This essay is in response to a concept that we should practice coming "at one" with others. It is not meant to limit the over-arching, eternal enabling power of Christ's atonement, but to find places in our lives where we learn to be unified and "at one" with others.
There was a moment on my mission when I realized that my family was not just the Robert and Julia family, nor the family that extended back to some unknown beginning. My family included the Chinese—not just those I worked with and knew, but all Chinese. I felt deeply connected to all of them. I saw greatness and destructiveness in their culture. I saw tenderness and abrasiveness in their homes. They were a people I came to know, love and feel deeply connected to. They had become my people.
I believed that because of my missionary experience and ability to speak Mandarin Chinese, God would certainly use me to bless his people in China or Taiwan, or Singapore or anywhere exotic where at least one of the main languages was Mandarin. With excitement I would sing, “I Will Go Where You Want Me to Go,” eager to find out where and when I would go. I, with Mark, would be an instrument in God’s hand to change the world.
In fact, Mark and I had an opportunity to go to China for a year after Mark graduated from Law School. It would be the beginning of our life of being an instrument of God, I assumed. For me, more out of habit than true faith, we prayed about it. Surprisingly, Mark and I both got the same answer: For now, our service was in our apartment, raising children, serving in our wards and being good neighbors. Not exotic. Not easy. Not thrilling. Not prideful.
Through those nearly 30 years of staying home to serve, we have been humbled by some of the difficulties of parenting, the reality of people in our ward’s burdens and the blatant unfairness of life. Somehow, by being completely committed to family and church (not just the gospel), we have had incredible experiences of love, service, support and faith within a very limited geographic sphere.
Two months ago, when I was in the throes of preparing for two sons’ weddings and receptions, my husband came home and asked who I knew who could go to the bishop’s storehouse for Steve and Chuck. Steve had just had surgery on his foot and was out of a job and Chuck was his mentally handicapped brother he cared for. At first I tried to figure out who could go before I realized that I could go. Begrudgingly, I drove 45 minutes to the storehouse, spent at least 30 minutes there and then 45 minutes back to the small upstairs apartment these friends lived in. They were not of my faith or my heritage. During that two hour period, I felt like a martyr: I had so much on my plate and here I was giving up time to serve someone else. I felt privileged and righteous. After arriving at their apartment, I started to carry the bags up the stairs, when both Steve and Chuck hobbled down to help me. Steve was in tears of gratitude, shaking his head repeating, “I wish I didn’t have to make you do this for us.” As I went into their tiny apartment, their lime-green refrigerator was opened. Inside was one thing. A yellow box of baking soda. All of the sudden my feelings changed profoundly. I started blinking as I talked with Steve.
Everything came into perspective for just that one moment. The responsibilities of two weddings, receptions, luncheons, travels and humanity all boiled down to a core issue. Relationships. I was not just part of the Blair family, or all my extended family, or even the Chinese world. I was part of all of humanity. Everyone was my responsibility and no one was exempt.
I went home and walked around my beautiful home, seeing pictures of my children from childhood to marriage and wondering about the time I had spent home instead of out serving humanity, and I felt at peace. By not going abroad, I had remained focused on family. By remaining actively engaged in my church, I had been able to connect with people from around the world, help drive a dying woman to her doctor’s appointments, talk with a depressed mother whose daughter tragically died, welcome a suicidal friend into my home for a night as she felt abandoned by her family, go on walks with a woman whose husband had been unfaithful to her a second time, and talk with a young mother dealing with anxiety. Each of these experiences connected me with others in a unifying, atoning way.
There are times I’ve wondered if I have limited my family’s experience by not going abroad. Perhaps. But I have also enlarged their experience by fully engaging in church--by finding the world close to us but unknown to us—in drug-ridden neighborhoods, at rest homes where the widows repeated weekly what they said the week before, in apartments that were so unsanitary that I felt compelled to take a bath after returning home, and with families who are struggling with mental illnesses within. Each time I’ve truly opened my heart to listen to another, I have felt unity—a sense of coming at-one with others and it has enlarged my soul.
When our chorister leads “I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go, Dear Lord,” I smile and sing instead, “I’ll stay where you want me to stay, dear lord.” To me, the place of service is radically unimportant. The heart and action of selfless service, regardless of place or faith, is divine. For me, coming “at-one” with others starts with committed engagement in humanity, in taking time to listen thoroughly, in letting go of judgment like a helium balloon and allowing it to be dealt with by heaven. It is freeing.
But living at-one with others is a temporary state for me. I’m not able to stay in tuned, connected, unified and loving most of the time. But the few moments of true, open-hearted connections with a child, husband, neighbor or stranger is worth continued effort. It is what true religion ultimately is about. It is practicing atonement.
Lately I've had a new experience, that of my sons marrying into other families, and becoming theirs’, not just ours. In awe, I have talked with Brian, David and Josh’s in-laws and found them open to goodness, committed to family and willing to enlarge their love. What has been utterly surprising to me is how easily it has been to love them, to feel that they are not just part of my sons’ lives, but mine too. They add dimension, goodness, breadth and depth to our family. As our circles of influence, being influenced and loving and being love enlarges and connects eternally, I stand in awe. The atonement is not just about sharing grief and pain, but also sharing joy and rejoicings.