Just before Christmas, I attended the funeral of a man who impacted my life more than he probably ever knew. John Harris, who served as a Bishop in the Catonsville Ward (now the Ellicott City Ward) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, helped to ease my transition from California to Maryland three years ago.
Bishop Harris was the first person I met here in Maryland (other than my realtor). When I flew out in November 2008 to sign the papers for our new house, a friend back in California advised me to call the Bishop of our new ward to let him know we were going to be coming soon. A quick search of the church website told me that our new house was located within the boundaries of the Catonsville Ward (a congregation of the Mormon church), over which Bishop John Harris presided.
Our conversation was short (perhaps 5-10 minutes at most), but I introduced my family and gave him our new address. I explained that we would be moving into our new home in mid-January. He was polite. He said he was very glad I’d called, and he looked forward to meeting the whole family in January. It was one of those conversations you have millions of times, where you say the same old things and no one really thinks about it. (Just like, when someone asks how you’re doing, the acceptable response is always “Fine.”) I returned to California without another thought about it.
However, over the next few weeks, as we prepared for our cross-country move, I received phone calls and emails from other members of the Catonsville Ward. Bishop Harris had passed my information along to several people and encouraged them to call and answer any questions we might have about the area. By the time we arrived in Maryland, we had friends waiting to welcome us.
When one man (who has since become a beloved friend of our entire family) approached me and said “I think I need to get to know you better. I’m trying to figure out why Bishop Harris thinks you’re so wonderful,” I realized that Bishop Harris wasn’t simply spouting the appropriate polite phrases when we met. He truly was glad to meet me and excited to meet the rest of my family. My fears melted away, and I knew we’d be fine here in our new home.
Ironically, we didn’t ever develop the kind of close friendship with Bishop Harris and his family where we’d get together over dinner and board games. We didn’t spend any time together at all, outside of church activities. But each one of us knew that Bishop Harris loved us and thought we were worth something. And because we felt like he thought we were kind of special, we began to act like we really had something to offer our new friends. My shy, introverted daughter came out of her shell and found the courage to let her talents shine. My rambunctious son discovered that people still knew who he was, even when he stopped clowning around and let his serious side show. I realized that I didn’t have to kill myself trying to be everything for everyone. People liked me just because I was me.
I’m certain that John Harris never knew how much he changed my life. I don’t think many of us realize how the little things we say and do will alter the lives of the people we meet. But the little things really do matter, and a kind word spoken sincerely can make the world a better place.