All the anticipation of and conversation around the upcoming anniversary has reminded me of a powerful experience. I attended a fireside with my wife several years back at which President Hinckley spoke. He was sharply dressed (a light gray suit with a jet black tie and matching pocket-kerchief). I remember being somewhat surprised at his remarks, not because he said anything earth-shattering in itself, but because he seemed to deviate from his more typical folksy conventional wisdom at least topically, if not stylistically.
He warned his audience against the dangers of pessimism, of fearfulness, and of cynicism. He decried the negative, prone-to-criticize, venomous nature of both syndicated columnists and letter-to-editor writers. He plead with us to “stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight,” suggesting that we “turn from the negativism that so permeates our modern society and look for the remarkable good” and allow “optimism [to] replace pessimism, [and] our faith [to] exceed our fears.” He suggested that there would be trouble ahead, but that we should not despair, but “Look for the sunlight through the clouds.” “I am not suggesting,” he reminded us, “that you simply put on rose-colored glasses to make the world about you look better. I ask, rather, that you look above and beyond the negative, the cynical, the critical, the doubtful, to the positive and the affirmative.” He relayed the story of the ruler of the synagogue who, while pleading for Jesus to heal his daughter, learned from his servant that she had already died. Jesus told him, “be not afraid, only believe.”
“I commend,” echoed President Hinckley, ” those tremendous words to you. Be not afraid, only believe.”
Now, I admit, there is nothing remarkable or obviously prophetic or revelatory in itself here. Indeed, at the time the words struck me as somewhat unexpected (I had never heard him speak with such emphasis on the subject of optimism and not letting fear drive us), but I didn’t really walk out a changed man. The following day, Monday, people on BYU campus said little about his remarks but were all abuzz about his cool suit. It wasn’t until Tuesday, when a group of very angry and very confused men flew planes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center, that his words rang with prophetic magnitude in my memory.
Presumably, if President Hinckley had used the fireside as an occasion to warn Church members not to go to work if they worked at the WTC, more eyebrows would’ve been raised. I personally very much doubt that he knew what was coming. And I also doubt that such a direct and explicit warning would have convinced anyone that he is a prophet, seer, or revelator. But the totality of the experience — the subtle intrigue of the moment, the gravity of the subsequent events, the forcefulness with which my mind was driven to remembrance of his message, the meaning and significance they then assumed in hindsight, and the spiritual intensity of that moment — for me constituted a powerful confirmation, not that he could read and predict the future but that he was a chosen servant of God to lead His people.
[President Hinckley’s September 9, 2001 CES Fireside address, “Be Not Afraid, Only Believe,” is available here .]