By Kari Diane Pike
I don't understand how a room or a bus or even an elevator can be filled with people who never speak a word to each other. This may simply come from my own need to express myself with words, but I find the silence very awkward. My children have been embarrassed on more than one occasion by their mother talking to the stranger next to them in line or sitting in an auditorium. Experience has taught me that if the right questions are asked, two people can nearly always find a connection. Finding that connection breaks down barriers and can lead not only to new friends, but even help us reconnect with old friends and long lost relatives.
Have you ever heard that theory about the Six Degrees of Separation? Someone even made up a parlor game using the actor Kevin Bacon and how everyone is connected in some way and we can usually make that connection in less than "six degrees" or steps. When you belong to a world-wide organization such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the world becomes even smaller, often connecting people in less than three degrees.
For example, a few years ago, my husband and I took a flight from Salt Lake City to Phoenix. I think I saw at least four other flights from various airlines going out that Sunday night all close to the same time. The terminal was packed. For whatever reason, Doug's ticket allowed him to board first thing. I was stuck at the end of the line. By the time I joined him, Doug was deep in conversation with the young man sharing our row of seats.
He introduced himself as Mike. He looked terribly familiar, yet I knew I had never met him before. He definitely reminded me of someone else we knew. We learned that Mike was headed back east to interview for a PhD program in physics. We also learned that that made him the favorite grandson because his grandmother always wanted a physicist in the family. He said he was from Bountiful, Utah and had ten siblings. Most of them had advanced degrees and as we learned more about this family, Doug said,
"Do you mind me asking what your father does for a living that your family can afford the education to earn all of those advanced degrees?"
Mike grinned. "Oh, my dad is a cardiologist."
Without so much as a glance at each other, Doug and I both exclaimed, "You're a Muhlstein! And your uncle's name is Randy and your dad's name is Brent!"
Mike's sat back in his seat and his eyes opened wide. "How do you know my name and how do you know my family?"
Doug explained that while we were dating, Brent and Randy were two of Doug's roommates at Brigham Young University. Mike looked just like his dad and his uncle. Plus, Good Housekeeping magazine had published an article about Mike's dad and their family. Although we had lost touch, we read about their travels and challenges as a large family with a father who had a demanding and successful career.
Part two of that story happened two years later. While babysitting for my nephew in Phoenix, two sister missionaries knocked on the door. One of the name tags read "Sister Muhlstein>" Yep. You got it. She was Mike's sister.
I'm sharing this story because I have learned the value of reaching out to others and trying to make connections. This past week, I checked into the surgical waiting area at Primary Children's Hospital while our granddaughter had surgery on her hip. Other parents and grandparents huddled in family groups around the room. As I looked for a place to sit, a few acknowledged my greeting with a brief nod or a tired half-smile. Most of them seemed uncomfortable when I made eye contact. I eventually found a seat across from the receptionist's desk. Soon after, a woman about ten years younger than myself, and her late-teen or early twenty-something son sat down near by. Her name tag told me that his name was Nathan. A few minutes later, the Nathan left with the nurse.
I read on my Kindle, and studied for next week's seminary lesson. An hour crawled by. No one said a word. I thought about the circumstances that would necessitate their presence and I knew it had to be stressful. The mom fidgeted and kept glancing at her watch. I wanted to help her feel less anxious. I said a little prayer and felt impressed to just start talking. Find the connection. Be her friend.
"Do you ever wonder why time seems to drag on forever when we need it to go fast, but when we really need a lot of time, it flies by?"
Nathan's mom gave me a startled look as if thinking, "Are you talking to me?" She smiled and her stiff shoulders relaxed a bit. "I know, right! Waiting is never easy. My son was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago and he's having his last treatment today and they are removing his port. It wasn't supposed to take this long."
I learned that they lived in Pocatello, Idaho. They had made the three hour drive multiple times every month in order for Nathan to receive the best possible care. Well, there was a small connection. I lived in Pocatello when I was two years old. I also had a friend who had moved her family there. "I know Pocatello is a good sized town, but would you happen to know Lana Borgalthaus?"
Before Lana's name was even completely out of my mouth, Nathan's mom's face lit up. "Oh yes! She is the person who finally diagnosed Nathan and got us the help we needed to get him better. I love her!
We chatted for over an hour, sharing our family struggles with medical complications and our testimonies of God's love and tender mercies. I wish I had asked her her first name. We left the waiting room within minutes of each other and I felt like I had made another wonderful friend.
I've been pondering on the many ways we are all connected. I suppose I could dig really deep and study quantum physics and learn all the formulae to show those connections, but because I know who I am and why I am here, I don't need to. All I need to know is that I am a child of God who loves me... and so are you...and you...and you. Because we are all connected, we can lift one another's burdens and help each other on this mortal journey. The connections we build are the only thing we take with us to the next life.
So dear friends, next time you find yourself in that silent room, reach out and make a connection. I promise you won't regret it. You might even find it fun. Plus, I would love to hear about it.
Life is magnificent!