I was in awe of her. Always. When I was really little, I only knew her laugh and her smile. Later I would seek her out at every family event. I wanted to bask in her charm, her intellect, and her optimistic spirit. I think the first time she wrote me a personal letter was around 1985 or 6 when my first published story came out in the New Era. It was shortly after the car accident that easily could have taken her life. The accident made it so she could hardly write at all and her jaw was wired shut if I recall. It was the accident that would eventually lead her to write her spiritual autobiography "A Place of Knowing," and yet she managed to scrawl a letter of congratulations and kind encouragement for my published story, apologizing for her "sloppy handwriting." It would be years before anything I wrote would get published again, but when my books came out--she read them and wrote to me and called me on the phone. I always felt so awkward around her, her poise and talent loomed large, and yet she always managed to make me feel as if she thought I too had talent and more. She praised me for my writing, my thinking, and my heart.
Those who were lucky enough to know her, understand the need and want to be around her. For women of my generation, we looked at her with admiration. She led the way, a "Mormon Matriarch" who championed women's rights, activism for peace and AIDS awareness. I'm writing about her on my faith journey blog because we talked about faith. In the last ten years whenever I visited with her, faith and the LDS church were the things we talked about and yes politics. She knew of my discouragement. Her faith exuded from her, but it wasn't a forced faith from dogma and guilt. It wasn't an all or nothing faith, it's easy. Easy for her. Easy to love the good that she cherished and discard what she thought was "nonsense." Her confidence in her own mind and voice allowed her to have the ear of many of the top LDS leaders. She worked with several on the Deseret News Board, the lone female voice for much of the time. She did even call church headquarters a number of times to speak to her friends there about her concerns. President Thomas "Tom" Monson said this about her passing: "I am saddened at the passing of my friend, Emma Lou Warner Thayne, a multi-talented and caring individual whose outstanding contributions in literature, in education and in other endeavors have done much to enlighten and to inspire," Monson said Saturday in a statement. "She will be greatly missed. I join with countless others in extending my deepest condolences to her dear husband Mel and to her entire family."
When "A Place of Knowing" became available on audio format, "Tom" called her on the phone because he'd listened to it. She'd said, "you know how he likes to swap stories. We must've talked for an hour or more."
The year she spoke to our book club in 2012 was a hard year for me, as years go. My faith was rock bottom. I had always seen Emma Lou as a beacon for how, who, and what I could be as a Mormon woman of faith. I knew from personal conversations that we thought very much the same way on a lot of issues regarding the church, politics, and eventually about lgbt rights, and yet she wasn't teetering on the brink. She was fully engaged. Church groups regularly invited her to speak, often using her beautiful hymn "Where Can I Turn for Peace" as a theme. She lived and practiced grace. But that year, I felt like I could not be like her. The realization broke my heart. Who did I think I was anyway? No one could be Emma Lou--only Emma Lou. So after that year, I fell off the horse of trying so hard and decided I'd have to be satisfied to be myself. And as a writer and a voice, even though my voice is only a whisper compared to her command, I will continue to find myself and be true to my own voice because after all that's pretty much what any of us can do. Dear Emma Lou, thanks for your kindness, your good heart, your big smile, your humor and your enthusiastic full participation in the game of life. Never willing to sit on the sidelines, you soared. You will always be my hero and my inspiration. Bigger than life, your light will continue to guide us with your powerful voice. All my love. Until we meet again.