34: Unexpected Friendship
Stories in this episode: Sarah longs for a new perspective after loss and finds it with a feisty group of octogenarians in L.A.; A kilt-wearing stranger shows up to Brian’s weekly game night and volunteers to take a road trip with him; Emily promises 99-year-old Mac she’ll get him to 100 and finds the best friend she was promised by God in the process.
Find Emily's album featuring her friend Mac here
KaRyn Lay: Welcome to "This Is the Gospel," an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay, and I'm here with my friend and fellow producer Sarah Blake.
Sarah: Hi, everybody.
KaRyn Lay: Sarah, why are we here together today?
Sarah: Because today's episode is about unexpected friendships. And we're talking about friendship and our friendship is something to celebrate.
KaRyn Lay: It's totally something to celebrate! Sarah and I first met, actually, I don't remember the moment that we first met, do you?
Sarah: No, me neither.
KaRyn Lay: I just feel like I've always known you. But I do know that we first met in a singles ward in Salt Lake City in our 20s when we were just doing the things that single people who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do in their 20s. So like, I'd see you at FHE and occasionally like at a "Munch and Mingle," if we felt like we had the energy to go to that and try to flirt with a boy, right? I feel like you and I just always had so much in common. So it was really easy for us to be friends.
Sarah: Yeah, really natural. We're readers, we're writers, we're prolific Goodwill shoppers.
KaRyn Lay: I was always jealous of your red boots.
Sarah: Those were my best find ever.
KaRyn Lay: Yeah, that was a good find. So we've been thinking about friendships and how it's really easy to be friends with somebody who has a lot of things in common with you. And it's much harder to be friends with the people who seem different.
Sarah: Or maybe it's, maybe it's that it's harder to start those friendships, right? It can be unexpectedly easy, but you weren't looking for it and you didn't know how to start it.
KaRyn Lay: And I think Sarah, the reason that you're here, beyond just us celebrating our friendship, is that you have a story about a really unexpected friendship that you want to share with us, right?
Sarah: Yeah, when we picked this topic, this story of my own immediately came to mind. Do you want me to tell it?
KaRyn Lay: Of course I want you to tell it. I love a good story.
Sarah: Okay. So when my husband Casey and I were first married, we lived in Los Angeles. And it was a very fun time. We were renovating this duplex we had bought, we lived pretty close to the beach, sometimes we saw movie stars. It was pretty idyllic in a lot of ways. But we had this little dark rain cloud in our life, which was infertility.
We really wanted to start our family but we just didn't get pregnant, didn't get pregnant, then I had a miscarriage. And then we couldn't get pregnant and had another miscarriage. And it was a hard time for me and I wasn't talking to very many people about it. I just couldn't even bring myself to say the words of what I was struggling with. And I remember even a couple days after my second miscarriage, I went to babysit for my friend's kids, so she and her husband could go to the temple. And I really wanted to do that for my friend, I also thought it'd be good for me to get out of the house instead of laying around crying. So I went and her kids wanted to watch the Disney movie, "Tarzan." And that opening scene where the gorilla mom loses her baby, I mean, I just sat there crying and crying in the dark, trying to wipe away tears so her kids—my friend's kids—wouldn't see how sad I was. But I still didn't tell her even, like I didn't tell my friends at night when she got home what I was dealing with. I just couldn't talk about it. But I needed someone who understood. And I think heavenly father knew what I needed.
