Twice a month I do visits to members of the ward or neighborhood as part of my church service. Each time a different woman comes with me, another member of the ward who volunteers. Last night it was a woman name Alena. She is a somewhat recent convert to the church. She was born and raised in Baku, Azerbaijan. When she was 29, she and her six year old daughter drew green cards and moved to L.A. For two hours as we chatted with the women we visited I heard her stories. She is hilarious, artistic, and really positive. I kept thinking how delightful she was and how much I was enjoying spending my time with her.
It must be something about the prospect of moving across an ocean that is making me feel hyper-sentimental, but lately I’ve just been so grateful to be surrounded by remarkable people. We live in a culture of name-dropping. As if having a connection to someone who is well-known or famous earns us credit/value/recognition just for knowing them. Sometimes we drop names of people who don’t even have good character, as if their fame alone, and our connection to it, is worth merit. I was thinking about this recently, and how I have a lot of remarkable people in my life that have never been in a movie or on a magazine cover. And why should I be more grateful to cross paths with Justin Bieber than with my next door neighbor who has personally done or arranged more acts of service for me than I can keep track of?
Last night when the topic of the conflict in Ukraine came up Alena mentioned how she avoids watching the news because that was her life twenty years ago. Soldiers in her streets, banging on her door, shooting guns in her town. A friend of mine always likes to say “there isn’t a person you wouldn’t love if you could hear their story.”
During another visit someone mentioned that Alena played the piano beautifully and I told her I would love to hear her sometime. When I dropped her off she invited me in for homemade banana bread and some piano entertainment. I couldn’t resist.
She played for probably 15 minutes. She never stopped. She didn’t use a single sheet of music. I couldn’t tell when one song ended and a new one began until the melody of the new song became familiar. She played the Beatles, Edelweiss, America the Beautiful, Disney movie soundtracks, hymns and pop songs.
The whole experience reminded me of another experience I had a few years ago where I found friendship in an unlikely place. (I just had lunch with Virg this week, in fact.) And last night as I drove home and thought about moving away from these remarkable people I remembered the words to that song. Make new friends, but keep the old…
Anyway- both of these experiences, both of these women, the way I feel when I am with them, reminded me of a quote from a book I’m reading. (Again.)
“It is as if God’s… gladness multiplies through a progeny that will share in His own capacity for joyful activity and love-filled relationships…God’s desire is to enlarge the sphere of human joy, and we discover the marvelous truth that our joy is His joy.”
(Terryl & Fiona Givens.)
Even if the extent of my love-filled relationships is sometimes just an evening, my heart feels so grateful for a God who arranges them and feels joy in them as well.