President Oaks on the painting “The Forgotten Man”
During his service as president of Brigham Young University, President Dallin H. Oaks became familiar with its notable collection of Maynard Dixon artwork.
Now First Counselor in the First Presidency, President Oaks said in a recent interview that a painting from the BYU collection touched his heart directly.
It was called “The Forgotten Man”.
The painting depicts an unlucky man sitting on a sidewalk with his feet stretching out into the street. Behind him, crowds of people pass by, paying no attention to him.
“And yet,” President Oaks explained, “you see the sun shining on his head. His heavenly Father knows he is there. He is forgotten by the passing crowd, but in his struggles his Heavenly Father knows he is there.
As president of BYU, he hung the original in his office. Years later, when he left BYU and accepted a position on the Supreme Court of Utah, the university commissioned a master’s student to create an oil-on-canvas print. It was given to him as a gift and still hangs in his office in the church administration building.
“I’ve been with this painting for almost 40 years, and it speaks to me and reminds me of things that I need to remember,” President Oaks said.
Painting also speaks to my heart. How many times a day do each of us come across a “forgotten man”? How often do God’s children come under our notice?
I had the opportunity to observe President Oaks this summer in Rome, Italy, where he delivered a keynote address at the Notre Dame Summit on Religious Liberty.
Few things seemed to fall under his notice.
In addition to speaking himself, he took the time to listen to the other presenters. He also spent time before and after these sessions engaging in conversations with attendees. And when asked to offer a blessing over food at a luncheon, he included portions of the Lord’s Prayer in his beautiful Heavenly Petition – a sweet and powerful acknowledgment of the sponsoring organization and its many members in the room.
For me, the prayer reflected President Oaks’ constant awareness for those around him, his daily efforts to ensure that no one was “left out” in his path.
President Oaks was in Rome to speak about religious freedom. I was touched, however, that during an interview he spoke not only of religious freedom for believers, but also for the unbelievers.
“The only way to advance religious freedom in the world is for people who enjoy religious freedom to think about the situation of people who are not religious, who are not believers, who have not yet seen the importance or cannot enjoy religious freedom in the country where they live,” he said. “We need to think about religious freedom for all of God’s children. do not respond to what our divine Heavenly Father expects of us.
His feeling was clear. It is not enough for a privileged few to connect with divinity. In a world where religious freedom is denied to some, all must be able to feel — as in the painting of “The Forgotten Man” — the light of the Lord.
President Oaks emphasized this again in his keynote address.
From Rome, in what he called “the great cradle of the Christian faith”, he was not content to advance a singular cause. He called for “a worldwide effort to defend and advance the religious freedom of all of God’s children in every nation of the world.”
His speech was a plea for unity and cooperation toward the common goal of religious freedom for all.
It was given in defense of each of us – and of every forgotten man.