So in our ward, there was this row of old ladies, what do you call a group of old ladies? A gaggle? A pew? They all took the back row in the chapel and everybody knew that was their place. And these women were in their 80s and 90s. They had all moved to LA in the 40s and 50s for their husbands to work for Howard Hughes Aircraft stuff. And then they'd all had a ton of kids and their kids are all grown and their husbands were all dead. And now they had each other in this awesome sisterhood that sat together. They were spunky, feisty, interesting women. And one day I was sitting next to one of them in Relief Society and she mentioned that they had formed a chapter of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. And I really identify with my own, like Utah pioneer ancestry. And so I said, that's super cool. And they invited me to come to a meeting. So I went to a meeting and I didn't know what to expect, but it was just all the ladies from the back row of the chapel. I don't know if they'd ever invited anybody young before or if anybody else had ever been interested, but they were really excited to have somebody new there. And somebody gave a presentation about a pioneer ancestor, and we all stood with our hand on our hearts and recited something and we sang a song and scheduled the next meeting. But then it got really fun when they broke out the deserts and just sat around talking. And I realized that as a young woman growing up, you don't very often get to see older women in their natural habitat, you know, just like letting loose and talking with their friends. And I know my mom had good friends and those friendships were important to her, but I never saw them quite like this, and my grandmother's, too. But what was amazing to me was these women sat and talked about their lives, and they were just reminiscing, but they were telling the stories of the worst things that had ever happened to them. And then they were laughing their heads off because like life had moved on and they saw it with this perspective that I think you can only get in your 80s. Like, "Remember the time when all our husbands got laid off at the same time and one of the husbands had to lay off half of them?" Or the time the kid jumped off the roof and broke his arms. Or, one of them had a disabled son and she spent literally decades fighting with doctors to keep him out of institutions. And another woman had this daughter who just did everything wrong that she could, like doing drugs and running away to follow a rock band and saying the most outrageous and rude things. And they would tell a story and then they would just like laugh until they cried, wiping the tears from their eyes and slapping their knees and stuff. And it was amazing to me.
And I didn't even realize quite how it was causing a shift in me. But I remember driving home from that meeting. And I don't think there's very many moments in life where you feel changed by just a few hours, but this was one of those for me, because I realized that I had been just, I felt surrounded by these walls of my doubt and my self-pity, my tragic sense of how hard my life was right now. And it was like all those walls had been pushed way back by the perspective of older women. Seeing it in their own lives really, truly, "Time heals all wounds," and "This too shall pass," and life will go on.
I suddenly had a vision that there's a future me out there in her 80s, maybe she's surrounded by loving posterity or maybe she's not. But either way, she's okay. And like, it's going to be okay. This is just a moment, and life is still full of joy.
And none of my younger friends could have taught me that. Anybody saying you know, "You're probably going to get pregnant soon, it's going to be fine." It wouldn't have done it for me, it wouldn't have been what I needed in the same way it was just rubbing shoulders with these women whose own life experience could show me truly it is going to be okay.
KaRyn Lay: First of all, I adore the visual of you in your 30s, sitting in this room full of octogenarians, slapping your knees and laughing.
Sarah: I wish you could have met them. They were so great.
KaRyn Lay: It sounds so great. And I love that that friendship was exactly what you needed at that exact moment. And the other friendships with people that you would have immediately been drawn to, maybe that had something more in common with you like age or stage of life, wasn't actually what you needed.
Sarah: I think that is probably true for a lot of hardship. Like when you're going through something, your usual friends might not be the ones you need the most.
KaRyn Lay: So how do you find these kinds of friendships? Like, what's the secret for opening yourself up to a kind of friendship that you wouldn't maybe naturally look out for?
Sarah: Well, I think a lot of it is just a gift of God sometimes, right? And being open to that. But I think in the stories in this episode, there's an element of risk. And on the other side of a little risk is the reward of a new friendship.
KaRyn Lay: So true, so true. And like you said, today we've got two more stories from people who took that risk, who opened themselves up and found friendship that absolutely surprised them in the best ways. Our first story comes from Brian, who was perfectly content and happy with the friends that he had when a kilt-wearing stranger offered to accompany him on a road trip. Here's Brian.
Brian: So I guess it's kind of ironic that in a room that included dwarves and elves and ogres, that it would be the bald human that would have such a profound effect on my life.
Growing up, I was always a real introvert, I only had a couple of really close friends. And it stayed that way until I got home from my mission and started going to a young single adult ward. I started to become friends with a group of guys there and found out that they got together on a regular basis to play "Dungeons and Dragons." I grew up as a geek, I like superhero things, I like fantasy and all that kind of genres. But I had never played "Dungeons and Dragons." And I thought, well, this would be like a cool experience to go sit in and see what it's like.
