When I was a child, my mother was called as the Young Women President of the ward. As always, she threw herself into her calling, learning all she could about the program and acquiring various materials to help her serve the Young Women better. Among these materials was a song book called "A Song of the Heart" and a cassette tape of the songs.
When I was about 10 years old I began to be very interested in music. I remember listening to various tapes over and over. This Young Women's tape was one of them. It was (and still is) a little stuffy for teenagers. At the same time I loved it.
One song in particular stood out to me. It was called "Little Things". There is a line that says "let me be the one who sees the tear behind the smile." I didn't understand what that meant. I remember asking my mom about it. I used to think about that a lot. I wanted to be the kind of person who had the mysterious ability to know when people were sad and didn't show it. I have tried for over 20 years to develop this skill. Sometimes I think I have it. Sometimes I am sure I don't. But that is not actually the point of this post.
Years ago, we were attending a small ward in Germany. We met in an office building with stairs in the lobby. The ward used the two lower floors for church meetings. On this particular day, I was coming from the room that served as the chapel. I was carrying my daughter, who was about 14 months old, and a diaper bag, a bag of church stuff like scriptures and manuals, a few jackets, and holding hands with my son who was about 2 1/2 years old. Oh yeah, and I was about 7 months pregnant with twins.
Across from me was the staircase leading to the second floor. Another young mother was sitting there with her toddler son. As I came through the door, her son dropped his cup and it rolled towards me. She asked if I could get it. For a moment I actually considered it. I looked back at her, sitting on the lower steps holding only a child and said "No". I wasn't mean about it. I just realized that it would be easier for her to do it than me. I would surely loose my careful balance and never get it back.
At first, she looked like she was going to protest, as if my "no" was offensive to her. Then she looked at me. REALLY looked at me and smiled. "Okay" she said. Then she looked around, as if looking for someone else to ask. She didn't offer to help me with my burdens at all. She actually kind of made a scene about having to get up and get the cup.
This episode has always puzzled me. I have a number of thoughts about it. I won't speculate about the motivations of that young mother's actions. I have many theories. But what I would like to point out is the moment when she looked at me and actually saw ME. Or at least a little bit of me.
Sometimes the people in our lives are like set peices. We don't really pay much attention to them. They are just background and don't seem to matter to us. Maybe they are tools, props that we use for our own needs and then disregard when they are out of that scene.
This should not be the case among the Saints of God. I am continually surprised by this...blindness to see the needs of others. In Mosiah 18 we learn that when we are baptized we make a covenant "to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death..." I find the apparent negligence of this covenant unsettling.
I am not trying to pick on that mother who first illustrated this point all those years ago. I am sure we all have been in her place, overlooking the needs of others because of our own needs. At the same time, I am frustrated by the number of times people make really lame excuses for not helping others, not serving in their callings, not reaching out when there is a need, or even asking for help when they could easily do it themselves.
It is easy to get stuck in a certain way of thinking or doing something. That doesn't mean it is right. We are often counseled in the church to "pray until you feel like praying". The same applies to serving others. We must serve until we feel like serving. We are not meant to live life in a bubble, ignoring the needs of others and satisfying our own desires.
I am reminded of a potluck dinner I attended. We arrived late and people were already eating or in line. I made my way to the dessert table, carrying a tray of cupcakes, my children all around me waiting for me to tell them they could go eat. The room was crowded and the table was full. People began taking cupcakes from the tray, as if I was a server at a dinner party. No one attempted to make a place for the tray on the table. I did that with one hand while holding the tray with the other. I felt like I had entered a chicken coop with a bucket of feed.
It would not have taken much for someone to offer to help me with the cupcakes. It would have been nice if they hadn't bumped into me while I was making a space for them. It would have been a little thing. Just like the song. I don't know that I will ever master the ability to see the hidden tears. I will keep working on it. But I hope that I will always be able to see the obvious ones and do what I can to dry them.