EATON: The time President Monson literally reached out and made me feel important

From the Editor

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Nate Eaton and friends pose with President Thomas S. Monson at a reception in July 2007. | Nate Eaton, personal photo

It was a warm summer day in 2007.

I was late for a friend’s retirement party and was literally running down South Temple in downtown Salt Lake City to get to the LDS Church Administration Building.

Margaret Bury, whom I had come to know through mutual friends, was being honored for her decades of service as a secretary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I wanted to wish her well and was a little embarrassed when I arrived out of breath and a little sweaty.

I entered a large conference room where the reception was being held and was stunned to see several members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles mingling and shaking hands. Margaret was at the front of the room. Suddenly a hush fell over the crowd as then-church President Gordon B. Hinckley entered the room.

President Gordon B. Hinckley visits with Margaret Bury at her retirement reception in July 2007. | Nate Eaton, personal photo

There were maybe 30 to 40 people at the party, and I had no idea that the prophet of the church, and other top leaders, were going to be there.

It was a little surreal to be standing next to Elder Jeffery R. Holland, to see President Boyd K. Packer and his wife chatting with each other, to observe Elders Russell M. Nelson and Richard G. Scott in deep conversation and to watch Elder Dallin H. Oaks sneak a chocolate chip cookie.

I felt very out of place.

President Hinckley said a few words and gave his well-wishes to Margaret before returning to his office. Everyone started mingling, and most of the church leaders left.

But not President Thomas S. Monson.

Pres. Thomas S. Monson visits with Margaret Bury at her retirement reception in July 2007. | Nate Eaton, personal photo

President Monson, who was a counselor in the church’s First presidency at the time, stayed around to shake hands and chat. And, before I knew it, I found myself eating a cookie while standing face-to-face with him in a corner of the room.

He asked if I was a returned missionary, if I was an Eagle Scout and then told me that he was speaking at a funeral that afternoon. He proceeded to tell me about the person who had died and how many funerals he attended that year.

As the conversation continued, a crowd of people began gathering around us to hear what he had to say. Within a few minutes, there was a dozen or so eager listeners standing in a circle around us and, before I knew it, I had been somewhat pushed out of the crowd.

I was now standing partially behind President Monson and was leaning in, trying to listen to what he had to say.

I’ll be honest — I was a little hurt. I had been pushed out of what began as a private conversation.

But not for long.

Suddenly President Monson reached his long right arm behind him, put it around me and pulled me into the circle and close to him.

He didn’t make a big deal of it. In fact, through the 2-to-3-second process, he continued telling a story without missing a beat.

He kept his arm around me during the rest of the conversation and then told us he needed to get to the funeral. He shook our hands, wished us well and went on his way.

I don’t know why, at the particular second I was feeling hurt, President Monson reached around to pull me in, and why, at the moment I was feeling ignored, he made me feel accepted. It may have been completely coincidental.

But this is a man who spent his entire life responding to spiritual promptings and reaching out to “the one.” And I like to believe that on that July day, in a very insignificant setting of an informal chat at a retirement party, President Monson, once again, reached out to “the one.”

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