So I asked them once if I could come over and just watch and they said, "Sure." And they told me what time they were playing. The day that I went over, it turned out that one of the guys that was in the group at the time wasn't able to show up that day. And so they asked me, you know, "Do you want to play so and so's character?" And I remember saying, "I don't know what I'm doing this just literally, I'm just sitting down at this table for the first time ever." And they said, "Well, that's okay. You know, we'll show you what to play and don't worry." And now 26 plus years later, we're still playing. We've had different people come and go, but there was a core group of us that have stayed together all these years. When we started out, obviously, we're all single, We were all in this single adult ward. Now we're all married with children. We have one grandfather in that group and we still get together every other Monday night and play. And in fact, two of the guys that I play with were my best men at my wedding reception because I couldn't pick between them, we were that close.
After we had been playing together probably 10 or 15 years, someone from our core group, Dave, brought a new friend that he had met to play. This new player looked very different than the rest of us. Let's just say he had a shaved head, earrings, rings on his fingers, I know that least one of them was made from a nail. Had either sandals or bare feet, I don't recall which, I would guess bare feet based on how well I know him now. Just really different than what the rest of look like. But I remember thinking, "Dave, what have you brought into our group?" Which, I look back on now, and I'm so embarrassed that I ever thought that, but I did. I was really protective of this group because it really was the first time I had a close group of friends, I mean, we did everything together. But I thought, okay, you know, let's invite him to play and, and he was good at playing, he had played before, so he fit right in that way. He took over someone's character, and he became part of the playing group, but he wasn't part of our group.
And then something happened. For the job that I used to have, I traveled extensively by car. I would drive all over the western United States. So I'd spend a lot of time in the car, and I would always invite my buddies. And they would always say no, you know, they had jobs, so I understood that but it was always fun to ask them and see if they could go. And then one day, I said, "Hey, I've got a trip down to Vegas next week. Is anybody interested in going with me?" And Russ piped up and he said, "Yeah, I'll go with you!"
And I remember thinking, "Oh, I, okay." I didn't expect it because, you know, we didn't do anything outside this group. But it would have been rude to say, you know, "No, I meant all the other guys, not you." So, well, you know, he said yes, I invited, he said yes and I always say I want someone to go with me so let's, okay. I drove down to Utah County and picked him up really, really early. And I think looking back that I was kind of glad that it was dark outside because it was almost a barrier because I was maybe a little uncomfortable. So we started talking very safe subjects, geeky subjects, you know. Can you name all seven members of the Justice League's original lineup? Can you name this? And what artists do you like? What's your favorite title? Just very safe subjects. We tried to figure out who among us was the bigger geek. And we decided that he ended up winning simply on the fact that his father-in-law's name is Bruce Wayne, which, obviously to any geek that that's a trump card that just can't be beat. So it was a good way to break the ice, you know, to stick to those safe subjects. We had a lot of driving ahead of us, obviously down to Vegas. And it was a week-long trip. So we were going to be spending a lot of time together. And then we kind of started branching into other subjects. I'm very much a creature of habit when I go on the road. I eat the same restaurants at the same place, eat, you know, the same thing, everything just like that. Even some hotels I'd stay in the same room. And he was very much against any type of chain. He was very much, let's look at that little hole in the wall diner over there. Or let's ask the person in the store, "Hey, where would you go to eat?" And so as he would do that, it was fun too because it was something new for me. It's like oh this is, you know, I would never do this. And I started to kind of come out of my shell not only around him but just in general, I think because it was new and it was fun. And he kind of taught me that a lot of times, those are the best places to go, you know, some of the best food you'll ever try. If you spend a week with someone, you're either going to come home, not speaking to them at all, or you're going to be a lot closer, and I realized that, hey, this guy's pretty cool.
Over the next few years, we did travel a lot together. The shortest trip we took was a day trip and the longest trip he's been with me on was 17 days, where we went all over Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. We ended up creating a world together because you really have a lot of time in the car. We're very different in our views on a lot of things. I'm very conservative in a lot of my views and he's very liberal. My music would be Billy Joel, Elton John, Michael Buble, and his Metallica and Flogging Molly and Dolly Parton. So we're very different in that way. But when we talk and we discuss these differences, there's never any animosity. We can discuss politics for instance, and not have any bad feelings towards one another. We're able to see the other person's views and there's never any bad feelings, which I think is a lesson to a lot of people.
