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Taking Care of Our Own
By Aaron Johnston November 12, 2004

There's an old saying in the Mormon community: When the going gets tough, the casseroles start coming. And it's true. We Latter-day Saints give each other food during difficult times. It's our way of expressing sympathy, love, and affection.

That's because we've learned that food, not laughter, is the best medicine for all of life's troubles. Say, for example, Sister Larson is getting surgery. How do we help her? Tell her a joke? Tickle her? Put our hand in our armpit and make pumping motions?

No. We bring her food. We rap our knuckles on her front door and hand over a steaming dish of tuna surprise.

This is a marvelous cultural practice.

To free food I say, Hallelujah.

Because let's face it, whether we're feeling up or down, we have to eat. Food is a necessity of life. Our bodies need nourishment. If we don't consume food, eventually our heart stops beating, our bodies stiffen, and we create a new and unpleasant odor.

Plus food provides a pleasant distraction from whatever ails us. Everyone enjoys eating. Good tasting food makes us happy. Eating it is a pleasure.

So if the food you bring over is good tasting, you can be sure it will dispel some of the grief and pain and put sunshine in its place.

I know this because my wife recently had a cesarean section and the ward brought over several meals. It was wonderful. We ate like kings.

One of our meals was so great, in fact, that now my wife now has some serious anxieties about giving other people the food she prepares. You see, a nice couple in the ward brought over a hot meal, which included a salad and some fancy schmancy salad dressing; a huge bouquet of flowers in a nice vase; a bottle of sparkling grape juice; and one of the best darn cakes I've even sunk my teeth into. It was amazing. I felt like Louis the XIV. Or was it the Louis XVI?

In any case, they really outdid themselves. So now my wife is afraid that if she ever has to take food over to this couple, it's never going to feel like enough. Whatever she prepares will seem like crackers and cheese to these people.

Especially if it is crackers and cheese.

So we're praying that they never get sick and that the husband never loses his job. That way, we won't have to blow half of my paycheck on preparing them a nice meal.

But food isn't the only remedy for life's speed bumps. It's the most commonly used one, yes. But not the only one.

Wouldn't it be great if we could give away some of the other necessities of life?

Take sleep, for example. Wouldn't it be great if we could give eight hours of sleep to someone in need?

Everyone enjoys sleeping. And we all feel better and more relaxed when we're well rested. What could be a better gift than that?

Knock! Knock!

(I answer the door.)

ME: Brother Ronin, what a pleasant surprise.

BRO. RONIN: Hello. I hope I'm not disturbing that new baby of yours.

ME: Goodness, no. He's fine. Won't you come in?

BRO. RONIN: Oh, I better not. Gertie and the kids are out waiting in the minivan. We just wanted to come by and bring you this.

(He hands me a plate of eight hours of sleep).

ME: Sleep? Ah, Brother Ronin, you shouldn't have.

BRO. RONIN: Well, Gertie and I know how difficult it can be to get a good night's rest with a new baby in the house so ...

ME: Wow, this is so sweet of you.

(My wife Lauren walks up.)

LAUREN: Who is it , Dear? Why, Brother Ronin, how are you?

ME: Look, Honey. The Ronins brought us some sleep.

LAUREN: (tearing up) How thoughtful.

BRO. RONIN: Well, shucks.

ME: This is great. Can I return the plate to you on Sunday?

BRO. RONIN: Take your time. No rush. Ya'll have a good night.

ME and LAUREN: Bye now.

(We close the door and down the sleep immediately.)

Absurd? Maybe not. Science is always full of surprises. Who knows what the next five years will bring.

And maybe we'll be able to give away sleep without needing a plate. That would be nice. One of the drawbacks of having several meals delivered to your house in a single week is that it's easy to forget whom all the dishes belong to.

Oh sure you remember who gave you food. It only starts getting tricky when you have to remember which of the salad bowls is the Hanson's and which is the Needlemeyer's. And who gave you that clear Pyrex dish? Was it the Simpson's or the Brundlehammer's?

And more importantly, who has a name like Brundlehammer?

But whether it's sleep or Hamburger Helper or Kellogs Rice Crispy treats, gifts from fellow Latter-day Saints do what no other physical remedy can: they remind us that we're loved by people who empathize with and understand our pain. And isn't that what Zion is? A group of people whose hearts are pure and focused on the well being of the others?

And of course we didn't invent the practice of giving away food. Folks have been doing that since the beginning of time. And we certainly didn't invent brotherly kindness. But isn't it wonderful that so many members seem to understand this principal so well?

My wife and I are certainly grateful. The transition in our home from one child to two has been relatively easy thanks to the generosity of the people in our ward.

Of course, now that our son is one month old, the meals are coming less frequently. And frankly that's too bad.

So we've been thinking: What can we do to get another round of free food?

Having a baby got us a lot of grub, so we've considered pretending to have another one. But some people in the ward are smart and won't believe us. Plus, we'd eventually we'd have to produce a baby to verify our claim.

So we've decided that Lauren and I have come down with a terrible illness. It's very bad. And we can't remember the name of it, but it has a lot of consonants, and our doctor said it was very dangerous. He also said that getting near a refrigerator or stove, even if the latter isn't turned on, will worsen our condition.

"Whatever you do," he said, "don't cook. Heaven help you if you so much as fire up the microwave. Welts and warts and tattoos will pop up all over your body and your hair will all fall out."

"But, Doctor," I said, "whatever can we do?"

"Ironically, there's only one way to treat this malicious disease," he said. "You got to eat. You got to sit down at a table and gorge yourself silly. And I'm not talking about Ramen noodles here, folks. I'm talking about five-star-restaurant gourmet food. Truffles and veal and chicken parmesan."

"But where or where can we get food like that if we can't cook?" my wife asks, tears streaming down her face.

"I don't know," the doctor said, "Merciful stethoscope, I just don't know."

So there you have it. Sister Johnston and I aren't doing so well these days. I'd tell you to spread the word, but knowing you guys, you'd do something about it.

But don't worry about us. We'll be fine. <cough cough>

Copyright © 2004 by Aaron Johnston

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