Most of us have shortcomings that trouble us and mar our peace.
Many years ago, as a young man, I became the president and general manager of Ballet West, a well-known professional dance company in Salt Lake City. As you can imagine, I was not hired by the trustees because I could dance (which I clearly cannot), but to successfully manage the business side of the enterprise. As to my knowledge of ballet, I was clueless. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a pirouette and an arabesque if I’d tried! Moreover, I had only seen one ballet prior to this most unusual assignment so I was not deeply grounded in this magnificent art form.
Thankfully, I did have an appreciation for ballet and its fantastic entertainment value. As a small boy, my mother had taken me to see a holiday performance of the famous Nutcracker ballet. I was enthralled with what I saw and heard. Oh, how I loved Tchaikovsky’s symphonic music, especially “The Waltz of the Flowers” with its beautiful crescendo. I would play that piece over and over again on my record player, deeply enjoying each note for many years thereafter.
Unfortunately, my appreciation for this singular ballet did not help me in my new position. Following my first day on the job, I immediately recognized my lack of knowledge and noted that I must quickly learn everything I could about this art form, its history and its people if I were to succeed as the president of this company. I am grateful that Priscilla Stevens saw my need and took me under her professional wing. This knowledgeable ballet aficionado was on the Board of Trustees of Ballet West and also on the Board of Trustees of American Ballet Theater, the most famous ballet company in the country headquartered in New York City.
One day, Priscilla said to me, “Alan, you really should come to New York to see America’s finest ballet company firsthand for yourself. It will help you to understand and appreciate what it takes to run a world-class organization. I will be your hostess and introduce you to the manager and dancers of this fabulous company.” So with stars in our eyes, my wife Jeanne and I flew to New York City in the spring of 1980 for an experience of a lifetime.
Priscilla kept her word and was a gracious hostess, arranging for us to stay in a penthouse apartment directly across the street from the Metropolitan Opera House where we would see America Ballet Theater perform Swan Lake. With two tickets in hand and dressed in our finest suit and gown, we entered the most magnificent auditorium I had ever seen to witness the opening night performance of ballet’s most famous production. As the curtain rose on the first scene, there on the stage stood ballet’s most renowned artist, none other than Mikhail Baryshnikov.
As he appeared, the crowd roared its approval and the electricity in the air was palpable. Jeanne and I sat on the edge of our seats, enjoying every precious moment. Never in my life had I experienced such beauty and majesty. Every musical note, every magnificent costume, every set change and every dance step was delicious sensory candy.
As if the performance wasn’t enough of a treat, our hostess invited us backstage afterwards to personally meet Mr. Baryshnikov. We were thrilled to think we could meet this world-famous Russian ballet star. So once the performance ended, we approached the backstage door where a large burly guard stood sentinel, only allowing those with the proper pass to enter. As we waited for our chance to meet the legendary dancer, I noticed an elegantly dressed patron standing near the backstage door who also desired to meet Mr. Baryshnikov, but lacked the pass to do so. However, this refined lady wasn’t just any woman. At the time, she was the most famous woman on earth.
Noting her dilemma, I suggested to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that she could join our party backstage using our passes. “That would be fine,” she replied. So there we were, standing next to the most famous, perfect woman on earth! She was absolutely gorgeous with her beautiful black chiffon dress, perfect makeup, and coiffured hair.
In time, the door opened and the guard let us enter the backstage area where Mr. Baryshnikov waited to meet us. As we walked along, Jackie moved quickly, moving a few steps ahead of us. I suddenly felt a nudge on my shoulder and heard Jeanne quietly say, “Look at her legs!” “What?” I whispered. “Look at her right leg. She has a run in her nylons, Alan!” Sure enough, there in plain sight was a long tear in her sheer black nylons. Oh my goodness, there stood the most perfect, beautiful woman on earth with a run in her nylons. What do you know? She, like the rest of us, must be mortal after all.
So you see, even the very best among us have tiny flaws. We are just like she is: nearly perfect, but from time to time with a run in our nylons.
With that being said, how do we as spiritual beings, having an imperfect mortal experience filled with trials and challenges, secure peace in a troubled world? I learned something about this looking at a flower garden.
When I was running Ballet West, I remember clearly that every day was a great challenge for me; I have never felt so much pressure and stress in my life. (Even now, after being in business for more than forty years, I recognize that running Ballet West was perhaps the toughest assignment I have ever had.) During this same time, I was also a new bishop with responsibilities over several hundred single adult college students. They too were in need of my time and counsel with many personal trials of their own. Add to this that Jeanne and I were the parents of four small, active children with two more joining us during my career at the Ballet, and you might guess just how difficult this time was. Needless to say, there were many moments during this period of my life when I felt completely overwhelmed and stressed beyond measure.
Fortunately, Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was on the Board of Trustees for Ballet West during this same time. Even with his busy church assignment, he found time to become better acquainted with Jeanne and me. In fact, I can vividly remember an evening when he and his wife Ruth hosted us for dinner before a ballet performance in Ogden. They were so kind. Based on this warm reception, I knew Elder Faust would be willing to help me during this difficult time in my life. So I contacted him to see if he would visit with me about how I might better manage my many multiple assignments in life.