He really changed my life in a lot of ways. He's taught me not to pass by life, not to stay in that shell. He does wear kilts a lot on the road, which is a lot of fun because I'll walk in a store four or five seconds behind him, and I do it on purpose. And he knows I'm doing it on purpose. Because if I walk in behind him, especially in little small towns, that's the best because the looks he gets from the people that are in the stores are priceless. And I know in my head that they're doing the same thing in their own way that I did when Dave brought him into the group. You know, they're, they're judging him based on his external appearance. Like when I said, you know, "Dave, what have you brought into our group." As it turns out, what he brought into the group was a brother. He is one of the few people that when I talk to him on the phone, there's times at the end, when I will just say, "Hey, I love you, man." And he'll say it back. He is someone that I will call when I just need someone to talk to. He's always, he's a great listener, and he is very good at counseling. And I like the fact that he doesn't just agree with me and say, "Oh, you know, yeah, you're right of this," but he will point out, "Okay, how can you grow from this?"
I think God puts people like that in our lives to teach us lessons. It would be easy to say that God put him there to teach me not to judge people. And that is an easy answer. And I think he did, I think he put him there to teach me that. But I also think he put him there to make me a better person in a lot of other ways. I think God knew that there were going to be times that I would need Russ. He was there for me during one of the lowest points in my life. I was battling—still battle—with depression. And I had gotten to the point where, as I would drive, there were times that I would think, "If I didn't turn this corner up here, it would look like an accident." And when I needed to talk to somebody, he was always there and didn't matter what time, and he would just listen and he would love unconditionally. And I don't want to downplay those other guys I play with because they are very much brothers to me. They showed up one night at my house at 11 o'clock at night, because they knew what I needed. So I don't want to downplay them at all. He's just become, he's become a brother. It makes no sense, it really doesn't because we are so different in so many ways. And maybe that's what makes it so fun is that it doesn't make sense that we should be friends. But I know that he was put there to teach me a lot of things and to be there, almost as a stand-in for my older brother. I'm the oldest but I mean, you know, my heavenly older brother to put his arm around me when I needed it.
A scripture comes to mind when it says that "God looketh upon the heart." And I think that Russ is a great example of that because when you see him, you're going to make judgments based on the way he looks. But if you get past that Bulldog exterior to the puppy dog that's beneath, you see the way that Christ sees him.
I think that I hope that I'm a little more understanding now, a little more willing to get to know people underneath rather than just judge by that first four seconds of seeing them. And I'll be forever grateful for the bald human that entered the dungeon that day.
KaRyn Lay: That was Brian. When I first heard the story on our pitch line, I was immediately drawn to it. Partially because I love a good story and Dungeons and Dragons was involved, but also because I have a few gamers in my family. And I know how close-knit and connected those 12-sided-die groups can be. So when I heard that Brian was talking about friendship, I wanted to hear about it even more. I love his willingness to admit that he was protective of that friend group when Russ first came into the circle. It kind of reminded me of that childhood feeling that we have sometimes when the new kid comes to school and you immediately are like, "No, they're not like us." Sometimes new friendships or the possibility of new friendships can feel like a threat to our system. But I love what Russ and Brian found out: Love is an infinite resource. There's room in our hearts for new friends, there's room there. And if we don't think that there's room there, God can help us to create that room. And letting new people into our lives is absolutely going to bring change in one way or another. Whether it invites us to try that new hole-in-the-wall local restaurant instead of the Olive Garden or letting someone see the hardest things in our hearts. It takes real courage and sometimes an act of God, like Sarah said, to get us to open up to the possibility of a new friend. But I really believe that on the other side of that is more love, more connection, and growth, which is exactly what our Father in heaven wants for each of us. Our last stories from Emily with a special appearance from her friend, Mac. It's a story of a friendship that might not have come without the intervention of a loving Heavenly Father. Here are Emily and Mac.
Emily: For years, I felt like I never had friends and I felt really lonely. I think a lot of it is our perspective of how we think of ourselves and how we feel like we are around people. And for me, I just felt like I also was a person that didn't always connect with people on that deeper level. And so I love to be with people and serve them, but then all sudden, it's like when I'm not around people, I'll have that like, real sense of loneliness, kind of that bitterness. And it kind of bites, like sometimes it's really hard and sometimes tears are shed.
