The recent post about ballroom etiquette reminded me of the traumatic – yet ultimately spiritual – experience one pioneer ancestor of mine endured.
Hyrum Ricks Sr. was born on Pioneer Day, July 24, 1858. When he was less than two years old, his family moved to Cache Valley where he grew to adulthood. His father (Thomas E. Ricks, 1828-1901) would later become perhaps the most famous Ricks, colonizing Eastern Idaho and founding the college that used to bear his name in Rexburg.
Hyrum was born with club feet. Confined to hobbling around the house, he spent much of his childhood enduring the taunts of the neighborhood children. He did, however, develop a powerful upper body, and was reportedly the only young man able to beat the local Indians at wrestling.
He later wrote, “I was born with deformed feet, and like most afflicted persons, I have always been very sensitive. I have often imagined that I was slighted and overlooked when there was no real intention to do me wrong. I have sensed this fault in myself and have struggled hard all my life to be considerate and forgiving, and overcome it.”
About the time he turned 13, he saw in the newspaper that a group of surgeons from the National Surgical Institute was coming to Salt Lake and were willing to treat deformities. He has some money saved, and his father arranged for Bishop William B. Preston to escort the young man to Salt Lake for the surgery. The operation was primitive but successful. Follow-up treatment lasted four years. “The treatment caused constant pain,” he wrote. “In school, my brain seemed dull. I wanted to do great things, but with the constant nagging, it seemed impossible to think clearly.”
He was, however, now able to walk more easily, and when his friends invited the 16-year-old to come with them to a Sunday School dance, he accepted. He wouldn’t be able to dance, but he could enjoy the music and the company of friends.
He later recalled, “My young companions were happy and gay; their movements were graceful. The sweet strains of music from the quadrille band thrilled me and quickened every fiber of my sensitive nature.
“As I looked upon the joyous faces of my young friends, I sensed deeply my affliction and my inability to take any part in the pleasures of the evening. Tears began to roll down my cheek and before I could regain control of my feelings, a good sister of mature years noticed me and came to me with kind and sympathetic words. Others joined her.”
Embarrassed and ashamed, he turned away and hurried home, lay down on his bed and sobbed. He found himself praying, “ask[ing] the Lord to tell me why I was afflicted. I asked him if I had sinned in my first estate, and [why] I should be required to pass under such a severe affliction in mortality.
“ I soon felt a good, peaceful influence take possession of me, and I knew that the Lord had sent me comfort,” he reports. “A still small voice whispered in my ear, ‘The Lord is displeased with none except those who will not acknowledge his hand in all things. Your affliction was placed upon you as a check against your impetuous nature. It is for your own good and for your salvation.’ ”
That experience changed his life. While it didn’t stop the emotional or physical pain, the insight allowed him to go on and become a success. As an adult his sense of understanding and honesty was sought after, and he was asked to serve a two-year term as probate judge in Rexburg. It was while he was serving in this position that he was approached by the Improvement Era to contribute a story from his life that might inspire the youth of the Church. He did, and the story above was printed in an article titled “Comfort to the Afflicted,” in 1900.
It closed, “That scripture came to me in the middle of the night twenty five years ago, and has had a deep and lasting effect upon my life ever since… I wish to say to others who sorrow because of their affliction, be comforted; for the hand of the Lord is in all things for some wise purpose.”