Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE

I’ve told you in a previous article that I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and, in fact, today is my surgery day. I’m confident and optimistic, filled with faith after wonderful Priesthood blessings.

But… heading to Nauvoo last month, where I was honored to speak at the Mega Singles’ Conference with Scot and Maurine Proctor, Al Fox Carraway, Brad Wilcox, Area Seventy Rulon Stacey, and others, my surgeon called. She said the MRI I’d just had revealed a spot on the other side, which would now need a biopsy. Yes, as Ziggy said, “Some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue.” Hey, I’m just grateful such technology exists, because consider the alternative of not knowing and not addressing it.

But there was another benefit to going in for that MRI. When I first arrived and sat down in the waiting room, an older gentleman was a few seats away. He struck up a conversation with me and I learned he’s retired and finally wants to write that book that’s been kicking around in his head. I teach college extension courses on this and was thrilled to share some tips with him. As I looked around at half a dozen other people in the room, I noticed they were all quietly staring at their cell phones. This man and I were the only people actually talking to one another.

Soon I was ushered into the area where you put your belongings in a locker and wear a robe, awaiting your turn to be x-rayed. You wear the locker key on a stretchy, coiled wristband, but otherwise you have nothing in your hands. I sat by a woman and we began to chat. It turns out she’s a historian and loves family history. What a thrill to talk about the vast internet help the Church offers online. She shared exciting information about her ancestors and I shared the sketchy background of my “madame” in England (for whom the neighbors once burned an effigy!). On the other hand, my husband can trace his line to General Thomas Sumter and castles sprinkled all through Great Britain. We agreed that the fun of this research is finding real people, warts and all. Helen Keller once said we’re all related to kings and slaves. The more you search your family tree, the more variety you find.

I was called away for my procedure, then after was asked to wait for a CD to give to my surgeon. This time I began visiting with another woman there. As we talked I discovered she’s an avid gardener, just like me. This common ground (no pun intended) got us both excited. We began buzzing (again, no pun intended) about organic pest control, varieties of roses (she has 135!), seed companies, and correct soils for various plants. Soon a nurse came to get her and another delivered my CD, so it was time to go home.

I marveled at what had just happened. Not the x-ray, but the sharing, the talking. I felt invigorated. Three people had opened their hearts—four, if you count me—and connections were made. All because we had set aside our cell phones and gone back to what used to be common: Chatting with strangers. What a flashback to a simpler time. As I walked through the first waiting room I saw another group of people glued to their phone screens and I felt a pang of sorrow, realizing how disconnected we all have become. Yes, we’re communicating online, but we aren’t always available to reach out physically to lift someone who could be battling a challenge.

We rarely laugh out loud when we read texts and posts. We may say LOL back, but it’s a cold evaluation of something funny. When you see people staring at their cell phones, you don’t see them laughing. In fact, you don’t see any emotion at all. There are no hugs, no squeezed hands, no smiles of true caring.

Experts tell us we need these real, human connections. They point to the absence of social interactions as one cause of loneliness and depression. When the Savior told us to love and serve one another, I truly cannot believe he meant it to be exclusively through electronic means.

What might happen if we set aside our phones? Think of the people you love most. Maybe it would be good to have a Family Screen-Free Evening once a week. Or for one hour every night. Recapture the joy of easy conversation—not chatting about what time you have to be somewhere, but just hearing each other’s thoughts and ideas. Play together. Read together. Just be present without being distracted.

We can do the same thing when we’re out in public. We can look for a friendly face—or be that friendly face! We can strike up a conversation that could lead to one of those life-changing moments when someone without hope—and it could be you— finds it.

Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.