“Why Brother Graham Closed His Eyes,” Friend, Feb. 1996, 2
Ten-year-old David took a piece of bread from the sacrament tray and placed it in his mouth. He nudged the white-haired gentleman next to him and whispered, “Brother Graham, the bread is here.”
Brother Graham raised his head, opened his eyes, and smiled warmly at David as he took the sacrament. Then he passed the tray on, bowed his head, and closed his eyes again.
David tried to keep his mind on some of his favorite stories about Jesus as the bread and water were passed. But he couldn’t help wondering why Brother Graham always fell asleep during the sacrament, when he seemed wide awake during all the rest of the meeting. I guess being old is like that, he thought. You can fall asleep anywhere at anytime. That’s how Grandpa Owen is, but he’s a lot older than Brother Graham.
The last time he’d seen Grandpa Owen, he was sitting in a reclining chair with his feet propped up. Even though it was June, he’d had a fire in the wood stove and a blanket across his legs. While the family visited with each other, Grandpa dozed off. When he woke up, you could tell that he’d been sleeping because his eyes looked like he was trying to focus them.
When the water was passed, David decided to pay close attention to Brother Graham’s eyes when he opened them. They were clear and alert as he opened them to take the sacrament. And he smiled so warmly at David that he was sure that the older man hadn’t just woke up. Then what is he doing? David wondered.
When his family had moved to Smithfield the previous July, David had felt sad. Before, for years he had stopped by Grandpa’s every day after school. He’d spent a lot of his summers taking walks with Grandpa around the neighborhood, listening to him tell about how things were in the “olden days.”
When Grandpa couldn’t walk anymore, David had pushed his wheelchair. When even that became too tiring for Grandpa, David read to him. But since his Dad had been transferred and they’d had to move, David couldn’t do any of that anymore. He just swung idly in the hammock in the backyard.
“You look like a strong boy,” a deep voice had called out to him one afternoon through a knothole in the back fence. “Do you want a job mowing my lawn?”
“Who, me?” David sat up, startled. “Yes, I guess so.”
“Be at my front door in five minutes if you want the job.”
“Mom,” he yelled as he ran in the kitchen door, “I have a job!”
“Great! Doing what?”
“Mowing the lawn next door! But I have to be at his front door in five minutes if I want the job. Probably three minutes by now. Is it OK?”
“All right. But if you take the job, do the best work you can.”
David was out of breath when he rang the doorbell. “I’m Brother Graham,” the man who answered the door told him. “What’s your name, young fellow?”
“David Andersen,” he replied, taking the out-stretched hand.
“I’m glad to meet you, David. I’ve met your parents at church and have been meaning to get over to your house to meet you for several weeks now, but I’ve been in bed with a summer cold. Meanwhile my yard has grown shabby. I’m mighty glad to have someone take over the mowing for me. The pay’s modest, but I’ll try to be good company for you. Is five dollars enough?”
“That’s great!” David answered.
“Let’s go out back, and I’ll show you the shed where the lawn mower is so that you can get started.”
“Shall I start now?” David asked.
“Go ahead. I’ll sit over there on that bench under the tree and watch, if you don’t mind.”
David pulled out the mower, checked its fuel tank, and started it up. He mowed around the edge of the entire backyard. It made a neat rectangle. Then he moved the mower inside the first rectangle and made a smaller rectangle inside, making sure that the mower blade overlapped the first swath so that none of the grass would be missed. Just the way Grandpa Owen taught me, he thought.
“I can tell you’ve mowed lawns before,” Brother Graham praised him when he finished the backyard. “I think you’ll do just fine. When you finish the front yard, let me know and I’ll give you your pay.”
When David finished mowing, he surveyed his work. It looked great, except for the edges. He remembered what his mother had said: “If you take the job, do the best work you can.” When he took the mower back to the shed, he looked around for a trimmer. All he saw were hand clippers hanging on the wall. Thinking, It will go faster if I use our trimmer, he ran home and poked his head inside the kitchen door. “Mom, is it OK if I use our trimmer on Brother Graham’s yard? He doesn’t have one.”
“That’s fine,” she called from the laundry room.
He grabbed the trimmer and the long extension cord from its hook in the garage and headed back next door. Brother Graham was sitting under the tree, sipping lemonade. There was a second glassful on the table, and five silver dollars.
“I thought you’d be thirsty,” Brother Graham said, nodding towards the glass.