I was really lonely and I had prayed for years to Heavenly Father, "Can I have friends in my life? Can I please have a friend?" And it's just really interesting how my friend came to me. Before I met Mac, I had just transitioned from living in Ecuador and serving in the orphanages. I was there for two months and it was an incredible experience. I loved it. It changed me. And then I moved back to the States and I was so lost. When I moved, I was actually going to live in a whole different city, and just circumstance after circumstance I ended up living in a different city than I had planned. And so I ended up in this apartment by myself. I was 24 at the time, single, and it was just like, like, what do I do with myself? I just feel so lost.
I've always played the piano since I was eight years old. It's just been my thing my entire life. And so it's just always been my de-stressor. It's been my entire life, it's what I do. Growing up, my mom used to get so mad at me when it was time to get ready for school every morning, bless my mother's heart, she'd have to be like, "Emily stop playing the piano and please get ready for school." And I'd always be like, "Mom, I don't want to," Every day because it's just me, like the piano just feeds out of me, songs just constantly. When people would be having conversations like sometimes I just don't even talk because I have music going through my mind. And I don't really want to talk, I just want to play your piano that I see in the corner of your room. And no joke like, still to this day, like, I would rather go play your piano and talk to you while I'm playing the piano, but I don't want to just stand here and talk to you if there's a piano in the room. It's kind of like a kid who has a problem with candy-like, it's constant.
So the piano, I feel like, allows me to express myself. It's almost even hard to explain, like, there's no words for it. And so it's one of those connections that we can have with people is music. And that's my latest connections. And maybe that's why I would rather talk to them as I'm playing the piano because it's like connecting our souls. I really think that's what happened with Mac and I. Heavenly Father knows me. I always have loved older people, but to get that deep level of a friendship he involved at starting around a piano, around music and so the day I met Mac, I had been praying for opportunities to play the piano and praying for opportunities that could bring me joy. I'm outside running, down the street, have music playing in my ear, do my normal run. And then all sudden, this prompting came into my mind, my nose tingled and it was like, "Go play the piano now." I'm like what? And I turned my head, and there's an assisted living center there. And I had never seen it and I'd ran that same street for three months. And I thought, "Oh, that's funny." Still, with the music playing in my ear, I just started running again. And the voice came again, loud, "Go and ask if you can play their piano now." Honestly, when that prompting came, and I heard that, like, other voice in my head, I just learned you don't even doubt them. Because why would I be thinking to go play a piano in the middle of a run? Like I wouldn't be. And so I just learned that like promptings come at the most interesting time, and I have to follow those. And so that prompting came and it just honestly didn't even surprise me. It just surprised me that it was right then and it said to do it now. Because I thought, "Well, I can go tomorrow or I can go another time." So I step into the assisted living center. and I asked the front desk like, "Hey, would you be open to if I come and play the piano for you sometime?"
And they were like, "Sure, why not right now?"
I'm like, " Wait, what? Right now?"
And she was like, "Yeah, sure."
So I like literally, still in my running clothes, go to where they have their piano, and I just start playing. And in walks this cute little old man with his walker, with his little pep step, walking towards the piano. And he's like, "Hey, when's the show start?"
I was like, "What show?" I was like, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
He's like, "No, when's the show start?"
I was like, "I'm just here to play the piano."
He goes, "Oh, that's great!" And so he sat down on the piano bench with me started talking.
Mac: I can't remember just how it was, but I was so impressed with Emily, not only a beautiful girl but a wonderful piano player. I was so impressed that you would take your time out to do something like that for an old duffer, to come and entertain us show people.
Emily: My first thought was like, "Who is this funny old man?" He was so hilarious and he was just so with it. And I was like, he's really asking real questions. And so then I asked him, "I was like, how old are you?"
And he was, like, "99 years old."
And I was like, wow. And then I was like, Wait a moment. You're 99. I asked him, "When do you turn 100 years old?"
And immediately, his demeanor changed. He got all depressed and all sudden he goes, "In six months."
