While serving as a missionary in Scotland in 1898, young David O. McKay and his companion walked by a building that caught their attention. It had a stone arch over the front door and an inscription chiseled in the arch. Elder McKay recalled:
“I said to my companion: ‘That’s unusual! I am going to see what the inscription is.’ When I approached near enough, this message came to me, not only in stone, but as if it came from One in whose service we were engaged:
“‘What E’re Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.’”
I suppose a big part of growing older is looking back and taking inventory of one’s life. I have been fortunate to have had many wonderful experiences along the way and to have met many people whom I now cherish. Among other things, I have been a student, a janitor, a hospital orderly, a missionary, a salesman, a fund-raiser, a teacher, a school principal, a scoutmaster, an interpreter, a husband, a father and now a grandfather. In other words, I have played many roles in life just as each of you has. But how well do we play our parts?
Sometimes I think we fail to realize how what we do, influences those around us. One evening my wife and I were dining with others in a popular steakhouse near El Paso, Texas, when we were approached by a woman and her young daughter. The woman interrupted our meal to ask if I was “Mr. Mac” and had I been the principal at Sierra Vista Elementary School? Not knowing the purpose of her query, I hesitated to confirm or deny the charge. Reluctantly, I admitted that, yes, I had been the principal at Sierra Vista Elementary.
She took my hand in both of hers and said, “I want to thank you. You made a real difference in my daughter’s life,” whereupon I received a warm hug from the girl at her side. With that, they walked away. For the life of me, I could not recall ever having seen the girl or her mother. To this day, I wonder what I might have done to deserve such warm and welcome praise. I can’t help but wonder how things might have been different.
In later life, David O. McKay said, “Just think! The only reason the world knows anything about Jesus’ Apostles is because having met the Savior, they made Him their guide in life. If they hadn’t, nobody now would know that such men had ever lived. They would have lived and died and been forgotten just as thousands of other men in their day lived and died and nobody knows or cares anything about them; just as thousands and thousands are living today, wasting their time and energy in useless living, choosing the wrong kind of men for their ideals, turning their footsteps into the road of Pleasure and Indulgence instead of the road of Service.
“Soon they will reach the end of their journey in life, and nobody can say that the world is any better for their having lived in it. At the close of each day such men leave their pathway as barren as they found it—they plant no trees to give shade to others, nor rosebushes to make the world sweeter and brighter to those who follow—no kind deeds, no noble service—just barren, unfruitful, desert-like pathways, strewn, perhaps, with thorns and thistles.
“Not so with the lives of the disciples who chose Jesus for their Guide. Their lives are like gardens of roses from which the world may pluck beautiful flowers forever. The most worthy calling in life… is that in which man can serve best his fellow man… The noblest aim in life is to strive to live to make other lives better and happier.” (Teachings of… David O. McKay, 2003)
As I look back on my life I realize that I could have been so much more attuned to the needs of others and I could have done so much more to help and to elevate my fellow travelers. But life is good and life is not over—yet. I can still follow the injunction inscribed on that stone: “What E’re Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.”