Yesterday as I drove by her house, I saw her sitting on the front porch with her son and grandson, so I stopped to say hi. She seems to have a little more bounce in her step now. I told her that she seems like she's smiling a lot more lately. She said that indeed she is.
She used to drive herself to radiation therapy for her cancer that had come back, but as of the past couple of weeks she is again in remission. She didn't much enjoy the cobalt infusions that she had to receive on a regular basis, but it seems that for now they have done their job. While she was on the radiation therapy, her protein levels were quite high--which is common for people on radiation treatment--but her protein is back to normal now, which is an even better sign that she has returned to good health.
With her new-found smile, she told me to let my wife know how much she appreciates our friendship. It seems a little thing--to be a friend--until you realize how monumentally important it can be to the one you're a friend with. My friend told me that it's nice to finally have someone that she can feel comfortable around. I wasn't quite sure what she meant. It turns out that her landlord isn't a very nice person, and she often feels that people look down on her because she doesn't have very nice things and because she doesn't come to church very often. Why is that? I think it's because it's common to look upon people who seem to have had a hard life as somehow deserving the life they have lived. But that's not true.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints counseled that:
It is unworthy of us as Christians to think that those who suffer deserve their suffering. In that last day when we are called to the judgment bar of God, do we not hope that our many imperfections will be forgiven? Do we not yearn to feel the Savior’s embrace?It might also be because we're worried that others wouldn't want our friendship. But they almost always do.
It seems only right and proper that we extend to others that which we so earnestly desire for ourselves. With this in mind, let our hearts and hands be stretched out in compassion toward others, for everyone is walking his or her own difficult path. As disciples of Jesus Christ, our Master, we are called to support and heal rather than condemn.
I hope that we welcome and love all of God’s children, including those who might dress, look, speak, or just do things differently. It is not good to make others feel as though they are deficient. Let us lift those around us. Let us extend a welcoming hand.
It's not always easy to take the initiative in making a new friend, but for me it's always been somewhat second nature to be a friend to the friendless or to the less popular. I learned it from my parents. They were friends with the less popular, even though, because they were some of the most popular people in our community, they already had a lot of friends. I will always remember, after my father's passing, a friend of his who, as a now high-ranking officer in the military, came to me and told me that it was largely because of the friendship of my dad that he hadn't "checked out" of life while in high school.
I told my friend that it's hard to see why people wouldn't want to be friends with her, because of all the people I know, she's one that I admire most. She works, you see, for not much more than minimum wage at a state health facility for the aged, for people addicted to drugs, for people who've survived Downs Syndrome much longer than their parents had expected, and for other individuals who are no longer wanted by their families--or don't have families that they know of. She told me yesterday that these people are often referred to as "patients", but "I don't call them that", she said, "because they are my friends." A couple of early mornings ago, after she clocked out at work, she spent about four more hours by the bedside of one of her dearest friends, in those final quiet moments during which death sets in--because no one else was there.
She feels bad because she doesn't make it to church very often. I remind her that going to church isn't the measure of a person's charity. In my dreams I can only hope to be as charitable a person as my friend is.
As I turned to go, I gave my friend a big hug. The best thing about giving someone a big hug is that they give you one back.