This evening I had the privilege of attending Lex De Azevedo’s Gloria, The Life of Christ, Part 1. In addition to being an absolutely spectacular and moving performance, it was also a dedication to the memory of the Provo Tabernacle and the spirit our entire community enjoyed in that beautiful building. Mayor Curtis urged all in attendance to take a few minutes to write down our own experiences there, to reflect on the “soul” of that special place and what it meant to us. My memories, while not as plentiful or poignant as those President Holland and others shared this evening, are nonetheless dear to me. The Provo Tabernacle was just a building, but it was also a marvelous piece of history which myself and thousands of others were in some small way entwined in.
Back in the good old days–1986, to be exact– when I was a Freshman at BYU, I had my first glimpse of the Provo Tabernacle. I was on a date, headed to a now non-existent dance club on Center Street. Unfortunately, I ended up having a slight problem that evening. I was a young freshman, just seventeen years-old, and one had to be eighteen to enter the dance club. I don’t remember the particulars of how we worked out that evening, but I do remember standing outside, feeling embarassed and frustrated, as we discussed the matter near the shadow of the tabernacle. And while I don’t remember the outcome of that night, I do remember my enchantment with BYU and Provo. It was my first time downtown, and I loved the quaint, old buildings and the small-town feel of things. It was a magical time in my life, and downtown Provo seemed to add to the magic and uniqueness of my BYU experience.
Several years later, I started attending the tabernacle on a regular basis. Instead of returning to our California roots, my husband and I were thrilled when he was offered a job at Provo City and we were able to return to Utah just eight months after we’d graduated and left. Soon we’d settled into our first home and attended the first of many stake conferences at the tabernacle. Our family had a favorite bench, on the first floor, north side, second row in. We sat there for years, freezing a little in January and enjoying the occasional breeze in July, when frustrated parents exited the nearby side doors with their fussy toddlers in tow. Our children often asked when we could move up to balcony seats (as if those required a change in status), and we’d told them we’d consider it when everyone was old enough that we didn’t have to worry so much about one of our children pitching himself or herself over the edge. We were still a few years away from that one. Sorry kids. Wish we’d let you have your way at least once.
I walked the back hall area with our own fussy toddlers, nursed my babies in the way-too-small mother’s lounge, and stood in line with more than one of my little girls hopping up and down as they waited for their turn in the also too-small bathroom.
One year I sat in the choir seats and had the opportunity to sing at conference. I heard my husband’s name read from the pulpit as his ordination from Elder to High Priest was announced when he was called into a bishopric. I looked forward to someday hearing our children’s names announced when they received mission calls. For the past few years our older children have walked up the steps after conference to retrieve the flowers from the podium so their dad, the bishop then, could distribute them to ward members.
In addition to stake conference, we’ve sat in those pews enjoying performances by the Utah Valley Handbell Choir, the Utah Valley Symphony, and numerous other concerts and performances. Probably most memorable are all the years our family Christmas traditions have included the Living Nativity the first week of December. My husband participated in the pageant twice, once as a wise man and once as a prophet. For years we attended the outdoor show and sat huddled in blankets, watching as the lawn outside the tabernacle was temporarily transformed into Bethlehem, animals and all. When the show moved inside a few years ago, we rejoiced in the warmer seats, but admittedly missed the authenticity of the outdoor setting. Just a few short weeks ago–on my birthday, December 3rd–our family sat in the tabernacle, once more enjoying the short program and time to reflect on our Savior’s birth and the Christmas season. I remember looking up at the star suspended from the ceiling and wondering how it had been attached and what a job that must have been, as the ceiling is so high. On the heels of that curious thought came the more profound one of what a miracle the real star of Bethlehem represented to those who saw it and to all who remember it now. As I’d been so many times before in that sacred place, I felt my heart touched as I thought of our Savior Jesus Christ and all his miraculous birth means to me.
Simple memories, yes. But important to me and my family. Seeing the tabernacle on fire brought immediate tears of dismay. Knowing we’ll never sit on that same bench, pry another child’s fingers from those same pillars, or stare up at the beautiful windows and woodwork brings a pang of sadness to my heart. Yet the prayer said before the performance tonight put it all into perspective. We’ve lost a beautiful place we all loved, but let us take away from that sorrow more empathy for those everywhere who have lost so much more. We live in a blessed, beautiful valley. Compared with much of the world, our life here is peaceful, abundant, and happy. May we ever remember that and remember to cherish and feel gratitude for what we do have, simple or grand as that may be.