The Power of the Word

That was my summer of irresponsibility–I spent most of it as a ski bum.

My parents didn’t want a ski boat, so I mooched off friends whose parents were more willing. I learned to slalom the week after graduating from high school and spent the rest of the summer mastering the art of carving jagged lines into the glassy surfaces of the many lakes near Salt Lake City.

My friends and I built mammoth sand castles and then languished for hours in the sun. My skin turned deep brass and I started donning sunglasses. College, life, and responsibility seemed far away and inconsequential.

In August, life began to creep back up on us. After all, once college began the boys would leave on missions and the girls would begin to marry. Impending adult responsibilities lined up like dominoes and no one wanted to knock the first one down. The magic permeating that summer seemed not long for this world, as if it were a warm mist ready to flee before the dawn.

And so, on August 10th, we headed to Bear Lake for three days of raspberry shakes, skiing the lake, and swimming in the moonlit, translucent water. The days passed: a stream of sunrises, sunsets, bathing suits, and the musky scent of adolescence. Even while still there, we could sense the passing of an era–like watching the final tints of dusk slink away as the sun passes behind the mountains.

As we rode home, we blared the music and drove with the windows down, letting the wind ruffle our hair. Upon arriving at my house, I jumped out of David’s car, grabbed my duffel bag, ran in my front door, shouted “hi mom,” flung the bag into my room, and plopped myself down in front of the tv.

Five minutes, then the phone rang.


“Hi Ty, it’s Rick.”





“Rick? What’s wrong?”

Even before he resumed speaking, I could hear the tremor in his voice.

“It’s Karina.” He tried to speak with measured tones, like a Bishop at a funeral.

“What’s wrong.”

“There was an accident, you better come over.”

I shouted something to my mom, bolted out of the house in a daze, and ran around the corner toward Karina’s house. Three months earlier my life-long friend had committed suicide and, as I sprinted along my quiet street below the arching oak trees, I fet fear, grief, and helplessness wash over me like a crimson tide. Though I was running, I began to feel tight, like a baloon twisted and contorted, about to burst–the plastic bulging and straining in unnatural ways.

Amidst my heaving breaths as I ran faster, I prayed in gasps: “please Father, no, not again, not so soon.”

I let myself into her house after gathering my strength to absorb the impending blow. But when I enetered the living room, Karina was sleeping on the couch, breathing heavily. I looked around, confused. Dr. Condie was standing there, but he wasn’t looking at Karina; instead, he stood talking quietly with her parents. Rick was there and a couple of other close friends, but no one was crying as I had envisioned. I was perplexed.

Rick took me into another room and explained Karina had crashed into a man and his wife on a motorcycle. A helicopter had come and taken the couple to LDS hospital. It appeared the man would be ok, but his wife was in critical condition. Karina had gone into hysterics and Dr. Condie gave her sedatives to knock her out, to soften the crushing blow.

Within a couple of hours, word came: the woman had died.

Not long after the grim tidings arrived, Karina awoke in hell, with guilt licking and searing her soul like flames did the skin of Abinadi.

She alternated between numbness and hysteria. Whatever her condition, though, it proved immune to help. For some time, how long I don’t know because the hours passed in bleary oblivion, I and a few friends held vigil beside her: consoling, comforting, embracing, stroking, cooing, whispering, assuaging, and, after all, accomplishing nothing.

One night, a few days later, after I felt I had poured out all the love I had to give, she finally fell asleep. I went into to her parents room where her dad–muscular, somber, and wan–sat, wearing only pajama trousers and his garment top. I embraced him and wept, and wept, and wept–“I can’t do anything,” I cried, “I can’t help her, I’m no use.”

Night had set in, and it seemd both lightless and interminable.

Heather was another friend. She had not been on the trip but had heard what hapenned. Some days after the accident, she called her grandpa, asked if he could help. And so, on a Saturday, I sat with Karina when the doorbell rang. Her father got up to answer and I heard, raising my eyebrows: “Elder Maxwell?”

The apostle entered through the front door and shook each of our hands, while Karina tried vainly to look excited. Soon, he asked us if he could speak to her alone. We left the room and sat in the back yard–watching through the bay window as Elder Maxwell sat, looked into Karina’s eyes, and counselled with her.

After about twenty minutes, he opened the door and asked if we would join him in the house. With Karina’s family and friends seated in a circle surrounding him, Elder Maxwell placed his hands on Karina’s head and began:

“Karina Smith, In the name of Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Melkizedeck Priesthood I hold…” As always, and as I had heard over the pulpit many, many times, his voice resonated with compassion and intelligence. His diction was packed with substance and his imagery was evocative and kind. The sound of his words was a gentle as a lily and as authoritative as the voice of God.

Indeed, at some point during the blessing his words transcended even themselves and began to glow: holy, luminous, and buoyant. “Karina,” Elder Maxwell coaxed, “let the sweet peace of Jesus wash over you as the tide.” With that phrase, the thick and sable mist that had gathered around us, choking us, invading our lungs like soot, quivered, dissipated, and finally disappeared.

After he closed, Karina slept. I walked home, letting the still August evening air settle carefully onto my skin. The world slowed in its spinning arc and I felt time pause as I soaked in a breath of divinity.

In the months that followed, Karina found the cruel world still awaited–even after the blessing. Still, some miracle happened that day, deep within an unseen chamber of Karina’s heart. Like tectonic plates shifting beneath us, like Enoch commanding moving mountains–the ineffable substance that ebbs and flows within us responded to Neal Maxwell’s words.

Then, as now, I have pondered and never fully understood the interplay between our agency, our actions, our words, and the Atonement. What I do understand, though, is that day I was witness to the Atonement working a deep, eternal epiphany through the words of the Lord’s annointed.

Not many months later, I left for Mexico, my mission field. My skin had faded back to a chalky, peachy shade and I had abandoned the sunglasses–a relic of my reckless summer. Never, however, in Mexico or since, have I forgotten the sound of Elder Maxwell’s voice that afternoon. Indeed:

“No tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard [Elder Maxwell] speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for [her] unto the Father.”

Published in: on August 1, 2006 at 5:58 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. Tyler – great post. Elder Maxwell was truly an amazing man, and I miss having to re-read his talks three times to gain any insight as to what he was trying to communicate. It must have been inspiring to be in his midst as he gave a blessing with apostolic authority..

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