One day, when my four children were quite small, I took them to Winchell’s and let them order a doughnut each. Later, back home, as they ate them for dessert, Emily, transported in delight, exclaimed, “I can’t understand anyone going into Winchell’s and not getting a doughnut!”
It struck us as extremely funny at the time. No one goes into Winchell’s and does not get a doughnut—or one of the various first cousins to a doughnut that irresistibly line the shelves. No one goes into Winchell’s just to browse. You go in because you want what’s there, and you come out with it in your hand.
It would be nice if we operated that way in all the other places that we go to. But—strange as it seems once you think about it—we go into lots and lots of places and come out without what was there for us. We just browse. And we miss out on things that are a lot more important than doughnuts. We do it all the time.
Like going to school without getting an education. There are plenty of us who are just browsing or, worse yet, just sitting there while knowledge—rich and important—lines the shelves, there for the taking. Teachers give out information—and our minds are out the window, thinking about our acne problem or the cute girl down the aisle or what we’re going to wear tonight or how to convince Dad we really are mature enough to drive. Homework is assigned, and we take home the material and skim through it or do it fast so we can take a bike ride or watch a television show. We’ve walked out of the doughnut shop empty-handed, while important understanding of life and the world sits on the shelves, neglected.
We will never taste the delights of memorizing one of Shakespeare’s famous speeches so well that when we’re 50 it will still be with us, or of knowing the causes of World War I and II so thoroughly that we’re able to do our share in averting another tragedy, or of being able to recognize a boa constrictor from a python and marvel at the food chain that nature has so cleverly set up. And especially if we come out without the skills of reading and writing and arithmetic and thinking and knowing how and where to find information, we are crippled for the rest of our lives. We have indeed come out empty-handed.
Or like spending all those hours in church and not getting what’s offered us there. How many of us sit in sacrament meeting or in Sunday School class, checking the clock from time to time, doodling on the program, seeing if we can annoy our sister enough to get a small rise out of her but not enough to get our parents furious, or counting the polka dots on Sister Reynold’s dress right in front of us. Again, we’ve spent several hours in the doughnut shop and come away with nothing. And the treats that lie untouched on the shelves are beyond price and offered free.
We have not reached out and taken that wonderful opportunity during the quiet of the sacrament to still our minds and spirits and reflect on the promises we made to Christ and decide how we can be a better disciple. We have missed the meaning of an important scripture that Brother Wilson was giving. We don’t have for our mental filing cabinets that good story of the Prophet Joseph borrowing a neighbor’s twins for his wife Emma to care for after she had lost her own twins in childbirth. We have missed the sincerity in the testimony of Sister Nielsen who was given great comfort during a time of serious trial. These things and more were on the shelves that lay before us.
And if we passed up the “extracurricular” activities that Church membership offers, how even more impoverished we are. Serving the poor by collecting fast offerings, making the new girl in the ward feel at home by inviting her to the ice cream party, going tracting with the missionaries, singing with the Sunday School class at the rest home—all these spiritual enrichments we can miss if we are just browsing. Or just sitting.
Or maybe like living with a family for 18 years and not really getting to know them. A lot of us spend a lot of time sharing space with our family but not sharing much else. We hide what we’re feeling and maybe don’t care what others are feeling. We talk at the dinner table about food or tomorrow’s schedule or something dumb our little brother did. And what do we miss? Hours that could have been spent sharing wonderful things with each other.
We could have told our parents that great story the teacher related about Harriet Tubman risking her life to lead the slaves to freedom. We could have found out what our father’s favorite subject in school was and the one he was the very worst at. We could have talked to our mother about that panel discussion on the changing roles of women and found out what things she thinks are improvements and what are not improvements. We could have cut out some of the time we spend as strangers watching TV and spent the time reading together. Instead of riding in silence in the back seat of the car with our little brother, we could have used the time to find out what he dreamed last night or to tell him a funny story or sing with him. Time together can be spent on nothing or on something. As long as we’re there anyway, we’d be foolish not to build some relationships.
Or maybe we just skim over the top of any good experience that we’re offered rather than getting all that’s there. I will never forget a week I spent on a Greek island, Mykonos. I was in Athens, planning a trip to the island, when I met a woman from New York. “Oh, don’t go to Mykonos,” she said.
“It’s nothing—nothing! Just little shops. There’s no one there but all those foreigners. Don’t go to Mykonos!”
Well, I went to Mykonos. My diary entry on the last day there reads, “I am sitting on our terrace letting my hair dry. There are more clouds than usual in the sky, and I think it is because I must leave the island. Oh, how I do not want to go.”
Even now the memories of that week flood over me like the waves of the Aegean Sea:
Getting up at four to go out on a fishing boat and later eating what we had caught, visiting several of the 365 tiny, white churches that dot the island, going up to the top of a windmill and watching it grind the grain, chatting with the owner of the windmill as I stuck my hands under the stream of new flour, still warm from its recent friction, attending a wedding celebration with great crowds of people dancing the traditional Greek dances, exploring nearly uninhabited islands filled with archeological remains and empty tombs, walking alone along the shore at sunset, wading with the jellyfish, watching a native archeologist make a plaster cast of an ancient Aphrodite, riding on the burro of a young girl selling eel and live lobsters.
I came out of Mykonos filled, and my poor friend from New York came out without even a crumb.
Our days on this earth will one day be over. All around us are trays heaped with the good things of life. As long as we’re here, let’s make the most of it. Let’s not just browse. Or just sit. There’s too much to miss out on. Let’s keep in mind the scripture, “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?” (D&C 88:33). And remember—never, never go into Winchell’s without getting a doughnut!