When Carl Aldal died, I was asked to speak at his funeral. I had no idea how much that request to speak would influence me many years later.
Brother Aldal had been a cement contractor in Minnesota. He seemed to me to be as solid a man as the great concrete statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox that he had cast, which stand on the shore of Lake Bemidji in northern Minnesota.
I had served closely with this good man while he was the Bemidji Branch president; I was then president of the Dakota District. At his death, I was concerned about his widow, Esther, who was confined to a wheelchair and was suffering from diabetes. She had depended on him, and his absence would increase the hardships with which she had lived for so long.
It wasn’t that I expected her to feel bitter about her plight. Sister Aldal had risen above her handicaps and was widely admired. Though she had a quiet personality, her steady smile and cheerful manner were magnetic. She was a saintly and loving woman.
Because of the kind of woman she was and because her loss seemed so great to me, I determined to give a funeral message that would truly comfort her, one that would reflect Carl’s love for the gospel. My desire for this exceeded any I had ever felt in preparing a talk; consequently, I gave it more prayer, thought, and effort than any I had ever given. I was rewarded. The Spirit of the Lord was there, and the talk brought Sister Aldal comfort.
After the funeral, as I said good-bye to Sister Aldal, she was complimentary and appreciative. Then she asked, “Would you do me just one more favor?” Before I had time to respond, she added, “Would you lean down and kiss an old lady on the cheek?” It was the greatest compliment she could pay me, since I knew she was telling me that my words had been a comfort to her.
For ten years after that, I didn’t see Esther Aldal. I assumed she had moved to be closer to her family. The district became a stake, and I found myself in the stake presidency, assigned to visit a ward conference in Bemidji. Few faces were familiar because the ward had grown, but when I looked through the alphabetical ward directory, Sister Aldal’s name was at the top. I asked several ward members about her, but no one seemed to know who she was.
As we prepared for the meeting, I asked the bishop what he would like to have emphasized in our conference sessions. “Home teaching,” he responded. “That is where we can use all the help you can give us.”
When it was my turn to speak to the congregation, I emphasized home teaching. I pointed out not only the priesthood responsibility but also the family responsibility in graciously receiving home teachers. Then I told of my experiences with Sister Aldal and the funeral. “I care about Sister Aldal,” I heard myself saying, “She deserves the best we can give her.” Then I added, “This might put someone on the spot, and you needn’t respond publicly, but I wonder if Sister Aldal is being properly served by home teachers.”
Something good happened then. Brother Crompton, a member of the bishopric, stood behind me and said, “President Andrews, I am Sister Aldal’s home teacher. I would like to report to you that she is visited regularly. She is in a nursing home, and we have been to see her twice already this month; the most recent visit was yesterday.”
“That’s a wonderful account,” I responded. “I hoped that’s what I would hear. And what of the rest of the home teachers in Bemidji? Can each of you respond as positively as Brother Crompton?” As I sat through the closing hymn, I thought to myself, “Do you really care about Sister Aldal, or did you just say that? You may not be her home teacher anymore, or a member of her ward, but you said you cared. Do you care enough to do something about it?”
After finishing the work of the conference day, I asked those who had traveled with me if they would mind one more stop—at the nursing home. There I found Sister Aldal. She was weak and showed no sign of recognition, but I reminded her of the funeral, the kiss on the cheek. A flash of recognition came into her face, and she took my hand and poured out her heart. Tears came for us both as she told of her love for Carl and her desire to be with him soon.
As I drove homeward, it became clear to me that the short visit with this good soul had been one of the richest in all my Church service.
Why is it then, I pondered, when the rewards can be so great, I find it so hard to do the little acts of kindness that are as easy as those few minutes with her? As I prayed for Esther and Carl’s reunion to be hastened, I asked the Lord to help me never to forget the rich feeling that comes from simple acts of kindness.