As I look back on a long life, I find myself remembering experiences—hairbreadth escapes, really—that might easily have resulted in my death. These escapes started at an early age.
One morning in my eleventh year my brother, my cousin, I, and a fourth boy were standing on the rim of Salt Lake’s City Creek Canyon.
The fourth boy had a mail-order 22-caliber pistol with a broken trigger spring. He had stretched an elastic band across the hammer and under the trigger guard to act as a spring to fire the weapon.
He was showing us how Buffalo Bill shot, by raising the gun high and then bringing it down slowly, releasing the hammer when it was level. Suddenly I felt my left hand go numb. Looking down, I saw a red stain on the white sleeve of my left arm at the biceps level. The stain got larger. I yelled, “I’m shot,” and ran for home.
The bullet had pierced my arm and passed completely through it without touching bones or arteries. I had been on the extreme left of the group, the boy with the gun on the extreme right. The bullet passed in front of my chest on the level of my heart and must have been very close to the skin as it passed. Otherwise it could not have hit my left arm. If that gun had been turned one-fourth of an inch farther to the left, I wouldn’t be here now!
I have since thought about what it was that protected me. I am not one to say that I am a man marked for protection, but I believe I was protected that time.
A second incident happened when I was twenty-nine. My companions and I had climbed Longs Peak in Colorado on a bright September day. Longs Peak is 14,256 feet high. At that altitude one can climb three or four steps before his legs go numb and he has to wait three or four minutes to get his strength back to take three or four more steps.
It was late afternoon when we reached the top. From there I saw a ridge that seemed to begin a thousand feet below and would cut my descent time in half. Unheeding of the warnings of my companions, I started down the north side of the mountain. I had gone down about 500 feet when I suddenly found myself on a field of clear ice that had resulted from a storm the previous night.
I skirted to the left and came to a cliff with a sheer drop of several thousand feet. My only way out of the predicament was back to the top. I shall not tell the dangers of that climb back, but what had taken me two hours on a fairly easy trail earlier in the day I then did in thirty minutes without stopping for breath and without having my legs go numb. Where did the strength come from? Adrenalin? Some may think so, but this was an entirely different strength, one that did not come from me.
That afternoon I learned another lesson. As I climbed, I could hear the whistle of one of my fellows. As I reached the top, there stood Golden Kilburn. The other climbers had gone down the trail, but he had—at some risk to himself—waited for me, feeling that he could not leave until I was accounted for.
Together we descended, reaching the safe portions of the trail at dusk. Had we been delayed much longer, we both would have been caught at night at the 13,500–14,000-feet level without coats. I have wondered many times which would have been the least pleasant, freezing or falling 3,000 feet down over the cliff. I have also wondered about the force that reached out, unknown to me, and made me equal to the altitude for thirty brief minutes.
A third incident happened in the winter of 1946–47. I was forty-nine years old. Sister Young and I were on our way to the funeral of her brother in old Mexico. We pulled out of Cortez, Colorado, heading south for Gallup, New Mexico, at 9:30 at night. It was bitter cold. The temperature that night fell to ten degrees below zero.
A strong crosswind was blowing, creating a ground blizzard of snow that made the road difficult to see and to navigate. We were without a heater in the car and were wrapped deep in quilts. We must have been going about fifty miles an hour.
Suddenly out of the darkness and the storm there loomed two horses, crossing the highway from right to left. They were just starting to cross into the left lane when I saw them. Without my thinking—there was not time for that—my hands turned the steering wheel left. In a second we were on the far left, the left wheels on the shoulder of the road. As we whizzed by, the lead horse jerked his head high and back, and we brushed by his nose. Another split second and we were back into our proper lane. I remember no thought that caused me to turn the wheel just enough to clear the horses yet not enough to roll us over into the borrow pit. I know that it wasn’t I who did the driving.
There have been other times. Yes, to some they all can be explained away. There is nothing openly miraculous about them. Yet in each event I could not have extricated myself without a protecting providence.
During my life I have heard and read of peoples’ hearing a voice and obeying it. I believe these experiences, even though I have never heard the voice speak out loud to me.
One time I was reading in the Book of Mormon and came to the account of the efforts of Laman and Lemuel to slay Nephi. You will remember that he was rebuking them and said:
“Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder.” (1 Ne. 17:45. Italics added.)
I suppose I have read that passage a dozen or more times in my life, all the time thinking it to be but a series of statements to remind those rebellious boys of the testimony they had been given.
