Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a popular television ad for an investment firm named EF Hutton. In the ads, one actor would ask another if they had any investment advice. The responding actor would say, “My broker is EF Hutton.” At that point the whole room becomes silent and everyone would listen to what EF Hutton’s investment advice was.
The day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks I witnessed an “EF Hutton” moment in a bowling alley in Lafayette, Indiana, that involved the counsel that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Gordon B. Hinckley was trying to give America during a difficult time.
At the time, I had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just a few months before. My coworkers were aware of my religious beliefs, and while they did not accept them personally, they did take some interest in my newfound faith.
The day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, my coworkers and myself were like the rest of America. We were in a state of shock. We had witnessed in real-time the death of many innocent people. The scenes of people jumping out of windows to trade one form of horrific death for another were scarring. The images of jetliners filled with passengers crashing into the Twin Towers were still fresh in our minds and not yet fully processed.
The men’s Wednesday night bowling league at Market Square Lanes in Lafayette, Indiana, despite the shared sense of tragedy and shock felt collectively by the nation, decided to hold its normal league bowling as scheduled on Sept. 12. The decision was not made lightly. No one wanted to trivialize the loss that had occurred. The horror of the previous day created not only resolve that terrorism would not defeat normal life, and there was a need felt by many to have the sense of normality and friendship the weekly bowling excursion would bring.
The ladies’ league was running late, so many of the members of the men’s league waited in the bar and grill area of the bowling alley. I was there waiting with my co-workers who were on one of the teams with me. In the midst of meals being served, glasses clinking and loud conversation, CNN’s “Larry King Live” was on the televisions around the bar.
Amid the noise, I saw my friend and coworker Skip get up and point and exclaim loudly, “Hey, look. It’s the prophet.” Sure enough when I looked up President Gordon B. Hinckley was on Larry King’s show trying to comfort and give counsel to a grieving nation.
My first reaction was surprise. Skip was not a member of the church, and I was happy and amazed he knew who President Hinckley was and that he understood that members of my faith consider the president of church to be a prophet of God.
However, something more profound about that moment struck me rather rapidly. It was the attention and silence of my fellow patrons at Market Square Lanes. Before Skip announced that President Hinckley was on television, there had been laughter, drinking and eating. What I was witnessing was an EF Hutton moment involving the prophet.
Indiana is not known as being a stronghold of Latter-Day Saint membership. I doubt few, if any, at the bowling alley had ever heard the name of President Gordon B. Hinckley, or knew very much about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, before that night. However, President Hinckley’s words on a night where many pundits, leaders and commentators had already commented on the events of the prior day, managed to capture the attention of a room in a way others could not.
President Hinckley shared with the people of the nation, and those gathered at Market Square Lanes, an inspired message, which those gathered could sense they needed to hear. He shared that he was bringing them “a message of peace and hope and comfort.” He went on to state the following, “Our hearts are all subdued, the losses are so terrible,” he said. “We don’t understand everything, but we do know that Our Father cloves us and watches over us ... that there is beyond this life another which is as real and as certain as the life we now live.”
President Hinckley’s message was simple, direct and well-received. Just like in the EF Hutton ads, everyone in the room was drawn to listen. The only detectable movement was that of an occasional head nodding in approval.
The prophet’s message was only a few minutes. After President Hinckley spoke, everyone went to back to their conversations, eating and drinking. However, the silence and attention gave a unique testimony of the merit of what was being said. The people gathered that sad night in Lafayette, Indiana, understood on some level that they were hearing a message that was unique and important. People recognize in their hearts what is good and true. I felt at the time, in their own special way, without releasing it, the people in that bowling alley gave testimony through their attention that President Hinckley was a prophet of God.
In the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a prophet is a servant of mankind and a living apostle in the holy priesthood who called of God to speak and teach in this name. If I had been more familiar with the scriptures at the time, I might have better appreciated what I was witnessing at the bowling alley that night. In Amos 3:7 we are taught, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” My fellow bowlers stopped and listened to what was being said because they recognized that they were being taught their Father in heaven had a plan for them at a time when this spiritual council was truly needed in time that frightening and confusing.
The good folks in the bowling alley were not alone in their quest for spiritual comfort and answers that night, and Gordon B. Hinckley was not the only religious leader being listened to. Research indicates that attendance at all churches increased after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many after the terrorist attacks found that the best source of comfort, security and personal peace came from drawing closer to God.
There is no doubt that 9/11 was a national tragedy. Like other Americans I carry the memories of that day. However, thanks to an evening spent in a bowling alley in Lafayette, Indiana, I got an opportunity to witness first hand how people seek after God and find strength, peace and healing in their faith.
Dan Cravens lives in Blackfoot with his wife and three children.