I have three brothers. One of them has a birthday today. My favorite memory with him was the time he was visiting me from out of state and we both got the worst summertime cold known to man. I say man because what woman ever had a “man cold?”
I suppose when I get annoyed with my husband for succumbing to a man cold, I would do well to remember that summer day with my brother some 16 years ago.
He and I sat on the sofa trying to decide if we were too cold or too hot. But neither one of us wanted to move, so changing the thermostat or getting a blanket wasn’t the answer. I reached over and gently pressed my finger against his arm.
I can’t explain why, but I began laughing and asked, “Is that the worst pain you’ve ever felt?”
He laughed too, and then slowly lifted his arm. I saw his finger coming to poke me back, but I made no attempt to defend myself. Too much energy.
He landed the poke just short of exhausting his strength. “Ow!” I laughed. “Isn’t it amazing how much that hurts?”
Then we both started into a painful fit of coughs, I asked him to hand me the kleenex, he asked me if I’d just said something, and we remained in that helpless state for a long afternoon, caught somewhere between delirium and delight.
You know why that day was so memorable? Because my brother and I had not experienced much unity before then. Having an identical twin made it easy for me to think that everyone should be like, well, me.
My brother, six-and-a-half years my junior, didn’t fit any of those expectations.
I fought him and who he was for a solid eight years before a tearful conversation one evening in which he articulated feelings I thought him incapable of. We had moments like that every few years from then on, but mostly I set out my most sensitive buttons and dared him to poke them.
Illness is the great leveler for people like him and me.
So are wildfires, ice storms, distance learning, and quarantine, it turns out.
I found a resource my Sunday School teacher, John Taylor, put together for his teenaged scholars nearly 25 years ago. Titled “The Second Coming [of Jesus Christ],” it is color-coded with scriptures telling of 1) The signs/events/conditions preceding the Second Coming, 2) The signs/events/conditions accompanying the Second Coming, and 3) How to prepare for the Second Coming.
I used to pay a lot of attention to those first two categories. I didn’t want to be the last to know. The whole process sounded pretty scary (Revelations, anyone?). But when I dug this packet from a box of remembrances recently, I got curious about the preparing part.
I have seen varying degrees of emergency preparedness throughout my life, and it is a part of our family’s priorities that we keep a supply of food, water, money, medicine, and other items in case of financial, political, natural or other calamity.
But when a friend suggested a few months ago that with everything going on, perhaps the Second Coming was imminent, I didn’t share his conclusion. Just because the world’s pain had struck closer and closer to home for us didn’t mean those watching for Him were truly prepared to welcome Him.
So I read the highlighted scriptures on preparation. The ones that caught my eye were from my reading recently in the Gospel Study schedule for Doctrine and Covenants. In section 38 verses 24-27 were these lines: “Let every man esteem his brother as himself…be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.”
A lot of us could write long lists of everything that has gone “wrong” the past few months. For example, my kids have had far fewer school days because of 1) schools scrambling to become distance learning centers, and 2) wildfires that displaced kids and staff in our district (their school was in the evacuation zone). Then 3), as we rounded the corner of winter and had our eyes locked on this beacon called, “Returning to in-person learning part-time,” a monstrous ice storm hit, knocking out power for over a week. I think that added up to about 25 days of missed instruction by then.
Add in quarantine time for getting COVID last week, and we’re at more than 35 days of missed instruction.
But you know what? I’m not looking for what’s gone wrong. I spent a long time afraid that the “last days” would be a time of chaos and devastation. But whatever happens around me, I still get to bring my own perspective. Instead of seeing what is falling apart, I see unifying conditions.
So much threatens to divide us. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself how it feels to have someone you love disagree with you. Do you feel a wedge enter your heart? A little quickening in its pace, a tightening of that space where you would feel love, if only you didn’t feel threatened by the image of their face saying words that aren’t yours?
For all that I do to understand where other people may be coming from, it takes some very deliberate thinking to stay my best self when hot-button topics arise. I forget sometimes that others cannot push my buttons. That’s all on me.
So it has been a blessing to watch as a town–at times torn by the issues of the past year–has joined together to clear debris, to provide electricity and heat to each other, and to mend what was broken. Hearts are beginning to be knit together. Whatever has pulled us apart loses power when we become unified.
We are people of action, so how do we become one?
By seeing others as their true selves.
I often pray that I will see myself and others as God sees us. I had always learned that I should have charity, also called the pure love of Christ (see Moroni 7:44-47). Instead, I’ve had a lot of uncharitable thoughts toward myself as I repeatedly blundered opportunities to show love to others. Whatever I had, it wasn’t charity because charity never fails, right?
“When am I ever going to figure this out?” I would berate myself.
Whether I had heard this before and forgotten or it was just plain new to me, I gained an insight from a Church leader during a local conference a couple weeks ago (broadcast, so not a superspreader;) when he told us that Jesus Christ has already developed pure love. That’s what the Atonement–His suffering in the Garden and on the Cross–created. It is up to us to access that love. We don’t need to remake ourselves in order to have that love. We just need to ask God for it and then let it in.
Do you want to feel unified with someone, even yourself? Consider that person through the eyes of pure love. Let them share the light that is uniquely theirs. Move from a place of judging and wanting to change that person. Your fellow being, when aligned with their true identity, can’t help but convey love, truth, and compassion with you. But you have to step into alignment with them instead of looking for what’s wrong. Your heart will change, and then everything changes.
I keep putting this principle to the test as my husband and I work with our ill bodies to attend to our excruciatingly normal children and all of the work that needs to be done around here. Add fear into that equation, and I have flipped out many times, often within moments of noting how blessed we are. I yell still. I am tempted to throw things still. I really want to swear…well, there have been a few, “Oh, my hell’s” now that I think about it…and I have apologized a ton for not “getting it” when the earlier sickies displayed symptoms I didn’t get…until I got it.
So I just keep asking God to help me feel that love. Because “though I speak with the tongues of man (maybe woman since my husband doesn’t swear, but I do?) and of angels,” I might as well be the sound of “brass or a tinkling cymbal if I have not love.”
[The final link takes you to the lyrics for Song for the Unification of Europe. The words are an adaptation of 1 Corinthians 13 in Greek. I came to love this song through a friend whose religious, sexual, and life views were very different from mine, but I never struggled to love her and learn from her. A person being true to their identity makes that sort of connection very easy.]