I remember sitting on my dadâ€™s lap after I burned my bottom on our ancient heating pipes at Hoosier Courts, Bloomington, Indiana. I was four years old, so it was 1959. I remember talking to him as a teenager about issues I was just approaching, which now consume much of my life. I remember watching in awe as he spoke Cakchiquel to a group of Indians in Guatemala who had never heard a Gringo speak their language. I have seen Dad in Russia, China, Guatemala, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, telling the story of the Prodigal Son or of David and Goliathâ€”in the languages of the people he was addressing. The hardest thing has been watching him get old, identifying the first signs of shaking which is now constant; realizing one day that his hair had gone completely white; seeing him lose energy. I donâ€™t know how much longer Iâ€™ll have my dad, but his mortality is more and more apparent. So is his greatness.
Dad received an award from BYU on Saturday, and all of our family got together for it, traveling from New York, Colorado, and New Mexico. There we wereâ€”the eight Blair kids, all grown up and with families of our own, paying tribute to our dad, along with Mom and many others he has influenced. Dad, now on dialysis, had to be on oxygen as he greeted the crowds of people who were honoring him. My daughter met me with tearful eyes and said, â€œHeâ€™s on oxygen. I didnâ€™t know he was so sick.â€
I found myself fighting tears all day, though they werenâ€™t tears of sorrow but of gratitude. I tried to express what I felt at one point, but my emotions were too high and I mostly blubbered. Hereâ€™s what I wanted to say:
A few weeks ago, I went to the temple with Mom and Dad and had a rare moment of seeing Dad with new eyesâ€”as though I were not his daughter, but his mother. He was in his robes, and I was aware that our time together on earth was drawing to a close. In an instant, I had a sense of the whole of his lifeâ€”the way he had used language to tell people of diverse cultures that God loves them; the quiet lessons he taught me about the value of all kindreds, tongues and peoples; his simple devotion to my mother and to the gospel; his willingness to do whatever God asked, even if it meant leaving his personal projects to preside over a mission. I saw a great and humble man, in the image of Christ. The words in my mind were, â€œI am so proud of youâ€â€”words a mother might say to her son.
Dad, I am so proud of you. Here you are in the temple, while your body is starting to fail you. You have been here many times throughout your life, and these rituals are familiar to you. You have loved God by loving His children. You have used the gifts God gave you to serve and glorify the giver, not to pad your own resume. Somehow, you managed to get through a whole career in academia without succumbing to arrogance. Your whole life has been about communication and understanding, and here in the temple, you stand less steadily than you once did (yet far steadier in other ways), and you know about communication with God, and about the love which energizes all understanding. Every one of your children is in some way involved with the mission you accepted when you devoted yourself to the worldâ€™s children and their languages. We even have an idea of how important that mission is.
I canâ€™t ever sing â€œBe Still My Soul/ The Lord is On Thy Sideâ€ without remembering your tearful account of some missionaries (not LDS–but you have valued all faiths and taught us to respect them) who sang that song on the eve of their execution in the jungles of Ecuador. They knew they would die in the morning, and sang themselves this hymn of comfort and courage.
I hope for many more years with you, but that song is in my heart, as I know it is in yours. Its poetry expresses the faith which you have made your lifeâ€™s center:
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.
Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, loveâ€™s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessÃ¨d we shall meet at last.
Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.