from a prophet of God; man does have dominion over “all the earth” (see Moses 2:26): let us exercise that dominion in kindness and love.