I was like, "Wait, what? That's so exciting. Like, you're going to be a century like no one ever lives to be a century." And he did not act excited at all. He didn't care. And it bothered me and I was like, that's it. This man has got to live to be 100 years old. Like no one can say that, right? It's so funny, I'm not a person that likes to make bets or deals, I never have been. Literally, I knew Mac for maybe 20 minutes. It just came out of my mouth and I was like, "I want to make you a deal. I'm going to keep you alive until you are 100 years old by coming to play the piano for you once a week."
He laughed at me and he's like, "We'll see about that." And I was like, deal. Game on we're gonna keep you alive till 100 years old."
Mac: You say, "I'm gonna get you to 100." I just thought somebody has an interest in me. When I first came here, I thought well, I'm not gonna stay there any more than 30 days. They said, "Why?" I'm not old people like they are. They're just old people and I don't know, they looked like they were from the Valley of the Lost. People moving along without a purpose.
Emily: Making this deal for Mac, just like sparked this thing in me that helped me to fill this purpose like, I got to keep this man alive. But I also felt like if I come and serve him, it will be a friend for him. And that it would be something he could look forward to. Just the conversation that we had that day on that piano bench, like, it just kept me like wanting to go talk to my friend. And so then I started going once a week, but quickly, that turned into the daily thing. And so I literally would go do my runs and then stop there on my way home and I'd go play some songs for him. But then it just evolved. He started inviting some of his friends, of the residents that live there. Pretty soon he'd say, "We need to go pick up so and so from their room." And by then, I also had made friends as well with residents that I would see in the hall as I was walking through and I would say "Hey, come we're gonna play some music."
Mac: Oh I, kind of, I looked forward to that every week. She had kind of a schedule. She'd come to my room and pick me up and she'd call me "Duffer," and I'd call her "Clapper." Called the Duffer and the Clapper.
Emily: So then I'd go pick him up, but we definitely could not leave the room without his golf shoes on, insisted his hair was combed, and we had to grab his harmonica and then we were good to go.
Mac: I guess I was so proud of how I looked. I always felt like I had to look my best.
Emily: And he is so funny, his personality that we'd be going to each room and then he'd start saying, "Watch out. We're getting the gangs out, the party's just getting started." So here's some that can hardly walk, so they're holding onto my arm, with their a little cane, we're going down the hall. Here's some that would be willing themselves, like so funny. And then we all meet at the piano, a gathering place.
Mac: She would stop by, pick up several of the people here and get with those, get around the piano, anxious to get right there by the piano and listen to her play. She was wonderful. And then with nearly all of us singing along with different songs, and Emily promoted that all alone and so she became a great fixture. People looked forward to that music. That's how I got to convince, well maybe I can do something with my harmonica. So I started playing a little bit.
Emily: While doing this, things just changed inside of me. I was like, wow, I'm not so lonely anymore. The more I was around them, I felt like life's gonna be okay. It just was like one of those friendships that when you meet, and it just clicks, you're just like, "Whoa, like, where's this friend that I've been praying for for a long time?" Just one of those connections when you meet people you're like, "Well, that was definitely God putting them in my path." And my favorite thing of my friendship with Mac is that we both have a talent of playing music, and we love to share it with people. And the funny thing is, is I've played my whole life. Mac started when he was 10 years old, but he would only play the harmonica when he was using it to call the sheep in. And it wasn't until we met that both our talents blossomed, that we started playing for people, that his harmonica skills became incredible. He'd start with only one or two songs when I first knew him, and then he would be playing five or six by the time we were done with each dance party.
Mac: Oh, thank you. Anyone that can get music into their lives has a better chance of having a complete and happy life.
Emily: So, about six months of building this friendship with Mac, I started feeling yucky. Like I was so tired all the time. And I noticed that I started feeling like I had the flu every single day, it was the weirdest thing. Because I'd wake up, go for a run and then I would just start to feel so yucky and my arms would burn, my hands would burn. And then I noticed my feet started burning. And I noticed when I was starting to run, I would start to trip because I couldn't feel my feet. My fingers would all sudden just have no feeling and I would be playing a song and they would ache and throb up so bad and the burning got so bad, that I'd have to stop in the middle of a song. And when I would go play for Mac, I'd sit there on the piano bench with him playing songs, have to pause, tears are streaming down my face, Mac's blind, so he couldn't even see and he didn't understand what was going on.
