Monday, June 8, 2009

Life within a life

We’re all born. We grow. We get disappointed. We gain victories. We watch our children grow. We’re happy, we’re sad, we’re hopeful. Then we all die.

Some people get to do it twice.

I served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Mexico. In a way, this experience was a microcosm of life, a shortened version of all that gives life its venerated humanity.

Nearly two hundred years of missionary work has spawned a lingo that only missionaries can understand — Fathers give birth to sons, sons succeed fathers, and the circle of life spirals on and on to the measured rapping of calloused knuckles on doors.

I was “born” in the little town of Bloomfield, a splotch of diners and gas stations on the prairie of northwestern New Mexico. My “father” — my trainer — was a self-admitted hick from Driggs, Idaho, a scion of the same old polygamous family that produced me.

Like any child, I sometimes wanted to learn faster than I was — I cried, I fumed. I strained through spiritual growing pains, falling on my face and trying to walk before I could crawl. Soon, I was able to do full door approaches alone, hawking the Book of Mormon like a vacuum salesman with the desperate belief that his Hoover could solve the world’s problems.

It wasn’t over. My inadequacies haunted me. Sometimes, in the quiet of my study at the twilight of a long day, my shoes piles at the door covered in dust, I would kneel in prayer and beseech my true Father for relief from my infirmities, that I might better serve him.

But this was life, and I was a child walking in faithful obliviousness to my parents’ purposes for me.

In time, I sired a son of my own — my first trainee, Elder Findlay, was a spirited young missionary with a headstrong passion for the work. When our paths diverged, I watched his progress, watched him grow.

Every emotion embedded in the human psyche, every feeling that combines to separate the human creature from the other animals on this God-given earth, exists in some form on the mission.

Sadness prevailed when an investigator fell away into the mists of dogmatic falsities. Joy reigned when I returned to Albuquerque to watch a women I had taught and baptized enter the temple.

Disappointment struck me again and again, contention reared its sagebrush-laden head, and even romantic love ebbed and flowed, only to be snuffed out by the subsiding trickle of letters.

And then, as in the age-enduring lament of poets and bards, death faced me. Two years of service stared me in the eye with all the ferocity of a life spent. I recalled my first years as a missionary, my growth, my successes and failures —

Then I stepped off the plane. One life was over; I was ready to continue the next, the things learned in the first stockpiled for the second.

One can never live too many lives.

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