This is a sweet message, and it is an easy one to adapt individually without too much issue. I say this because I think at the heart of this—it is addressing isolation. The isolation of the “lost sheep” wandering away from the fold—or even, as the James Faust quote includes—the “brokenhearted parents” who might feel isolated because their child might not have made choices that reflect the desire of their parents- especially in regard to the church.
Now. Because I am short on time this month as a result of… many things, I chose to just focus on that simplicity: addressing isolation. There are times in all of our lives that was have felt isolation- the teen who aches to be included in social activities, the single adult who longs to be married, the mother of young children who finds herself at a loss for conversation outside of her family, the unmarried or divorced mid-single who is tired of being labelled a “problem” because they “can’t get married,” and the widow who makes cash withdrawals from bank tellers just for the conversation…. Isolation is a common illness, one that we have all suffered from at one time or another.
Especially with the haunting of Valentine’s Day, the ability to recognise and address (not solve) isolation, can be difficult. So what can we do?
Truth is, I dunno. There seems no perfect answer. But I think we try. I think that does wonders more than what we imagine.
Take last year. I was at a kiosk in a small mall waiting for my turn to be waited on by the sole salesperson. It wasn’t a long line, but this was the kind of place that cut keys, repaired shoes and had exotic sized batteries for automatic garage door openers that average stores didn’t carry. So each customer needed one-on-one time to address their individual consumer demand.
In queue next to me was an elderly Scottish man topped with a classic TOS. He smiled and we made some small talk. Because the line was taking longer than … small talk, and he chatted about his wife for happily, I naturally asked him what he was getting her for Valentine’s Day.
“Oh, well,” he confessed, tears welled in his eyes, “She’s been gone a few years now. Cancer.” But he quickly resolved back to gaiety and talked, and talked and talked. He needed a listener. So I decided that listener would be me. As I worked my way up and was being served at the kiosk, I realised he wasn’t here to have some work done- he was here to talk. I had seen the shop keeper at this kiosk before, a friendly fellow, always with a ready smile. In the absence customers, I had noticed he was always chatting with elderly visitors. So, because she shopkeeper was engaged in his work, I took it upon myself to be the hearer of the brogue.
The TOS topped man talked of the life of his passed wife, and her death, what she cooked, what he cooked without her, how he volunteered his time since she left, and how the women at some of his places of volunteer were particularly impressed with his recipe for scones. His accent and his personality were deliriously engaging… and yet. I had a sense he was lonely. As he chatted, I thought of a button my Laurel teach had given to me a lifetime ago—“May is Mental health Month” it read in bold letters, and in smaller letters, “Hugs are good for your mental health.”
He was startled. “Aw, naw…” and then, “ya mean it?”
“Of course! It’s Valentine’s!”
Well. He was a cheeky buggar, as they say. I thought a kiss on the cheek would be the icing on the cake, so mid hug, I turned a tad—and—boom, he caught me with a kiss on the lips. I was now the startled one! But as we stepped out of hug, he had tears in his eyes and a hearty laugh rolled from his soul. “God bless ya, my darlin’” he said, “God bless.”
Did I fix his isolation? Nope. Are we best friends forever? Nope. Did I tell my husband I kissed another man on the lips on accident? (not till this post) Did he get baptised/find a cure/become a millionaire? Nope. But for a few moments, neither of us was alone. And that was awesome. Sometimes, just addressing a problem—not fixing it, because isolation is a complicated fix—can make each of our loads a little lighter.
From the message:
As we come to understand that Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, our desire increases to follow His example and serve those in need. Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. … And I lay down my life for the sheep.” Because of Christ’s Atonement, none of us will ever be so lost that we cannot find our way home.
President Thomas S. Monson said, “Ours is the responsibility to care for the flock. … May we each step up to serve.”
So- for February, my thought is to just address an area where the women you visit teach might feel isolated—in not getting out enough, in not having the perfect (insert here), in having lost a parent/spouse/child/pregnancy, or in having gained a new problem that has taken time and freedom away, causing a small space of isolation. Address it, if you can, perhaps not in words. And listen. Listen. Listen. Then give a hug. Just as Christ, the Shepherd would.
And be wary of the lips of elderly Scotsmen wearing traditional Scottish caps! 😉