It was really hard for me. Every doubt and fear ran through my mind as I was sitting there on a piano bench. Will I ever be able to play the piano like I used to? Will I ever have that back again? Well, my whole life be like this? Is this something that's been taken from me one of my favorite things that brings me the greatest joy in my life? God, did you take this from me? Will it ever come back? God when I'm here serving your children, where are you and why can't I continue to help them? I think that's when I had to realize too, that sometimes we can't serve in the way we want to, but oftentimes, it's always in the way we need to. And so some of those days, maybe those residents didn't need to hear as much music and they just needed friends.
And so we would just start talking. Here they were sharing their stories with me of when you know, their spouse had passed away or an illness that happened to them and they didn't do it as in a rude, like "Get over it, Emily," or something like that. It was always such a teaching moment that I walked away just so inspired by their examples. When I realized that true friendships are when we open our hearts, and that we're not focused on ourselves, but that we share stories and things that we've learned, but it just brought such closeness and realness. And it wasn't just a service and happy friendship, and how are you doing today? And it was real. I mean, it was the deepest friendships I've ever had. And it just made me laugh because I'm like, how am I have more friends that are older, that are in their 80s or 90s than truly than my own age. But always, every time I left that building, I would leave a happier person than I was then when I walked in because they taught me such valuable lessons. I had finally gotten a diagnosis that I had Lymes disease. I had never told Mac, but he could tell just by my voice, or by how I gave him a hug, he could tell when days that I didn't feel good. And he started picking up on it and he would say, "Have you had a good day today?"
And I'd say, "Yes."
And he goes, "No, you haven't."
And I'd say, "Yeah, you can tell huh?"
And he goes, "You don't feel good today, do you?" And it really meant a lot that he was there as a friend and he would ask. But he knew that it took all that I could to get out of bed, to get him and those residents so that we could play. I mean, I was terrified. I'd lay in my bed when I was so sick. And think if I don't get up today, this man's gonna die. And I made him a deal to keep till 100. I have to go, I have to go get him. And I always pick myself up, get over there, drag myself over there and do all that I could.
Mac: I didn't realize I was doing any good. She always says I helped her as much as she helped me. I always felt our purpose in life was not what we can do ourselves. I wondered, maybe God should tell me what my purpose is. So I guess my purpose was to help Emily along and her purpose was to help me along.
Emily: The more I got to know Mac, I learned that he had family that came to visit him every day. And so sometimes I'd wonder like, should I be continually coming to visit him every day? Does he even enjoy these visits? I really realized these visits meant more than anything. He was looking for friendship as well. He needed that. People need friends, we need each other, at any age. He wanted to make a difference, I wanted to make a difference. And when our friendships have the same goals that we want to do, it's amazing how God puts each of us in each other's path and that we were able to make that difference.
Around the same time I was diagnosed with Lymes disease, Mac made it to 100. We made it to 100 years old, and I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe we had done it. Now he had definitely had to do all the breathing, but I was so relieved that we made it to 100 years old. I felt like I accomplished what I said I was going to do for him. And that I kept my end of the deal.
His family through a huge party for him, lots of people came, we're all at the party mingling and Mac comes over to me and He says, "So, now what? You didn't promise me anything else." I didn't even know what to tell him. I was like, I'd only just made it a goal to keep them alive till 100 years old. That's all I felt. And now what? And yet, reaching 100 wasn't the end for us. In like a month, he'll be 103 and I will be 28 years old. He's also taken it upon himself to be my dating consultant. And it's not working out for me. So far, his success rate is zero. But I haven't given up on him yet.
Mac: "I'm gonna get you over 100 years old." She mentioned that many times. And I said I'll make a promise. I'll do that if you find somebody to get married to." She said she'd do that, so I'm still plugging along, so she's got a lot of work to do.
Emily: The other day I was telling him about my friend that's going to get engaged. And he goes, "You know, I can't keep living all these years just waiting for you." I said, "I'm trying" and he goes, "So am I." Never did I ever think I'd still be best friends and have a dating consultant who's 103 and is blind.
