Close At Hand


In the mid 1980’s I was on a business trip to the city of Seattle, Washington. At the concourse of the airport on my return flight home, I found myself walking behind a very well dressed gentleman. He stood out because he was the tallest man I had ever seen. As I passed him I glanced back and recognized that I had been following Bill Russell, the great NBA basketball player. What I most recall about Mr. Russell was not just that he was 6′ 9″ tall, but his hands were enormous. I mean huge! If you look at your fingers you will see that they are divided into three sections. One section of Mr. Russell’s finger was equal to my entire finger. I have seen many professional basketball games over the years on television and a few at the arenas. But never have I been so close to a professional player so as to gain an appreciation for their physical size. This small “up-close” encounter with Mr. Russell has stayed with me all these years and it has given me a better understanding regarding the physical nature of professional basketball players. It is hard to grasp the nature of anything, unless you are “close at hand”.

Sometimes when we compare our lives to others we think that somehow our trials are harder. We often feel that way because, unlike the trials of others, we feel the intimate struggle and nature of our own challenges. The pain and suffering that come from them are “close at hand”, and are very personal in nature. Even when we hear of others tribulations we might be tempted to think they pale in comparison to ours.  But the reality is that they are “not as bad” only because we are removed from the pain that is associated with that trial. We can sympathize while not really comprehending the agony of the problem. Often when we hear of tragedies that come into the lives of others we are saddened and feel of their pain. Then, after taking a moment of pensive care, we move on with our lives. Most often others tragedies are soon forgotten amidst the bustle of our busy lives. For instance, taking care of a loved one who is disabled can be all-consuming. While we might recognize the sacrifice on the family, we are not living it 24/7 like they are! A few years ago a popular song sung by Bette Midler spoke to the question of seeing things from a distance. Some of the words of the song read:

From a distance the world looks blue and green,

and the snow-capped mountains white.

From a distance the ocean meets the stream,

and the eagle takes to flight.


From a distance, there is harmony,

and it echoes through the land.

It’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace,

it’s the voice of every man.


From a distance we all have enough,

and no one is in need.

And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,

no hungry mouths to feed.

( From A Distance Lyrics by Bette Midler)

From a distance things look different from up when we are up close. Sister Barbara W. Winder, former General President of the Relief Society told this story.

“It is normal for each of us to become discouraged at times. But we need to recognize that we are not the only ones who have problems and to learn to support one another.

It is easy to look at others and think their lives are serene and trouble-free and to feel sorry for ourselves. When I worked with the Lambda Delta Sigma sorority several years ago, one of our national officers was a young woman named Diane. Another young woman who was struggling with a lot of problems expressed her feelings to me: “None of you has any problems. Look at Diane. Diane is perfect; she has everything going for her.”

As she said those words, I inwardly reflected on Diane’s life. She had lost her sister to cancer—the sister who, with her children, had been Diane’s only living relatives. Diane’s mother had preceded Diane’s sister in death just a couple of years earlier, and Diane’s father had died while Diane was a child. Since her sister’s two children were motherless, Diane had quit her job at the Church Office Building to take care of those preschool children full-time. She lost all of her benefits—retirement, seniority, everything—in order to care for them. She cared for those children for a year and a half until her brother-in-law remarried and could again provide nurturing care for them at home.

I thought, “This young woman does not see at all what Diane has gone through.” Sometimes we need to recognize that others have problems, the same as we do, and that the purpose of this life is to be tested and to experience both joy and sorrow” (Barbara W. Winder, “No Joy without the Struggle,” Ensign, Jun 1988, 70).

I have had sufficient experience to know that everyone has burdens to carry. Sometimes the burden on some seems lighter, but it is only because we have not borne it upon our own backs during the heat of the day. I look at professional basketball players differently since I met Mr. Russell that day in the airport. Seeing him “up close” gave me a better perspective of their size. From Liberty Jail, the prophet Joseph Smith once cried out to the Lord in his agony and received an answer back from the Lord, among which was this statement:

“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? (D&C 122:8).

Take courage in knowing that Heavenly Father loves each of us. He knows of our pain and is aware of our suffering. Look to Him for peace in the troubled times of your lives. He is very “close at hand” and like no other, understands our life.


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