Unlike Elder Renlund, my career has not put me in contact with death. And yet, I understand, on a more modest scale, the need and impulse to develop emotional distance from people and problems. Being able to detach myself allows me to function in a world where things don’t always go the way I would have them go.
There’s a downside, though: as long as I remain distant from my neighbors, I cannot “completely fulfill [my] covenant obligation to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.”
Elder Renlund described an experience where his emotional distance was shattered: he had performed a heart transplant on a boy, and the boy lived as healthy and normal a life as he could. A decade and a half after the transplant, Chad ended up in the emergency room in full cardiac arrest. After desparately trying to save him, Dr. Renlund declare him dead. Though sad, he comforted himself with the thought that “Chad has had good care. He has had many more years of life than he otherwise would have had.”
That could have been where the story ended: Elder Renlund had done what he could, and recognized the good life Chad had enjoyed. But, it turns out, that’s not enough: Chad’s parents came in and saw Chad, dead, lying on the stretcher:
For the first time, I saw Chad through his mother’s and father’s eyes. I saw the great hopes and expectations they had had for him, the desire they had that he would live just a little bit longer and a little bit better. With this realization, I began to weep. In an ironic reversal of roles and in an act of kindness I will never forget, Chad’s parents comforted me.
Elder Renlund’s devasating realization: seeing Chad through his parents’ eyes transformed Chad from a person who had lived a good life into someone who was loved, someone who would be missed, someone who was part of a fabric and a community, and who could have had and been more.
We must, Elder Renlund tells us, see others through a parent’s eyes, and through God’s eyes. Only then can we really understand their value. Only then can we truly love and serve them.
There’s a problem here, of course: by seeing them without emotional distance, we open ourselves up to feeling their pain. And that pain can paralyze us. What do we do about that?
In Elder Renlund’s case, he was comforted by the parents who, themselves, were mourning. And Elder Renlund promises that similarly, Heavenly Father will aid and comfort us.
His was a message I’ve heard before: to truly love our neighbor, we need to see them as children of God. But Elder Renlund’s version struck me in a way the message hasn’t before. It’s not enough to intellectually know that our brothers and sisters are children of God—we need to actually see them from the perspective of their loving parents. Only then can I truly see them as they are, and as they could be.