Saturday at Temple Square

I had some time to kill on a miserably hot Saturday afternoon in Salt Lake City, so for whatever reason, I headed over to Temple Square, where I had planned on finding a shady spot and reading. I pulled my car into the underground parking lot on West Temple and parked next to an SUV with California license plates and two bumper stickers: “Families Are Forever” and “Marriage = Husband + Wife.” I need not point out the irony of the second one.

I got out of my car and walked up a stairwell into the massive Conference Center and out into a courtyard bordering North Temple. Up close, I noticed that the walkways and courtyard were a dark pink granite that stood out oddly from the light gray granite walls; incidentally, at least one-third to one-half of the granite tiles of the facade appear to have been patched fairly recently, as if they are having trouble keeping their integrity.

Crossing the street, I entered the north gate of Temple Square. For some reason, they have police-style barricades blocking off the approaches to the North Visitors’ Center so that people can enter only through a strait and narrow passageway. I must have looked a sight–I was badly sunburned (long story) and wearing an old t-shirt and jeans–because a smiling, dark-haired sister missionary approached with some literature and then turned away wordlessly to rejoin her companion.

Inside the visitors’ center not a whole lot has change since the last time I was there several years ago, except for a large video screen playing a short presentation about eternal families. Downstairs in a glass case were two mannequins portraying Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which I had not seen before.

Near the restroom a white-haired docent was talking to a balding white guy with several hispanic children in tow. I didn’t hear exactly what he was saying, but I did catch this: “I know his parents wouldn’t approve, and I don’t want to be devious or go behind their backs, but is there some private room where we could take him without having to let them know about it?” The docent said she was sure they could find a place.

Back outside I walked around to the Nauvoo Bell, where the descriptive sign I wrote so long ago still stands (pretty fine writing, if you ask me). I passed several bronze statues depicting events in Joseph Smith’s life and the small stone platform where Orson Pratt had used his telescope, and then I sat on a bench just south and east of the temple, where several wedding parties were having their pictures taken. I thought of the cloudy and windy July day 21 years ago when my wife and I had stood on those same steps, about to begin our married life. Tears came as I grieved for the naive young man of so long ago and for the absolute faith I had once had.

Soon I was brought back to reality by a tour group going by, a sister missionary with a Latina accent and a wireless headset explaining about the difference between a marriage and a sealing. A kinky-haired, elderly woman in a tank top and sunglasses leaned close to her husband to say, “It says that gold thing on top is an angel. His name is Moroney.”

I ventured across to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, again oddly proud of having worked on all the “signage” in the building. Two statues of the Prophet Joseph Smith watch over the ornate lobby, which is kind of beautiful in an over-the-top baroque sort of way. People were milling about, but you can hardly hear anything in there over the roar of two large air-conditioning vents near the front windows.

Back I walked through Temple Square, once again unmolested by the sisters, until I found a spot outside the north gate under a tree on the grass strip between sidewalk and curb, where I opened a book and began reading. Just east was the entrance to the temple, and just as they were fifteen years ago, homeless people stood outside panhandling, apparently in the belief that people coming out of the temple would be in a charitable mood. It wasn’t long before one of them, who looked to be about my age or younger, asked me if I had some spare change. I gave him what was in my pocket (maybe a dollar and a half), and he thanked me and went back to his post.

A few minutes later, one of the other panhandlers approached, a man with bad teeth wearing a filthy blue t-shirt. Just as I was about to tell him I had no more money, he handed me a Sam’s Club water bottle and said, “Somebody gave me more of these than I need. You look like you could use this.” I didn’t know what to say except, “Thank you,” and he smiled and walked back to resume panhandling.

As I sat reading and drinking the water, I thought of the Good Samaritan display downstairs. Of all the people I saw that day, the one man I least expected showed me kindness and empathy. It’s those small moments that are so meaningful in life, and I was deeply moved by this one. I don’t know who that man is or what his situation is, but he reminded me of the human capacity for kindness and charity.


14 Responses to Saturday at Temple Square

  1. Anonymous Literary Admirer says:


    Thank you for a beautiful story. That meant more to me than you can imagine.

    Kind regards

  2. K*tty says:

    I also was touched by your story. It was just what I needed to read today. Some of life’s greatest lessons are from small experiences like this one. Thanks for all the effort that you put into your postings, for making us think and as well as feel. That’s not always an easy thing to do.

  3. Ray Agostini says:

    Very nice story, Runtu.

    A poor wayfaring Man of grief
    Hath often crossed me on my way,
    Who sued so humbly for relief
    That I could never answer nay.
    I had not power to ask his name,
    Whereto he went, or whence he came;
    Yet there was something in his eye
    That won my love; I knew not why.

  4. zackc says:

    Runtu is an angry angry person. This is all anti mormon rubbish. 😉

    j/k Runtu rules.

  5. runtu says:

    Are you channeling bcspace? 🙂

  6. Ray Agostini says:

    Are you channeling bcspace?

    The Right Divider of LDS Systematic Theology? The ONE and ONLY?

  7. runtu says:

    Apparently he doesn’t like my blog with all the “claptrap” I post. LOL

  8. Ray Agostini says:

    Apparently he doesn’t like my blog with all the “claptrap” I post. LOL

    He’s just a bitter believer – he’ll get over it. 🙂

    I read BC’s posts to remind me why I had a 13 year headache. He encapsulates love. If he saw someone hungry or thirsty, he’d ask them whether the voted Republican or Democrat.

  9. runtu says:

    That’s entirely too accurate an appraisal, Ray. He often leaves me shaking my head.

  10. Thinus says:

    Hi Runtu

    My name is Marthinus, I’m a south african currently staying and working in Dubai in the middle east.

    I too was a theology student, in the presbetarian tradition, more specifically the dutch reform church that was the state church during the apartheid era.

    I recently became an atheist and can relate to what you writing as I have been reading on your blog for some time now, I would like to say that it is very interesting and enlightening, don’t have much to say though but will keep reading.


  11. coca Cola says:

    What a great post! And what an unexpected ending – the homeless man being the Good Samaritan to you on Temple Square.


  12. Geez, Runtu….scary parallels in our lives again. Hubby and I were also married in the SLC temple 21 years ago. LOL

  13. Since you mentioned BC Space, in case he’s lurking, I will go on record, and once again say that he is a jackass. Actually, Nehor created a new word I rather like. The term is “jackassishness”. I used it in a sentence on MDB:

    “BC’s jackassishness on KA’s thread brought him to a new low.”


  14. runtu says:

    Hello, Marthinus. I’m glad you are enjoying my little blog. I would say I’m an agnostic at this point. Time will tell where I end up.

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