Even now, to this day, Mac and I get asked to play the piano and his harmonica at funerals, and events. We actually go on tours. It's hilarious. And when we're playing at these funerals, Mac will lean over to me and say, "This is hilarious we're here playing for someone that's much younger than me. This isn't even my funeral."
Mac: Emily supervises and we played at three different funerals. And I found that I've really got a purpose here. I feel closer to the Savior all the time I listen to Emily play because that melody comes through and puts meaning to life.
Emily: Mac's amazing. He's my best friend. I still feel lonely at times and knowing that his time will come soon, there's always that sense of will I feel loneliness again? I question that. But I have such a greater peace now and trust that I know the Savior's there. Mac would always say that if you have a heartbeat, you have a purpose. And I realized through this whole experience, I wasn't focused on myself, I wasn't focused inward. I was focused on loving others, that they're here too, that they're lonely too. We need each other. We're not here to be alone. Like we're here to be together, we're here to be friends. We're not here to suffer life alone.
Mac: I guess the Lord doesn't want me to come back. He wants me to stay here to understand that we're here for a purpose. And until we go to the other side, our purpose is to try to make other people happy. Maybe I'm here to help Emily and she was here to help me.
KaRyn Lay: That was Emily and her 103-year-old best friend, Mac. Well, almost 103. If you want to hear some of Mac and Emily's musical collaborations, we'll have a link to the album that they made together in our show notes. I promise you will want to hear Mac's harmonica stylings. I also wish you all could have been in that room to feel the adorable energy between Emily and Mac when they came in to record. I think energy is really the right word for it because what their friendship did is energized each of them for their unique challenges. For Mac, it was finding a reason to live again at 99 years old. And for Emily, it was finding a way to fight through her loneliness and a debilitating illness. And isn't that the thing about inspired friendships? However, they come to be, those friendships set off a chain reaction of discovery and mutual joy just as it did in their story. And that makes us better. It makes us better for everybody and it teaches us more about the love that our Father in heaven has for us. I do remember Sarah. I do remember how we met. Well, I don't remember how we met, but I do remember the circumstances in which our friendship came to be. And that is because I took a risk to move to Salt Lake City. I didn't have a job. When I first moved there, I had no job and no place to live. And I rolled up into Salt Lake and God kind of— I felt like God sort of put me into this, this avenues space like the avenues in Salt Lake. And so then we were in the same ward together. And do you remember what we used to joke about, that ward at that time, we called it the—
Sarah: The Island of Misfit Toys?
KaRyn Lay: The Island of Misfit Toys, and X-Men school.
Sarah: Oh, totally!
KaRyn Lay: Because we all felt like we were developing specific talents and gifts that God wanted us to use in our lives. And I think it's really interesting that he puts us where we need to be so that we'll meet the people who can change us and show us something different, something new about ourselves that we didn't know before. And you did that for me and I hope that our friendship never ends.
Sarah: Me too.
KaRyn Lay: That's it for this episode of "This Is the Gospel." Thank you to Sarah and Brian and Emily and Mac for sharing their stories and their faith. And special thanks to Susan Bender, Mac's daughter, who helped us to get those fun recordings of her dad. We'll have the transcript of this episode as well as some fun pictures and links from the stories in our show notes at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel. All you got to do is go and find this episode and click on it and right there you'll find all the show notes. So check it out.
If you have a great story about your experience Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we want to hear from you on our pitch line. Leave us a short three-minute story pitch at 515-519-6179. You can find out what themes we're working on right now by following us on Instagram and Facebook at @thisisthegospel_podcast. That's @thisisthegospel_podcast. If you loved this episode, will you please leave us a review on the Apple App or Bookshelf PLUS+ from Desert Book? We love to hear your thoughts about individual episodes or the podcast as a whole. We read every single one.
This episode was produced by Sarah Blake with story producing from Katie Lambert and me, KaRyn Lay, With story editing by Danielle Wagner. It was scored, mixed and mastered by Mix At Six Studios with additional mixing from KC Blake. Our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts, like the "All In" podcast at LDSliving.com/podcasts. Have a great week.