Everyday Caring

By Elaine Reiser Alder

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    1983 Article Contest First Place WinnerService is not always convenient

    The times when we are the busiest seem to be the times when others need us most. Last September, for example, my kitchen was strewn with fruit, and canning equipment was steaming on the stove. The phone rang, and the woman introduced herself as a coordinator in the International Student Office at the university. She knew that we had many young people in our ward and that my husband, the bishop, might recommend one to help a student arriving from abroad the next day.

    The lady explained that there was an Egyptian girl coming to the airport. Could we please arrange for someone to meet her and take her to the dorm? My husband and I thought carefully and decided on one girl who we knew might help. We called and asked her to take the assignment. Then I simply didn’t think about it again; there were so many other activities that day—canning food, caring for my ailing mother, getting the children off to school.

    The following afternoon a phone call came from the dorm office. Our ward member, Kathy, asked, “What am I supposed to do now? They don’t have a place for Amany to stay. I have to be at work by 3:30.”

    I answered, “Well, you had better bring her to our home and I’ll show her how to bottle fruit!”

    A few minutes later a beautiful, slender Egyptian girl was on our doorstep, her hair wrapped in a scarf, a long skirt covering her legs to her boots, and luggage piled at her side. We were total strangers, but I welcomed her to our home and invited her to dinner. As one might expect, that night we ate pork and beans—my usual quick meal during the canning season. Our guest was a Moslem who didn’t eat pork. But we smiled about it and prepared something else. We enjoyed our visit with her, especially the spontaneous introduction to Egypt and her people.

    We invited Amany to stay with us that night, but since she had been traveling for two days without much rest, she chose to stay in a motel nearby where she could sleep off her jet lag. So we phoned a reservation for her.

    At 9 P.M. my children and I drove Amany to the inn. We helped her get settled in the room, and as we were saying good-bye at the door our little boy, Lin, reached up and put his arms around her. “I love you already,” he whispered as he hugged her. That melted us all, and we each shared hugs and kisses with our new friend. She wept. We choked up. We had known each other less than six hours.

    The next day we realized that Amany had no apartment, no car, no friends. She needed to set up her banking, learn where to shop, get acquainted with our community and campus—all the things inherent in a move to a new place. What started out as a simple phone call turned into a demanding task for us. We spent many hours helping her feel comfortable in our town. Each time we visited her we were greeted with hugs and kisses; every contact ended with a smile and an “I love you.”

    When Anwar Sadat was assassinated I visited Amany to offer her our sympathy. She was tearful but appreciated that someone cared about her feelings when she was so far from home. When my mother passed away I phoned Amany to tell her and she, in turn, called me daily that week to encourage me.

    Service is not always convenient. I didn’t ask to be involved with this young lady. In fact, due to the circumstances in our home at the time, I probably would have avoided offering. Yet now our family considers her one of our best friends.

    Sometimes it is the unexpected opportunities for caring that teach us the most. For example, there are four single women living on our street. Two of them are widows, one has never married, and the fourth is divorced. Also on this street is a fine couple of another faith. The husband is retired and has taken the responsibility to be alert to the needs of these ladies. We have to race him to shovel their walks. He trims lawns, repairs garage doors, fixes machines, prunes trees. We enjoy trying to keep up with him in helping these neighbors. He delights in his new title, “the best home teacher on the block.”

    When his wife broke her leg, he called from the hospital with a message. “I just wanted you to let the ‘network’ know of our situation,” he said. What he meant was, “let the Church members know.” And so we did. They and the neighbors rallied to the aid of our non-Mormon friends.

    We are grateful for the example set by another family in helping my father when we lived too far away to do so ourselves. My father had heart trouble, so he bought a snow blower, hoping that he could be independent in cleaning his sidewalks during the winter. But he found that it was still too much strain on his heart. So he gave the blower to his next-door neighbor, a fellow quorum member, and said, “If you will clean off my walks, I’ll furnish the snow blower and the gas. You can use the snow blower however else you desire.” That kind neighbor not only cleared my father’s walks, but those of other neighbors as well. He never disappointed his elderly friend.

    Such steady service, often unassigned, can have long-range impact. We sensed this recently at my mother’s funeral when an immigrant family came to pay their respects. Decades earlier Mother had heard that their little boy, five years old and newly arrived in America, was having difficulty learning English. My mother invited him to our home each day for more than a year where she not only taught him to speak English, but also how to read. Now 35, a well-educated businessman, he is a monument to someone who cared.

    I am aware of two sisters who were assigned to go visiting teaching to a woman who was an inactive member of the Church. The Relief Society president was concerned because previous teachers had become discouraged. It was challenging for the new visiting teachers to get motivated when they didn’t know how well they might be received.

    The first month they waited until the final week to make an appointment. But they persisted, and as the months went by, they realized that they were becoming friends with this sister. Their relationship grew, and they visited more often, well beyond the routine of monthly duties. The visiting teachers were alert to family illnesses and were there to console the sister at the death of her grandchild. They shared an interest in reading and music with her, as well as plant starts from their flower gardens. As vegetables came into season, a bucketful was delivered to their friend and recipes were exchanged.

    All three enjoyed a mutual admiration and genuine caring for each other. The friendship is firm and has continued for many years.

    The Relief Society handbook states: “There are no callings in Relief Society that require greater tact, better judgment, keener insight, more prayerful preparation, deeper sincerity of purpose, or a warmer heart than that of the visiting teachers.” (P. 22.)

    While assignments are made to assure that home and visiting teaching commitments are completed, it is the kind acts of caring that come when least expected which bring the greatest joy.

    I was taught a lesson in spontaneous caring recently when I went to a nursing home one afternoon. I was drawn to a room where a patient was singing “I walked today where Jesus walked, in days of long ago.” I decided to find that person because he sang it hour after hour. When I walked into his room I said, “You have a nice voice. I can tell you like to sing.”

    The gentleman answered, “Yes, I used to belong to glee clubs when I was young.” Then he smiled and said, “I have some other songs. Would you like me to sing them for you?”

    I was self-conscious. I didn’t know what to do with a solo concert. So I hesitated, saying, “Yes, I would like to hear you sing, but I will do it when I come again.”

    Five days later I returned to the rest home and decided I now had the courage to be Alfred’s one-person audience. I walked in and asked, “Have you been singing today?” “No,” he replied. “There’s nothing to sing about today.” I was crushed that I had not let him sing when he wanted to.

    We talked about many things, then I told him I was going to visit others. I assured him that I would continue to visit him every few days. He began to cry. He put his arms up, gave me a hug, and said, “I love you. I’ll wait for you.”

    If we are not careful, we may miss opportunities to serve because they come at a time we least expect them. We may find “there’s nothing to sing about today” and fail to serve one who needs us most. Avenues for compassion surround us. They are within our reach every day.

    Illustrated by Cynthia Clark

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    • Elaine Reiser Alder, mother of four, lives in the Logan 22nd Ward, Logan Utah East Stake.