“The Room,” Ensign, Apr. 1971, 60
It was midnight. The wind, like a thousand banshees, howled its fury against the double-paned windows; and fine, powdery snow drifted to the floor inside in defiance of man’s efforts to refuse it entry. Midnight, and the Arctic sun hung low on the horizon as it had for the Ancient Mariner half a world away and so long ago.
The strange haze of windswept snow and endless sun mingled with electricity within the room. On the walls hung pictures of faraway places and, among them, a military roster. Japan beckoned through the shimmering mystery of hand-blown glass fishnet floats rescued from the nearby rocky Alaskan shore. Letters from home, well-read and loved, had been gently placed on an old desk.
In this room at a remote Air Force site on an Alaskan island, the silence of solitude drowned out the roar of the wind.
The lieutenant leaned back in his chair and rested his feet on the edge of the scarred desk. A week from now he would leave this room, soar through the heavens five thousand miles to his wife’s side, and leave a year of heartache and growth to the room’s next occupant. Heartache and growth. Shortly after he had arrived at that gloomy island he had accepted the additional responsibility of being the Protestant chaplain’s representative, with the responsibility of giving religious counsel to the site’s air force personnel and conducting Sunday worship service for them and the Eskimo families living nearby. The chaplain, with four sites to visit and a monthly report to make in person in Anchorage, had only one Sunday out of five to spend with the lieutenant’s men. But there were times when the problems of his men wouldn’t wait, and so the lieutenant, with an ever-increasing burden of care, had given counsel and advice.
There was the sergeant whose wife had become interested in another man, the airman whose family had disowned him, the young man who had tearfully asked, “Why did my son have to die?” The long line of men filed silently through the cloud of sorrow in the lieutenant’s mind. He had tried to help—advice, the Red Cross, authorization of a phone call, requests to headquarters to let a man go home. His assistance had been appreciated, but he knew how inadequate it had been. Something had been lacking in his counsel.
But through it all he had been forced to stay. Stay and watch the suffering. Stay and know that home and life had slowly changed for him as well. He thought how like the room was his soul—filled with memories of the bitter-sweet joys that used to be, located now where all could be no more.
Now he could never return to what used to be. Some missionaries had seen to that. His wife, converted by them, had so anxiously sought his consent by phone and letter that it was granted in love and anguish, and she had been baptized into a strange new faith called Mormonism. Isolated, helpless, without the power to reach her, he had seen the subtle changes in the few months she had been a member—her strange certainty of the truth, an obsession for proving it by scriptures—frightening changes that had left him paralyzed with the fear that no common bond of understanding remained between them.
Sorrow. Was this now to be his way of life? He had fought and lost the campaign with his men—the campaign for which there is no outward ribbon given, the campaign of purpose, its medal branded on his soul. He pushed back his chair abruptly and gazed at the bedside table. Beside a stack of reference books on this new faith, books flown to him at his request from Anchorage by the chaplain, rested a worn Bible and a copy of the Book of Mormon, its new binding in sharp contrast to the others. The Book of Mormon showed little wear, although his wife had sent it, well-marked, six months ago. His eye caught the texts. What was it that his college philosophy courses had taught him? “Faith is dynamic belief.”
“I believe in God,” he said to himself, “but I don’t understand. How could my wife accept this thing called Mormonism and drive so great a wedge into our lives? Our parents are in tears, our friends will ridicule us, and I am humiliated. Where can I turn for help? I am supposed to lead!”
In desperation he remembered something. The book that had brought so much disturbance to his life contained a promise:
“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Moro. 10:4.)
Such a glorious promise! And such a terrifying promise as well! He had not risked this test before for fear of the answer. His faith was being put to the test. If there were a God, that God would answer; and if he answered, what would he say? If the answer were “No, the Church is not true,” then his wife and children were lost without his being able to do a thing about it. But if that answer were “Yes,” all he had learned and accepted before was without merit. Agony and promise; it could no longer be avoided. He knelt in prayer as tears streamed freely down his face. Outside it was midnight; inside it was the beginning of a new day.
Now that room is but a memory. Its four walls may comfort or taunt another, but the lieutenant has moved on. He found the way to manhood there that night. On his knees he discovered that God lives. He came to understand the purpose for his existence and the beauty of growth, the joy of development. Together with his wife he picked up the threads of his life and wove them into a tighter fabric of integrity and love than he had dreamed possible, a fabric that would endure to the end.