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A Foot Infection and Something Like Remembering

Elder Russell M. Nelson taught that the Spirit of Elijah is “a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family” (“A New Harvest Time,” Ensign, May 1998, 34).

Recently, I developed a bad staph infection following some minor foot surgery. The infection was surprisingly horrific. My foot swelled to something unrecognizable. It reminded me of nothing so much as the awful pictures I’d seen in high school and college of people suffering from elephantiasis. Touching it was excruciating, walking unthinkable. Now, some 18 days and two rounds of major antibiotics later, it is still red and painful.

During the course of this infection, my dad reminded me of my great-grandpa Oberhansly who died of sepsis stemming from an infected thumb. The story sounded vaguely familiar, so I nodded an uncertain, “Oh yes. I’d forgotten about him” and returned to bemoaning my own plight.

my great-grandparents with their 11 surviving children

Over the next few days, however, thoughts of this great-grandpa kept returning to me. And this time, I found myself feeling, strangely, like he was aware of me. Likewise, I felt strangely aware of him. I felt my mumbled words of “I’d forgotten about him” tumble about in my head and come back out in a gasp of, “I can’t believe I forgot you!” As I said those words into the silence, I seemed to sense a charming half smile and a reply of, “It’s about time, you silly girl.”

Only, how could I have forgotten him? I never knew him. My dad never even knew him. He was only 56 when he hit his thumb with that darn hammer (while doing some of the carpentry work he was so skilled at and so well-known for). He’d died when my grandma (his 12th and last child) was only eight, but I felt a sudden longing – almost a homesickness – to know his story; to gather any information I possibly could -- as if maybe it would help me fill an empty spot in my soul that I could only describe as “missing someone”. It was almost as if something about our shared experience of infection had created a slight thinness in the veil – just enough for me to remember – if not the person, then, at least, a connection and a bond.

I have felt such loss as I've searched only to find so little. He’s only my great-grandpa. My dad’s grandfather. That shouldn't be so far removed that all I have been able to discover is a paragraph’s worth of information – a little about him having come from a German speaking region of Switzerland, a bit about his skills as a carpenter, a sentence about his love of music and dancing, one short story about the tongue lashing he gave to a doctor whose misdiagnosis left one of his daughters blind in one eye (long before malpractice suits were ever a possibility). But that is all.

Still, it hasn’t been a loss. I’ve found something else rather great – something I hadn’t known was possible for me. I’ve found myself part of the fulfilling of a prophecy made thousands of years ago: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers . . .” (Malachi 4:5-6)

I love that it is not only that our hearts will turn to our fathers, but that their hearts will turn to us as well.

I don’t know why it is so important – why it matters so much that our hearts turn to our ancestors. This particular grandpa was already a member of the church. He has long since been sealed to his wife and children. Why would there be any other reason for my heart to turn to him if not to do his work? I don’t know. But I’ve certainly wondered, and I’ve certainly had many thoughts come to mind. Not doctrine. No. But thoughts and “what ifs”.

In his book Finding Peace, Happiness, and Joy Elder Richard G. Scott warns us that we should not talk about spiritual experiences when we’ve had a negative experience from an evil source. He says: “I do not understand exactly why, but I know it is a spiritual law that when there is conversation about negative things, they seem to spread and grow in influence.”

If merely talking about evil influences – the influences we know come from Satan as well as the third of the host of heaven that was cast out – allows them greater connection and sway in our lives, is it possible that the opposite could be true? Is it possible that being more aware of our ancestors gives them the ability to somehow be more involved in our lives?

We know the veil is thin. I’ve had my own very sacred experience that has led me to know departed loved ones are very close. Before that, I’d always assumed our ancestors were far too busy up there in heaven to bother with us. But what if we are why they are so busy? What if they are very much involved with us? And what if knowing them, knowing their stories and who they are, connects our spirits? What if it allows them more influence in our lives? What if it allows them to serve better as guardian angels for us and our families?

Remember the story of Elisha when the Syrians had come to battle with Israel? The whole city was surrounded by chariots and horses from the enemy. Upon seeing this, Elisha’s young servant, I’m sure in absolute terror, asks, “Alas, my master! How shall we do?”

Do you remember the rest? Elisha tells him one of my favorite lines in all of scripture, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” He then prays for the boys eyes to be “opened,” and the boy sees throngs of angels surrounding and protecting them. (2 Kings 6:15-17)

Like I said. I’m only speculating, but I do know the Lord doesn’t tell us to do things just for kicks. He tells us to do things because it will bless us. Always. If we believe what we believe, then, of course we need to do work for our ancestors, but that isn’t all we are told to do. We are told to search them out, to learn their stories and read their histories. And if, by any chance, knowing them can draw throngs of them – or even just a few loved ones like my great-grandpa Oberhansly – around to watch out for me and my family? Well, you can count me in.

Let the getting-to-know, or, possibly, re-getting-to-know begin!

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The daughter of an English professor and a drama teacher, Nancy Harris was surprised to find her own passion lying more in the sciences. Still, she tries to embrace her "art" genes through writing about and photographing her life with six small kids. Read more at A Chicken in the Window Well.

 
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