Just about everyone has heard the story of a proud little grandmother who, watching her grandson on parade with the other soldiers, exclaims: “Look, everyone but Johnny’s out of step!” It’s an old joke used to show how a dear lady refused to notice her grandson’s imperfection, and after I heard it, I filed it in the back of my mind and forgot it. Forgot it, that is, until one day when I was playing bass drum in the cadet band of University School in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
The bass drum player wears a shoulder harness to carry his instrument. As he marches along, he walks just as a person normally walks, so that his right hand is forward to strike the drum when his left foot hits the ground (and vice versa). This is important because the left foot-right hand position marks the beginning of each measure of music.
One other thing—the bass drum is big. The one I was playing was so large I could just barely see straight ahead over the top of it. But I could not see the feet of the band members ahead of me. I depended on the music and the left foot-right hand position to keep me in step.
We were rehearsing for our annual inspection. The cadets always marched along the school driveway and out onto the playing field to assemble for review. The band would lead the parade, followed by the platoons in ranks three abreast. Everyone followed the beat to keep their steps in cadence.
Mr. Genge, a veteran from the British Army’s North Africa campaign in World War II, directed the maneuvers of the entire parade. But the band members paid particular attention to the drum major. We called him Brown I (we had four fellows named Brown at the school, so we labeled them Brown I, II, III, and IV, and the nicknames stuck). Brown I was tall, about six-foot-six. He carried the big silver baton, or “mace”; he decided which tunes we would play; and by twirling and pointing the mace in different directions, he gave the band its instructions.
The morning sun dazzled its reflection from our polished instruments. Our newly pressed uniforms made us look crisp and sharp.
Mr. Genge barked out in his high voice an oft-heard command: “Parade: move to the right in column of threes; by the right, quick MARCH!”
This time, however, something went wrong. Brown I stepped off on the wrong foot. He had never done it before, but now, there he was, in front of the whole band, out of step!
A chain reaction quickly swept through the ranks. The front row of musicians, realizing they were not in step with Brown I, figured they must be out of step, so they changed to match him. The other rows rapidly followed suit—all except the bass drum player. Remember, I couldn’t see over the drum far enough to know that I wasn’t in step with the others. I was just listening to the music and following its beat.
“Birley, you’re out of step!” the snare drummer on my left whispered.
I marched on a few paces, feeling the rhythm of the music. I could tell I was in step with it. “No I’m not!” I whispered back.
“Birley, you’re out of step!” This time it was Price, on my right. “No I’m not!” I insisted.
I cringed as I heard Mr. Genge’s voice say, rather softly, “Birley, change step!”
“But sir,” I protested, “I’m in time with the music!”
Mr. Genge seemed taken aback for a moment. It’s not usual for a cadet to talk back to a superior, much less to refuse to follow a command. But he listened to the music as he watched me continue, and in a moment exclaimed, “My goodness, you’re right!”
Then he issued the strangest order ever heard on that parade ground: “With the exception of Birley, parade CHANGE STEP!”
All of the cadets had to change to match my step and the beat of the music.
I don’t suppose many of those who were there would still recollect that event without being reminded of it. It might have slipped from my memory, too, if it hadn’t been for another incident a few years later, one that taught me something else about being out of step.
Kent and Colleen Ockey were definitely different from other families I had met while selling photography. Not only were they genuinely friendly to me, but they showed great love to each other as well. I remember how happy they seemed, how comfortable and at peace I felt in their home even though I couldn’t find an ashtray. These people seemed completely out of step with others I had encountered in my work.
On a side table in their living room, I noticed a large copy of the Book of Mormon. I had read a few chapters of it earlier in my life, and now it attracted my attention again. The Ockeys answered my questions freely, and invited me back. They introduced me to the missionaries. I began studying, praying, and searching. Twenty-three days later, I was baptized. I finally felt that I was in step, and I’ve tried to keep in step with the Lord and guidance from his appointed leaders ever since.
As I grew in my knowledge of the Church, I learned that the history of the gospel is a history of people (often classified as misfits by their peers) who marched in step with the Lord and out of step with their contemporaries.
Moses could have lived a life of luxury in a palace. Instead, he faced persecution, battling to free the Hebrews from bondage. Daniel refused to bow and worship idols, even though it was the practice of nearly everyone else in his community. Mormon, even though encompassed by the hopeless corruption of his society, refused to succumb to its degradation. These prophets listened to the Lord rather than listening to the influential powers of their day.
In our dispensation, we find another good example in Joseph Smith. For a while, he was the only one in step. Then there were three witnesses, then eight more, and simultaneously many others joining the Church, all marking their step from the one man who began by being in step all alone. Now there are more than four million Latter-day Saints marching forward in the truth.
But though we may be in step with each other and with the Lord (or are at least trying to be), we are still greatly out of step with the trends of the world. We will be increasingly noticeable because we are not like all the others.
We are by no means perfect, but you and I know that in truth we are the only ones in step. There are many other sincere truth-seekers listening for the music, but only in the true Church is the true cadence marked.
There are many others who will whisper (or shout) at us that we’re out of step, but if we stand firm, we can look forward to the day when a great master, the supreme leader of mankind, will say in effect what Mr. Genge said to my group of cadets:
“All the world, with the exception of those who are true to the faith, CHANGE STEP!”
And what a wonderful feeling it will be to know we helped prepare the world for his coming!