Who Do We Think We Are?

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“Who Do We Think We Are?” New Era, Feb. 1988, 12

First Person:
Who Do We Think We Are?

Three short parables on seeing from a celestial viewpoint.

A Personal Parable

When I was in the seventh grade I walked home from school with my friend Mardean, who was an eighth grader. A new girl, Sandra Kleinschmidt, moved into our school, and we found that she walked home the same way. She was taller than we were and naturally a little gawky at that age. We found her comical and made up a few code words so we could make fun of her without her understanding. I don’t really believe my friend Mardean thought that game up or even completely understood it, but I knew what those code remarks meant nevertheless.

Then the class learned that Sandra’s father was in some way involved in television production. That was a rather new medium then and quite glamorous to us. Suddenly we were much nicer to Sandra. What if she should invite us home? What if her father should see us and be struck with our great looks or talent or both? What if we should get to be on TV or, at the very least, get to see a live show?

Many years later I recalled that phase of my life, and I suddenly envisioned Sandra Kleinschmidt’s Father—not the TV producer—but her eternal Father in Heaven. I imagined him coming to say, “Yes, Sandra is my daughter, a princess, a potential queen. You, Jean, are also my daughter, and I am so disappointed in your behavior. My daughters behave with grace and courtesy, with love and compassion.”

Who did I think I was as I walked home from school?

Who did I think Sandra was?

A Japanese Lesson

The summer after my junior year in high school, my friend Barbara found out that the Methodist church around the corner from my house was a Japanese congregation and that they held Saturday classes in Japanese culture for the elementary school children. Barbara, my sister Carol, and I thought it would be fun to learn to write those beautiful Japanese characters and to make a kimono, so we asked if we could enroll. We had fun using the brush and ink to make the strokes for ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, ga, gi, gu, ge, go. We learned to recognize and write our names and to sing the famous song “Sakura.”

We were just about finished with our kimonos when we learned that the church was having a bazaar, so we decided to go see the children perform their songs and display their calligraphy. While we sat waiting for the performance to start, we studied the program and found that we could recognize one or two Japanese words: the name of one of the songs, “Sakura,” and next to it our names—Barbara, Jean, and Carol. We looked at each other in dismay. How dare they put us on the program. We weren’t little children. We were not going to get up, three grown-up girls, and sing a silly little song in front of all those strangers.

We continued to fuss about it indignantly. I turned to the seven-year-old girl behind me just to verify that those were the symbols for our names. “Yes,” she smiled, and then she patted my arm and said, “Do it with grace.”

I turned in my seat much abashed to have been put in my place by a little child. I saw then that to get up and simply sing the song would be much less conspicuous than to sit and fuss and protest about our dignity and rights. And I understand now that to simply have done it would not have been enough. The child said, “Do it with grace.” I see that it is more than doing it and more than doing it well: it is something about attitude, willingness. It means being gracious, like a princess, like a queen.

Who did I think I was that I would disrupt and spoil their program? Who did I think they were, the little children and the old pastor and his bent little wife?

A Promise across Time

I stopped by to see my sister-in-law shortly after her son had left on his mission to Ireland. She shared his patriarchal blessing with me. It said that in the premortal existence some of his friends had hesitated to try mortality for fear they would not make it back to their Father in Heaven. It seemed too risky. But, the blessing said, Rick had promised to help them. They still hesitated, “What if we are born in another country far away?” Rick was reminded that he had assured them that he would find them and help them even if they were born far away from him in another country. Rick’s blessing reminded him of that commitment.

It was not revealed to Rick during his mission that he had indeed actually met one of those friends from the premortal existence. He simply did his best as a missionary, and he continues that kind of service now that he is home.

When I think about Rick’s blessing, I wonder, “Might I possibly have made similar personal commitments so long ago to help friends, brothers and sisters, to return home?”

Who do we think we are? Who do we think they are—the tall thin girl struggling out of her adolescent cocoon, the little old woman who doesn’t speak English and smiles and bobs and puts your name on the program anyway, or the friendly Irish dry cleaner who has no interest in the gospel? Because the veil seals our memories from the premortal life, this life is like a masquerade during which we not only try to learn who the lady in pink and the monster in rags are but also who we are. How else can we know our way home?

For me one of the most thrilling scriptures—and one of the most challenging—is 1 John 3:2. It says that when we see Christ we will be like him, that is, we will have become like him. I think that as we come to understand the Savior, we understand better and better who we are.

I hope that when we meet one another in the next life we won’t be shocked to find that the man who stuttered every sacrament prayer and wore very tired old suits and worked as a night watchman at a warehouse is a priest and king in a celestial world, that the girl who never had a brand-name pair of jeans, and the boy who delivered papers and rode a bike when most of the others his age had cars are sacred royalty. When we leave this mortal life, will we be surprised to find that there were royal robes waiting for us, only to see that our earthly behavior has shrunk us somehow in body and spirit so we cannot be comfortable in such splendid clothing? Who do we think we are? I hope that when we meet one another in the next existence, we can look each other directly in the eyes, that we will know each other, that we knew each other all along.

Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh