In a prominent place in my office, where I can always see it, is a small, very old lantern which once lighted the binnacle on the H.M.S. Clarion, an old sailing ship registered out of Bournemouth, England. Not many people these days know what a binnacle is. Yet it is the forerunner for very important equipment on any ship.
A binnacle is a stand for a ship’s compass, usually placed before the steering wheel. The binnacle holds the compass by which the mariner steers his ship. And because ships travel at night, there must be a light over the compass.
The lamp that lighted the binnacle of the H.M.S. Clarion is important to me because it was given to me by a friend who retrieved it from the old ship, now far from home and long out of service, and because that friend had inscribed on the front of it, to me, these words: “Your light in my life made the difference.”
This tribute may be undeserved in my case, but I think everyone recognizes what a great privilege it would be to truly be a light in the life of another. Like the lantern over the binnacle, such a light may help point the way.
A good man shed some light on a bright path for me in earlier years, and I would like to share his story with you.
I was 12 years old and a Tenderfoot Scout when I experienced my first overnight excursion away from home. I was excited, and I was frightened; we all were.
The group of boys who lined up with their gear on the lawn of the old 19th Ward building in Salt Lake City were variously equipped for the planned adventure to Lake Blanche in the high mountains to the east of us. Some had elaborate and expensive sleeping bags and pack frames, and some had bedrolls attached to old army knapsacks. I was in between, having the use of a homemade bag fashioned by my brother-in-law, together with the pack frame he had built, on which the bag and contents would be lashed.
All of us had been told to lay out our equipment for inspection by the man in charge, and we each fearfully waited by our stuff as the examiner approached. No marine trainee facing his sergeant could have been more apprehensive.
The man passed down the line rather quickly, commenting on this item or that boy’s pack, directing the abandonment of this extra baggage, sending one boy home to his mother with the three clean sheets she had sent along for his big trip.
I was last in line and thus nearest home, since our little house lay just alongside the old Relief Society building that separated us from the chapel. There was a narrow alley between the chapel and that building, and at the end of it a wall which formed the east border of our yard.
Being closest to home might have been an indicator of my frame of mind, because I was not altogether sold on this adventure and I was a bit apprehensive about the equipment I had borrowed, having been admonished carefully to keep it very clean and in absolute good repair.
When the inspector reached me, many foolish questions had been asked and answered, with increasing impatience, I suspect, so that the man as he faced me had become a bit short on good will. He was, in fact, quite a dynamic person of whom I was somewhat afraid, though he had always been appropriately dignified in his calling and never had been anything but kind to me.
This day under the circumstances and with the provocation of so much juvenile incompetency, he reached the end of his rope. Observing the number of items I was carrying which seemed to him superfluous for the high mountains and which he felt should not be carried in my pack, he sternly directed me to remove them and take them home to my mother. He seemed to dwell a bit sarcastically upon the pronunciation of my first name, about which my life on the west side of town by the railroad tracks had made me a bit touchy, if not defensive.
When he seemed to be making fun of me, the other boys up the line, having had their turn, snickered or broke into open laughter. Everybody but I thought it was funny. When he had left me and returned up the line to begin to herd the crowd onto the trucks which were to transport us, I made my gesture of protest. Not having anything else to do that I could think of, I just bent over, picked up the pack frame in one hand, and the two ends of the sleeping bag on which my gear was resting in the other, and walked up the alley, dragging it all behind me. When I reached the wall I dropped over, retrieved the equipment, and dragged it all behind the coal shed which was separated by a few feet from our house. Then I sat down on the ground under the basketball hoop on the back of the coal shed and suffered the pains and anguish of the damned—that is, those who have through willfulness and stubbornness painted themselves into an impossible position. I was 12 years old and in trouble.
I could not retreat and keep my self-respect; this man of authority had made a fool of me in front of others and had, to me quite unjustifiably, subjected me to ridicule. I was resentful and hopelessly frustrated. I could not see a way out of my dilemma, and I was deeply distressed.
After a long time—no doubt it seemed much longer than it actually was, but it was a long time—I heard footsteps coming up our pathway from the front street, heard the pause and a murmured conversation at our back door, and then felt and heard him resume his pace toward me. Mother had told him where I was.
He came down the little passageway between our house and the coal shed, around the corner, and sat down beside me on the dirt. He said nothing for a time but joined me as I nervously flipped little rocks and clods of dirt with a stick between my feet. I didn’t look at him. After a time he spoke.
“Do you ever get up on Kotter’s garage?” “Does Brother Kotter care?” “Do walnuts from the Perkinses’ tree fall in your backyard?” “If you take ten shots at this hoop from the line over there, how many can you make?”
I gave brief answers to all questions, and again there was silence.
Then a large, strong hand reached over to my knee and grasped it warmly.
“Son,” he said, “I made a mistake and I’m sorry.”
“That’s all right, bishop,” I said.
“Are you ready to go now,” he said. “The others are waiting.”
“Okay,” I said.
“We better get your pack ready.”
He helped me roll the gear into the sleeping bag, secure it to the pack frame, and lift it to my back. We then walked out past our back door to the street and onto the truck where the others were waiting. I later learned that after I had left he had called all of them together and explained that he had made a mistake and had been unkind to me and that my reaction had been understandable. He apologized to them in my behalf, prepared them to receive me without clamor when I arrived, got them all ready in the truck, and then made the long walk back to find me.
I do not dramatize what might have happened had a good man who was also a great man and a generous man not made that long walk, if he had not been mature enough and humble enough and capable of acknowledging and correcting a mistake. I know I was wounded and frustrated by the impossibility of my circumstance. I know that he was the bishop we prayed for by name at our house every day. And I know that my wonderful mother who did not intrude on my dilemma must have helped pray him up the path.
I also know that boys and girls, even stubborn and rebellious ones, or hurt ones or bewildered ones, are worth something to our Heavenly Father and should be worth something to all the rest of his children. I do know that I myself have taken a few long walks when my own sense of pride or impatience might have prevailed, whispering to me, “Ah, let him go. Let him sit there and see how he likes it. Why should I be bothered?”
To this hour I remain grateful that my wonderful bishop overcame any such thoughts, if he had them, and made that long walk.
His light in my life has made a difference.