The Message:

“If It Isn’t Too Late, Thanks”

by Elder Robert L. Simpson

Assistant to the Council of the Twelve

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    Most of the events that I want to share with you happened at least 40 years ago or more. Yes, 40 years ago when I was young, energetic, eager, and perhaps a little too immature to be as thankful as I should have been to some wonderful people. Yes, those people without whom my life could have turned out quite differently. Those people who, for some reason, extended a big boost to a young man who seemed to be too preoccupied with self or who was usually prone to travel at full throttle without a reliable map or compass in hand. There is wisdom in learning from the mistakes of others; perhaps there may be some of you energetic, eager, young people in the Church today who may want to slow down just long enough to say thank you at the time it will be most appreciated instead of 40 years later.

    Your bishop might be like mine was. He always seemed so calm and knew everyone’s name, and although my attendance at meetings was spasmodic due to lack of transportation, he always seemed glad to see me. He made me feel welcome. Not once did he put me down for missing the week before.

    When it came time for a mission, he talked to me about the importance of personal worthiness to represent the Lord and told me that regular attendance at priesthood and sacrament meetings was a commandment. He gave me a strong desire to be totally worthy of his personal recommendation to the First Presidency when the time came.

    I remember the job opportunity that finally came after months of searching during the depression. Unfortunately the work was in an amusement park, and beset with moral hazards. The final decision was mine, but how careful the bishop was to alert me to the problems and obstacles ahead. For the nearly two years I was employed there it was a job requirement to carry a package of cigarettes in my pocket for the convenience of the customers. But not once did I ever forget my bishop’s advice or my parental teaching about the Word of Wisdom. Neither were any of the other temptations able to overpower me.

    Another great admonition from my bishop came on the day we were to hear the president of the Church talk; his advice: “When a prophet of God speaks, you listen well.” This I have tried to do ever since, and my life has been blessed as a result. Thanks, bishop!

    If your parents are like mine were, they really care for you, almost too much it may seem at times, especially when we are young and freedom-seeking. I didn’t realize until much later that the care and sincerity that was sometimes misunderstood was an integral part of the very freedom that I thought they were depriving me of. For example, I remember well how my mother was never asleep until I had checked in, regardless of the hour. This motherly concern and instinct bothered me at times, because if I was going to be late, mother’s sleep would be delayed, and my subconscious would even suggest “She doesn’t trust you.” But how grateful I am today for that vigil into the night. I can truthfully say that there is the extreme possibility that I might be a slave to a few undesirable habits today were it not for the freedom she helped to guarantee me by “standing guard” against that first sign of the adversary in the life of a son she cared for. Thanks, Mom!

    Dad and I were avid sports fans. We became great friends through this common interest. We spent countless hours talking about favorite teams and players, but perhaps most important of all was the additional communication on more important subjects made possible by a rapport that eliminated all barriers. Thanks, Dad!

    Also clear in my memory are the times that I started down a path that was questionable. Their kindly manner of asking “Are you sure?” truly prompted me to think again before acting. Thanks again to you both!

    Everyone needs friends. Naturally, friends want you to be like they are because the more you have in common, the closer the friendship. That’s why the selection of friends is so important during our years of early maturity and experimentation. Your circle of friends and daily associates will dictate more than anything else your life-style and habits.

    During the “pendulum” period of my teens, there were a few peers who literally “saved” my life. They extended themselves well beyond the normal limits that an ordinary friendship might justify, all to help convince me that their direction was best—and how right they were.

    Fifteen seems to be a pivotal age in the lives of most youth—at least it was for me. There were many pressures and forces that seemed to be almost competing for my time and attention. Every 15-year-old wants to be with the “in” crowd. Recognition on campus, the spirit of daring, an air of non-conformity—all of these seem so attractive, so desirable, almost worth any cost. An approaching weekend offered two possibilities: The “in” crowd was planning to do something really big time but so close to the edge that the slightest whim or impulse could spell disaster. Joe, on the other hand, was trying to persuade me that nothing could be greater than a cruise to Catalina Island on the sailboat Endymion, the same craft that had recently won the annual Avalon Classic; and not only that, we would work as members of the crew while on board. My love for the sea was too much, and Joe really tipped the scales when he gave up one whole afternoon and evening to help convince me. The Lord must have worked through my friend Joe, because my “in group” friends made the newspaper that weekend. They did get too close to the edge.

    The sea spray on my face as we headed for Catalina introduced me to sea-Scouting, which became my main interest for the following two years, and Scouting generally, which has been an important part of my life ever since. I really believe in being physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. Thanks, Joe!

    Church basketball just wasn’t for me. After all, the Church was five miles away, I had no car, and besides, there was a chance to play on the local commercial league team with some fellows who were stars in high school. They always had some neat social activities, and besides, that’s where the action was. A party after every game!

    Stan was captain of the ward team and always seemed friendly when I saw him at priesthood meeting a couple of times a month. Stan had an old model “A” Ford and lots of persistence. During those days of indecision, I’d find him parked in front of our house as I arrived home from school. He seemed willing to wait as long as necessary for me to eat, change, and then go off with him to the church for practice or a game. Stan’s mind was made up—I was going to play on the Church team that season, and play I did. The real victory was not in the regional championship, but rather in the lifelong friendship of those who were my teammates and the wholesome life-style that they provided for me. This has never changed since. Their influence was a significant factor in my preparation for a mission, a temple marriage, and the most precious thing in my life, the Church as a total involvement rather than just the occasional meeting as convenience lent itself. Thanks, Stan!

    Forty years is too long to wait to say thank you. How much more appreciated it might have been at the time. Perhaps my mistake in waiting 40 years will be an incentive for someone else to pause along the way, just long enough to say with sincerity, thank you very much!

    Photos by Michael Keogh