“I am,” David said. “But I want to trim the edges first. Do you have someplace where I can plug in this extension cord?”
“There’s an outlet next to the back door, and another one by the front door. I’ll go find another dollar for you. I didn’t realize I was going to get such fine service.”
David shook his head, “The trimming is on the house.”
After he finished the trimming, he and Brother Graham visited while they sipped their lemonade. Brother Graham reminded David of Grandpa Owen. David was happy when Brother Graham asked him to mow the lawn every Thursday—and to visit any time!
The next Sunday he invited Brother Graham to sit with his family. After that it became a tradition. Every week Brother Graham sat next to David, and every week, David had to nudge him before he took the sacrament bread and water.
It was Thursday, lawn-mowing day, before David next went to Brother Graham’s. His family had taken a few days to visit Grandpa Owen. When they’d arrived, he hadn’t recognized any of them. David thought, almost angrily, Why doesn’t Grandpa know me?
Brother Graham noticed David’s quiet mood when he came to collect his pay after mowing and trimming the lawn. Motioning for David to sit on the sofa, he handed the boy a cold glass of lemonade, then sat down himself.
Pictures of several families hung on the wall. On top of the piano was a picture of a young woman. It was an old-fashioned picture, so David guessed that it must be Sister Graham.
“That’s my wife, Martha,” Brother Graham said. Pointing to each of the family pictures, he named his children and grandchildren. “That’s my family, David. The older I get, the more I realize that all that matters in this life is a man’s family and the other people he grows to love—like his neighbors!” He winked at David.
“So there is a smile behind that sober face today, after all. Is something troubling you, Davy, my boy?”
Tears welled up unbidden in David’s eyes. “That’s what Grandpa Owen calls me. At least, that’s what he used to call me.” He told Brother Graham all about his grandpa and about how he didn’t even recognize David any more. “It just isn’t fair!”
Brother Graham sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. His lips were drawn tight. “I know what you mean, David,” he said after a few moments. Opening his eyes, he leaned toward David. “Martha didn’t know me, either, just before she died. It hurt a lot. Then one day I read a story in the New Testament that changed how I felt about it.
“You see, just after Jesus was crucified, two of His disciples were walking down a road, talking, and a stranger joined them. He asked them why they were so sad. They told him about Jesus and how He had been crucified. They told him how discouraged they were. They had believed that Jesus would free Israel from the Romans. They couldn’t believe that He had let Himself be crucified. They told the stranger that some of the women who were friends of Jesus had gone to His tomb and found it empty. They didn’t know what it meant.
“Then the stranger taught them from the scriptures why it was necessary for Jesus to suffer the things He had, and about the Resurrection.
“By then, they had reached their destination, and they asked the stranger to stay and eat with them. Then, when the stranger took bread and broke it and blessed it and gave it to them, they gasped in astonishment. The stranger was no stranger at all—it was Jesus! How could He have walked with them so long without their recognizing him? they asked each other. ‘Did not our heart burn within us … while he opened to us the scriptures?’*
“Then Martha’s not knowing me didn’t seem so hard. I just became even more thankful that because of our Savior and His Atonement and Resurrection, someday Martha and I will be together again. Her mind will be clear again, and just as the two disciples of Jesus Christ once again recognized, or “knew” Him, she will know me then—probably better than she ever did in this life. Your grandpa will know you, too, David. It will be one of the sweetest reunions in heaven, I’m sure.”
David wiped the tears from his eyes. He knew what the disciples meant when they said their hearts burned. “Thank you, Brother Graham. That helps me a lot.”
After a few minutes of silence David asked, “Brother Graham, may I ask you something?”
“Go ahead, David. Ask me anything.”
“It’s about church. Why do you always close your eyes while they pass the sacrament? At first I thought you were asleep. But I soon figured out that you weren’t.”
“I’m thinking about that story I told you, about the disciples of Jesus not knowing who He was. I try to remember what I’ve done during the week that would make it hard for me to recognize Him. Then I ask for forgiveness for the mistakes I’ve made and for help to do better in the coming week. I really want to know the Savior the first time I see Him face-to-face, David. I believe that He gave us the sacrament to help prepare us for that day.”
“That’s what I’ll think about, too, from now on—and that someday Grandpa Owen will know me again.”
Mr. Graham smiled. “I’m sure that he will.”