Having been more or less Mormon my entire life, I have lived under the spiritual guidance of eight prophets. With the death of President Thomas S. Monson, number nine is just around the corner.
I’ll bet Monson couldn’t wait to get out of this place. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that getting old sucks, and I’m only 64. He was 90.
If I sound lighthearted during this somber time, it’s because I am. I fail to see the downside in his being dead — provided, of course, that things work the way we discuss them in church.
But if God is just, you can bet that Monson isn’t upset about being dead. He’s caught up with his wife and lots of other loved ones who went before him. He also knows the rest of his family is only half a second behind him — in terms of eternity.
And it’s not like he died and left us in the lurch. We have his successor already warmed up. That’s the way it works for us.
The first prophet I remember was David O. McKay. He was leading the church when I was born and died when I was 16. The only counsel of his that impacted me came via my father on the day I got my driver license.
“The prophet says obey — HEY! Are you listening? The prophet says obey the laws of the land. That means no speeding or driving the wrong way on the freeway.”
I was impressed. McKay must have been a real prophet. I hadn’t even told my closest friends that’s what I was going to do. It wasn’t until later that I found out he wasn’t just talking about me.
Joseph Fielding Smith was the next prophet. I don’t recall a single thing he said because he was only president for a little over two years, during which I was having plenty of visions and out-of-body experiences of my own.
Then came Harold B. Lee. He died less than six months after signing my mission call in 1973, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it.
His immediate successor was Spencer W. Kimball, who was church president for nearly 12 years. I remember him for two major events:
The first was when his idiot nephew dragged me into Kimball’s office for an unannounced family visit when he was president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
I shook Kimball’s hand as we were leaving, and he asked about my plans to serve a mission? This despite the fact that I had long hair and a highly visible pack of cigarettes in my shirt pocket.
Not only did he get me thinking in a disturbing direction, he later revealed that it was way past time for blacks to get the priesthood.
I was a cop, married and the father of three daughters when Ezra Taft Benson rose to prophet. That conservative stalwart helped solidify my liberal politics, started me thinking about feminism, and managed to transform Coca-Cola into something akin to heroin.
Howard W. Hunter was president for only nine months, but I remember covering a couple of his talks for a newspaper. Wish I had heard more from him.
Then came Gordon B. Hinckley, the only Mormon prophet who managed to terrify me. It was at Brigham Young University and a couple of years after I had started whacking LDS culture around in the newspaper.
I already had managed to upset a lot of the self-important. He walked past with his entourage, spotted me in the crowd, smiled, and said, “Hi, Robert.”
I was so dead. It’s one thing to lampoon an easily offended culture and another thing to be immediately recognizable to its leader. I waited for months, but nothing happened.
Years later, I received a letter from his personal secretary telling me that Hinckley wanted me to keep having fun.
Now that Monson is gone, I’ll have to process what his legacy means to me. So far, it’s that I’m still comfortable being my kind of Mormon. We’ll see what happens next.