Sunday, March 14, 2021

My Last Day at the Hill Cumorah

When the cancellation announcement came regarding the Hill Cumorah Pageant, there was collective heartbreak for those of us who love it. Both for cast/staff alumni and for those who grew up watching it.

The Hill Cumorah Pageant has been part of my family’s story for decades. Way back when my dad was serving in the New York Rochester Mission he took one of his recent converts (my mom). Because my mom grew up in that area, we’ve been back to the Hill more times than I can remember. 

My first trip to Palmyra and the Pageant was when I was about 18 months old (that’s the age my daughter will be when the Hill Cumorah Pageant was to have its swan song). Instead, it was announced recently that (due to the COVID pandemic) the Hill Cumorah Pageant has officially ended. As much as my wife and I doubted that Pageant would happen this year, it didn’t prevent any heartbreak.

I was in the Pageant cast for the first time when I was 10-years-old. As an adult, I’ve been part of the cast three times since 2009. I owe a lot in my life to the Hill. Not only did the Pageant and associated service projects, missionary service, and devotionals strengthen my testimony, but as a lonely teenager it gave me a feeling of what friendship and fellowship should be, right as I left for BYU. It’s been almost 12 years since then and I have Pageant friends with whom I still keep in contact with. There’s a special bond between Pageant alumni that I can’t explain, even if we weren’t in the cast together, but it’s guided my adult social life more than I probably realize.

My last time at the Hill was during a road trip with a friend in 2017. It was his first time seeing the Pageant and I was able to reunite with Pageant friends while we visited. At the Hill that day, I wish I’d known it would be my last time seeing the Pageant. Would I have treated that day differently? Would I have paid extra attention to Nephi’s boat or Waters of Mormon scenes? Would I have opened my heart wider when the man portraying the Savior descended?

Life is full of “what ifs”. Bringing the geeky in, one of my favorite lines from Aslan in the Prince Caspian movie is “We cannot know what would have happened; but what will happen is another matter.” What if my mission in Toronto had played out differently? What if I had met my wife earlier? What if I had chosen not to finish my bachelors at BYU (which I haven’t used since)? What if I’d known that 2016 would be my last time in the Pageant cast? What if I’d known that 2017 was the last time I’d watch a performance?

Amulek said, “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.” It’s like a spiritual “carpe diem”. It’s a lesson regarding every part of our lives. I may not be able to know whether my last day at the Hill Cumorah Pageant was lived to the fullest, but I can make sure I take more moments to bond with my daughter, to be close to my wife, to listen in church, or to visit the temple (when it opens again). That's the blessing of the Atonement too... we may not make the most of every moment, but the power of the Atonement can still sanctify my efforts as I try to do better each time.

I had dreams of taking my family to be in the Pageant someday. When that wasn’t possible, I had dreams of taking my wife and daughter to see the Pageant on its last year. Former dreams are no longer possible, but I can still make the most of my Hill Cumorah experience to teach and preside over my family. The Hill shaped who I am spiritually and that will be with me forever. And you can bet I'll be back. Even without the Pageant, the Hill, the Sacred Grove, and Palmyra are home.

PS: Don't miss out this summer when the church puts out a recording on the 2019 Hill Cumorah Pageant which can be viewed online.

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