On this particular reading my mind became illuminated. A great light seemed to enter. I could understand that Nephi was declaring the way by which the Holy Ghost gives us inspiration. The “still small voice,” “ye were past feeling,” “ye could not feel his words”—that is it! When you are inspired, a certain confirming feeling accompanies the thoughts in your mind. You learn to recognize and understand that the Holy Ghost does bear witness. He does speak in a still small voice—which is not always in words.
When I was in my teens, I used to wonder what it felt like to hear the voice of the Lord. I thought that Moses, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and especially Joseph Smith were highly favored, and I wished that I might hear also. I was not being sacrilegious. It was an honest desire. I knew quite well that unless I had a special calling that required it, the Lord would not favor me with his personal attention. Voices from heaven are few in recorded history.
The answer to this desire was quite as dramatic to me as had been the one I received about Nephi and his brethren. One day about ten years ago (when I was age sixty-four), I was reading section 18 of the Doctrine and Covenants. I read these words:
“These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man;
“For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them;
“Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words.” (D&C 18:34–36.)
Here the Lord was telling the twelve apostles, five years before the quorum was organized, that when they read his words, they were hearing his voice. It was as though the heavens were opened and everything was revealed that was given to any of the prophets who ever wrote. Ever since then the Doctrine and Covenants has had a new meaning for me. I am hearing as well as reading, and clearly the voice of the Lord rings in my heart. I have always read and enjoyed the uplifting quality of this great book. But now things are different. Now I read with awe and wonderment.
Why couldn’t I have had this come to me at sixteen? Don’t wait until you are sixty to understand this. A sincere desire and the Holy Ghost can give you the power to hear the voice of the Lord every time you pick up one of his revelations.
I learned another important principle very late too. I’ll repeat it so it might be of some help to you. The lesson began fifty-three years ago, in 1918, when I was a soldier in the First World War. After the Armistice, our regiment organized a football team while we were waiting our turn to come home. Because I played on the team, I was excused from drill, menial tasks, and general discipline. The players could also go to Bordeaux, the nearest city, any time.
On one such visit I had enjoyed a favorite painting hanging in a cathedral. It depicted the Lord raising Lazarus from the dead. It was very large, about eight by fifteen feet, and a masterpiece. I never tired of looking at it. Afterward I went to the YMCA and wrote some letters, and finally I went to the place in the town square where the truck was to pick us up to go back to camp.
While standing in the shadow of a building, I saw a teammate come to the spot. He stood under the dim street light, waiting for the truck. Soon a French girl came up and accosted him. He did not speak French, but the language she was using was universal. After looking in several directions and seeing no one, he walked away with the girl.
Later we were discharged and arrived in Salt Lake City. I saw a woman, obviously this same man’s wife, run up to him and place a baby in his arms. As I stood there watching him look at his offspring for the first time, I wondered what he was thinking. I am still wondering.
That was in January 1919, fifty-two years ago. I was telling this story about five years ago, stressing the obvious moral that “the wages of sin is death”—death of the spirit, at least.
Suddenly, as I spoke, an idea was born: If I had stepped from the shadows and joined him, or called to him, or let him know in any way that I was there, he might not have gone with that girl. By a simple act I might have saved him. Only it didn’t occur to me then. Since that thought came to me, I have not thought so well of myself.
How many times have there been in my life when a word, a gesture, an appearance might have changed someone’s course and put him on the right road? How often could you help?
Everyone in the church of Christ knows of the part that sin plays in our lives and in our prospects for eternal life. Consequently, we are concerned about our own sins. But what about the sins we might have prevented in others if we had spoken up?
Young men and women, you cannot escape some testing of your perception of the Holy Ghost. But remember that if you will live worthily, his power can protect you and lead you into the paths of righteousness.
Whether it be an instantaneous protective act, a feeling of his words, or a reading in which one hears his voice, it comes from God. All of these are gifts of the Spirit to one who has received the Holy Ghost at baptism and is intent on enjoying his influence.
You are also being tested as to how well you will put out the hand of guidance and of warning to acquaintances who surround you. It is not good to let someone go astray without warning. Of course, it is worse still to lead another astray deliberately.
The field is broad and there is much for you to discover. But you will accomplish little unless you learn to feel the voice and to hear the word of the Lord. Read his scriptures—when your hearts and souls are touched, you are experiencing these promises. If you will experience and learn of both of these perceptive gifts early in your growing years and will learn about the practical application of the first and great commandment and the second one which is like unto it (love of God and man), you will have the great hope and reward of eternal life. And life will always be beautiful to you.