Friday, June 20, 2008

Four Simple Gifts

About ten years ago, with our last child perched and ready to fledge from the nest, we left the house we had lived in for 25 years and moved temporarily to a small town on the other side of the state. Same house for a quarter century = same ward family for that span. Oh, boundaries had changed and people had moved in and out, but we were old timers, elder statesmen. Everybody knew us. We had grown gray serving in that ward.

Suddenly, we were in a new ward, and we found that with the new locality had come super powers: we were invisible. When we walked in the chapel the first Sunday, not a head turned our way. No hands were offered. No eye contact was made, even accidentally. It was as if we didn’t exist. I pinched my husband just to check, but though his buns are spare, I had hold of real flesh. We were still there, all right.

Each Sunday, our son went back home to attend church, since that was the ward he’d be leaving from to go on his mission. As we went to the new ward and sat in the breezeway on cushioned folding chairs, I assumed a pleasant expression, thinking if I looked grandmotherly and kindly (as I most certainly was), at least small children might approach. None did. We were still invisible. I began to look back fondly on the ward where the bishop came up to me four weeks running, shook my hand, introduced himself, and asked if this was my first time in the ward.

After the third barren Sunday, I went home and practiced my Sunday meeting expression in the mirror. It was then I discovered that age and gravity had sabotaged me, turning what I thought was a pleasant, grandmotherly expression into a stern and forbidding look. I probably scared every kid in the chapel. No wonder no one came near.

I was saved from having to pull up my socks, paste on a smile, and stick out my hand first, no matter how out of my comfort zone it was, by my pre-missionary fledgling and his buddy. They stayed home one weekend and came to church with us. Did I mention that they were both good looking young men? The ward was minus two deacons that Sunday, and Son and Buddy were asked to pass the sacrament, so they were visible to every mother and every young woman.

Suddenly, my super power was gone. I was not only visible, I was popular! Mothers flocked around to introduce themselves and find out how long we were going to be in the ward. Grandmothers came, too. And some dads and grandfathers. I met a lot of people that day.

That experience was a great lesson to me. No, not the one about hanging out with good looking guys. The one about the simplest acts of service, the gifts you can give a stranger: Give notice. Give a smile. Give a handshake. Give your name. You’ll never know the good you can do with those four simple gifts.

Return to Neighborhood

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