As an LDS missionary in Thailand nearly forty years ago, I tried to be conscientious and hard-working. The enervating, all-consuming heat, and the constant struggle with persnickety bowels, made steady application nearly impossible; but I soldiered on, taking a Pharisee’s pride in my sufferings and sacrifice.
One blazing afternoon my companion and I were tracting out a large apartment building in Bangkok, going door to door, trying to find people at home we could talk to. I knew that our Mission President, Harvey Brown, and his wife, lived in that apartment building, and that Sister Brown would be home at that time of day. Likely we could knock on their door, be invited in, and have a cool class of lemonade.
But I was not in the mood for a pleasant visit; I wanted to butt heads with an obstinate Thai Buddhist, show them how utterly wrong and unsaved they were. That was our duty, and duty took precedence over all else. So we didn’t stop by, and didn’t get any lemonade, and I’m pretty sure we never got into anyone’s apartment that day.
The next day we were at the Mission Office and I happened to tell President Brown, with unbecoming pride, that we had been tracting in his apartment building and had not stopped by to say hello to Sister Brown. His beetling brows told me this was not something he liked to hear, so I hastened to add that we felt we needed to be about the Lord’s business, not socializing.
His pudgy, pug-nosed face took on a sad, disheartened look as he said “She would have appreciated the visit, Elder Torkildson; she gets lonely up there, all alone most of the day, not speaking a word of Thai. A visit might have made her feel better.”
Had he hauled off and sucker punched me, he could not have left me feeling worse.
There is no follow-up to this brief tale. I never again had the chance to go into that apartment building, and what was there to say to Sister Brown – that I was sorry for not stopping by, when she didn’t even know we were in her apartment building? That would have only made things worse.
I had ignored the chance to be kind to someone, had missed the opportunity to show some slight compassion. And I have never forgotten how little and mean that made me feel. Not at all like an ordained representative of the Savior.
Since then I’ve tried to be sensitive to the stirrings of compassion, and I have also felt the keen sting when others, whom I thought had compassion towards me, have passed me by in my lonely apartment, too busy with “duty” and “responsibility”, or perhaps just plain uncaring about how bleak things can get for each one of us.
The older I get the more I want to embrace Mercy and Compassion, and leave Justice and Duty to take care of themselves.