26951_000_003These women were too old to become my friends. Or were they?
As I walked through the door of the Relief Society room, I avoided meeting the gaze of any of the sisters by pretending to look intently at a fly resting on the piano. Glancing up to see how far back I could sit, I spied a seat on the last row, deep in the corner. I sat down and began to thumb through my scriptures, hoping my studious appearance would help me avoid making eye contact. My mother had been my Young Women leader for four years and was still in Young Women as I, now 18, moved on to Relief Society. Suddenly my peers changed from Beehives, Mia Maids, and Laurels to ladies my mother’s age.
As women filed through the door, I recognized all their faces, yet they seemed unfamiliar in this setting. Sister Pratt had taught me in seminary; Sister Caton used to teach my Sunday School class; I often babysat Sister Bent’s children. How could I ever relate to these women who had so much more life experience than I did?
The chatter began to die down as the clock ticked closer to the start of the meeting. Nobody sat by me. The empty seats surrounding me began to feel like a force field that was keeping me from joining the fellowship and camaraderie the others seemed to share.
I began shifting in my chair, wishing I could go back to the Young Women room to girls with whom I shared interests, friends, experiences, and the same decade of birth. Suddenly my “force field” was penetrated by a whisper in front of me.
“Heidi,” Sister Pratt said.
I looked up to see her beckoning me to sit by her.
“Come sit with us.”
I smiled as a rush of relief swept over me. Although I had chosen to sit alone, I was now grateful for the invitation to be included.
“Don’t ever try to sit on the back row again,” she said with a wink, as I sat down beside her.
Each week this wonderful warmth was repeated over and over again as other caring sisters invited me to sit with them until I felt truly loved by these sisters. It wasn’t long before I didn’t need to wait for an invitation.
I began to reach out to these sisters, just as they had reached out to me. I let their love engulf me and penetrate the wall I had built. I no longer felt a sense of dread as I entered the Relief Society room. These women with whom I had felt nothing in common soon became more than just sisters; they became my friends. I felt a part of the fold.