Of course, one of the added tragedies in transgression is that even if we make the effort to change, to try again, to come back, others often insist upon leaving the old labels with us.
I grew up in the same town with a boy who had no father and precious few of the other blessings of life. The young men in our community found it easy to tease and taunt and bully him. And in the process of it all he made some mistakes, though I cannot believe his mistakes were more serious than those of his Latter-day Saint friends who made life so miserable for him. He began to drink and smoke, and the gospel principles which had never meant much to him now meant even less. He had been cast in a role by LDS friends who should have known better and he began to play the part perfectly. Soon he drank even more, went to school even less, and went to Church not at all. Then one day he was gone. Some said that they thought he had joined the army.
That was about 1959 or so. Fifteen or sixteen years later he came home. At least he tried to come home. He had found the significance of the gospel in his life. He had married a wonderful girl, and they had a beautiful family. But he discovered something upon his return. He had changed, but some of his old friends hadn’t—and they were unwilling to let him escape his past.
This was hard for him and hard for his family. They bought a little home and started a small business, but they struggled both personally and professionally and finally moved away. For reasons that don’t need to be detailed here, the story goes on to a very unhappy ending. He died a year ago at age 44. That’s too young to die these days, and it’s certainly too young to die away from home.
When a battered, weary swimmer tries valiantly to get back to shore, after having fought strong winds and rough waves which he should never have challenged in the first place, those of us who might have had better judgment, or perhaps just better luck, ought not to row out to his side, beat him with our oars, and shove his head back underwater. That’s not what boats were made for. But some of us do that to each other.
In general conference a few years ago Elder David B. Haight told us that—
Arturo Toscanini, the late, famous conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, received a brief, crumpled letter from a lonely sheepherder in the remote mountain area of Wyoming:
“Mr. Conductor: I have only two possessions—a radio and an old violin. The batteries in my radio are getting low and will soon die. My violin is so out of tune I can’t use it. Please help me. Next Sunday when you begin your concert, sound a loud ‘A’ so I can tune my ‘A’ string; then I can tune the other strings. When my radio batteries are dead, I’ll have my violin.
At the beginning of his next nationwide radio concert from Carnegie Hall, Toscanini announced: “For a dear friend and listener back in the mountains of Wyoming the orchestra will now sound an ‘A.’” The musicians all joined together in a perfect “A.”
[That] lonely sheepherder only needed one note, just a little help to get back in tune; . . . he needed someone who cared to assist him with [just] one string; [after that] the others would be easy. [“People to People,” Ensign, November 1981, p. 54]