Today in testimony meeting, a brother I have written about before stood up to bear his testimony. As I've said in previous posts, my history with this guy hasn't always been positive. I think he's a genuinely well-intentioned man, and he does a lot of good for many people, but he has also been guilty of making racist, homophobic, and chauvinistic remarks in the past, and he can be somewhat of a busybody, so he has rubbed me the wrong way at times. That being said, he's one of the hardest-working people I know; he is far more service-oriented than I am, and has often helped neighbors in our area (including my mother); he is very devoted to his ailing wife; and he has a strong testimony of Jesus Christ and ardently tries in his own, sometimes ineffectual way, to draw others closer to Christ. I think in some ways he is a product of an older generation and, frankly, I think he is often ignorant that some of the old-fashioned, and sometimes just plain wrong, ideas he has may be hurtful to others. This man is a very "letter-of-the-law" kind of personality and very often, I feel he misses the forest for the trees. But I do not think he is a bad man. He can sometimes be misguided, frustrating, and hypocritical, but I do not think he comes from a place of hate at all. Ignorance, yes; but not hate.
He actually called me specifically last Sunday to tell me how much he enjoyed my song and what a beautiful voice he thought I had. I thought that was kind of him.
I admit that there are times when I see him when I feel frustration and annoyance towards him. Today as he got up to bear his testimony, my first thought was "Oh, what stupid thing is he going to say now?" Instead, he got up and related a very simple story about how when he was 13 years old, he had lost a $100 bill that his father had given him to purchase supplies for their farm. $100 now is a good amount of money. Back then (this probably would have been the late 30s), it was an enormous amount. Of course, upon discovering that he had lost the money, he was devastated. He quietly retreated to a nearby ditch (he had been mowing his family's alfalfa fields) and prayed to his Father in Heaven to help him find the money. As he continued mowing, he noticed the bill had somehow become attached to the wheel and was rotating with the wheel, but was otherwise in undamaged condition. He said this experience had shaped his faith in his Heavenly Father, and as I watched him relaying this experience (and reliving it), I didn't see this man I always see; I saw a little, helpless boy, and I actually felt a feeling of great pity and compassion for him.
This man has been in my mom's ward for 32 years, and I have known him since I was seven years old. Even though I know he has a strong testimony of the gospel, and even though he is quite outspoken in Sunday School classes or Priesthood meetings, this was the first time in a while that I remember him bearing his testimony in Sacrament Meeting.
He is quite old now, and the years are showing. He was in a very serious plane crash before he moved into our ward in the late 70s and as long as I have known him he has had a speech impediment and a considerable limp (both results of the crash). I know he served as a bishop prior to joining my mom's ward and has served in many callings in my mom's ward. When he was younger, he shared his opinions quite often. He still does, but his comments often seem irrelevant, and I feel teachers are pretty much humoring him and that his comments are glossed over in order to get to the "real point" of the lesson. I think when he raises his hand to say something, people just know that he's going to say one of his "isms," and they think, "Well, there goes Brother so-and-so again." In a way, he's become kind of irrelevant (I don't even mean as an individual, but as force in the ward unit). He's just an old man; a dying breed; kind of a windbag that people tolerate.
When I say this, too, I don't mean people in the ward have stopped caring about him or loving him or that they don't respect what he may have gone through in life. I just mean that what he has to say seems less important than it did when he was younger and had more of an active role in the ward. At least, that's my impression. I could be wrong. Perhaps I'm simply projecting my own attitudes towards him on to how I think others feel about him.
I say this not to be mean, but because as I watched him at the podium today, I just felt pity for him instead of the hard feelings I sometimes feel. I felt compassion instead of annoyance. I saw him as a man who has spent his whole life serving God the best way he knew how, in spite of any flaws, weaknesses, or imperfections he may have. In a way, he looked tired and old, but as someone who had endured much in life and had done the best he could with what he had. And I thought, "That could easily be how I describe myself when I am his age." Brother so-and-so isn't a perfect man by any means. He sometimes drives me crazy and sometimes frustrates me to no end. He has even made me mad. But he is a child of God, just like me, with his own character flaws, just like me, and I do believe he has done many good things in his life and has tried to live a good life and bless others' lives even if sometimes his methods and style are more of a hindrance than a help to him. I suppose I could sometimes say that about myself. We may be opposed quite diametrically politically and philosophically, but when it comes down to it, are we really all that different in other ways?
I guess all I'm saying is that as he hobbled off the stand, I saw him in a new, and much more compassionate light. Something in me felt he has not very many years left in this earthly realm.
These positive feelings were further brought home when the last sister to give her testimony specifically brought this Brother up as someone who had helped her a great deal. This sister and her husband used to live next door to my mom. Then the husband cheated on her and left her and their kids for another woman. This sister has moved three times since then (all within our ward boundaries), and I know it has been a very rough road for her at times. But she expressed how much she loved this ward and how helpful many people have been to her during these trials, and she specifically mentioned this Brother by name, and I thought, "She doesn't find him irrelevant. She doesn't see him in the way that I sometimes see him, or if she does, it doesn't matter because he has helped her in other, very valuable ways.
I guess my whole point of this post was it was just nice that the Spirit helped me see this Brother in a more compassionate and Christ-like manner. I appreciate Heavenly Father helping me see him in a different light. It was nice to be reminded.