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May 21, 2012
Life on Planet Kathy
Channeling My Inner Norma
by Kathryn H. Kidd

Back in the Dark Ages, I was called to be secretary to the Relief Society president in our ward. I was ideally suited to be a secretary. For one thing, I was one of the few people I knew who had a home computer, and who knew how to use it. (I told you this was the Dark Ages!) I could make charts and graphs that would make any organization president stand up and dance. Any organization president except Shirley, that is.

Shirley was a little Canadian lady who inexplicably had an accent that was more Irish than Canadian. She had two counselors, but one of them worked full-time and the other one spent her life buzzing to club meetings and social events. That left me.

Although my job was to be a secretary, Shirley didn't want me for anything secretarial. She wanted me to go with her twice a week to "visit the leyyydies." Our congregation was composed of the "newlywed and nearly dead," with very few middle-aged women in between. Most of our members were in the nearly dead category, and in fact on several occasions we had to host three funeral dinners in one week.

Although many of the Relief Society members were old, some of them were real pistols. I had a whole list of ladies I looked forward to visiting. In fact, I very efficiently made a chart of all the Relief Society members on the computer, planning to list the days we visited each one so we could do it scientifically, leaving none of them out.

I had not counted on Shirley. With absolutely no regard for my organizational genius, she insisted on visiting the ladies she thought needed visiting, even if we had visited them just the week before. More often than not, our route included Norma.

Norma was not the kind of person you'd want to invite to a party. She was a whiner, and her only subject was herself. A long-time widow, she was stuck at home due to her poor health. She didn't look that fragile to me, but she insisted she was at death's door. She was always in pain, as she quickly informed everyone, and nobody ever went to visit her. I knew exactly why, because I didn't want to visit her either!

Whenever Shirley would turn the car toward Norma's house, I would try to distract her. "Let's go see Letha," I'd suggest. "Or Lillian! That's the ticket! We haven't visited Lillian yet!" But Shirley would steer her big Cadillac unerringly toward Norma's house. I don't know if autopilot existed in those days, but if it did, Shirley's Cadillac had it.

Sometimes Shirley would make a concession to me, and we'd go visit the other ladies. Rather, we'd try to visit the other ladies. They were never home. So after our knocks and rings went unanswered, we would get back in the car and end up at Norma's.

I endured this for as long as I could. (It probably wasn't too long, because I'm not a patient person.) At some point, however, I did some whining of my own. "I can't stand Norma," I said. "Why don't we ever get to visit the fun people?"

She looked at me and sighed. As patiently as she would have been if she were trying to explain quantum physics to a small child, she said, "Kathy, the people you want to visit are never home because they have lots of friends. Everyone wants to spend time with them, just the way you do. They don't need us. Norma is always home because she has driven everyone else away. She's the one who needs us, and that's why we go there."

I wish I could say that after Shirley told me why we visited Norma, I was able to visit Norma with a happy heart. I wasn't. I wasn't that kind of person then, and I'm probably not that kind of person now. Some people are a lot more fun to spend time with than others. That's the way life is.

But I did learn two lessons from this. The first one came from Norma, and that is this: No matter how much physical pain you're in, people don't want to hear about it. It's not that they're heartless; it's that they can't do anything about it. When you tell people about your aches and pains, you're giving them a problem they can't solve. That makes people uncomfortable, and they avoid you. If your body hurts (and I'm speaking to Kathy here), suck it up and smile. At least you'll have visitors that way.

The second lesson is even more important. The harder a person is to love, the more he needs it. The person you wouldn't invite to a party is probably the person who needs a party the most. God didn't command us to like everybody, but he did command us to love them. And sometimes that means spending time with people who have driven everyone else away.

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