This week I’m going to try to get back on chronological track, and stick with what was happening ten years ago. To refresh, I am living close to downtown Buenos Aires (a neighborhood called Flores), I have 100 days left of my mission, and the odious Elder Harris(on) has just been replaced by Elder Day. Elder Day has just a month left in the mission but he is way too spiritual to be ready to go home.
April 26, 1998
One hundred days. I never thought I’d be able to say that. Just 100 days until I board United Flight 984 bound for Miami and a new life. Maybe. Maybe that’s what scares me most. Everything has been a complete failure. I thought I was supposed to be a better person, I thought that was part of the bargain… it all seems so empty and pointless and a charade. I stared at the sacrament cup in my hand, expecting to see a cup brimming with damnation and scarlet, and all I could see was a little plastic cup of water. And it seemed so silly to assign it mystical abilities of damnation or salvation when it was just water. It’s as if I’ve passed through the surreal period of my life (the most fun, no?) into a sad realism. “God loves his children?” asks Radiohead. I guess. I don’t know anymore…
I mentioned in the last entry that Day was a million times better than Harris/on. That’s what I thought at the beginning. Elder Day and I just turned out to have the least compatible personalities ever. You know that person who you just can’t get along with, even though they haven’t done anything necessarily wrong? Elder Day liked to discuss which apostle was his favorite and he had a framed picture of the commitment pattern next to his bed. (This is the commitment pattern chart, for those of you lucky enough not to know what it is. It’s simply a sales tool that helps you move people from meeting them, all the way to baptism.)
One of the families we visited was a mother and her young daughter who were Mormon and worked as home healthcare workers for an elderly woman, Arminda, who was not a member. It was actually Arminda’s house, but she was very old and confined to a hospital bed, so the mother and daughter stayed there all day to take care of her there. Arminda had a constant IV drip and had recently had surgery on her shoulder.
April 27, 1998
…the thing that bugged me most and offended me and turned my stomach was when we were with Arminda and talking about her shoulder recovering. Elder Day said, “Remember that blessing I gave you? I blessed you that your shoulder would get better quickly.” She remembered. “If you have faith, it’ll get better soon; but if you doubt…” here casting a reproaching glance at her, raising his voice, “if you doubt, it won’t get better as soon.” He’s a spiritual terrorist, was all I could think of as I saw him cruelly exploit her weakest point, trying to force her to have faith. Not real faith, but a kind of fearful submission to all-wise Elder Day. The depth of my hate for him scares me. This tiny geek isn’t worthy of this rage and vile disgust I feel towards him. I just need to go to bed and try to forget I exist. There are so many ugly things in this world. And I am one of them. I hate this place.
Every once in a while, an apostle from Salt Lake will come visit and talk to the missionaries. This is very rare (it only happened once on my mission) so they make a big deal out of it. In this instance, they gathered all the missionaries from Buenos Aires North, West, and South together so Neal A. Maxwell could address us all at once.
April 28, 1998
Maxwell concert. I wasn’t too impressed. I hung at the back with Long and Wright, cracking jokes and Wright pointing the red laser pointer at people’s heads. I don’t think Neal prepared a talk so just he took questions. I was oh-so-tempted to stand up and ask about the masons or the failed prophecies of Joseph Smith, something to stir it up. It didn’t happen.
More ruminations on the fundamental incompatibility of Elder Day and me:
April 29, 1998
Today I realized I don’t have to like him, I only have to get along with him. For two weeks. How hard can that be? Better not to ask and tempt fate. There are two types of people in this world: people who tuck in their garments and those who don’t. Case rested.
In this final excerpt, I discuss a conversation we had with our recent convert, Mabel. She had just gotten baptized two weeks earlier, but she had previously taken the discussions with other missionaries when she lived in another city. I have bolded the part I am especially ashamed of. The Brigham Young book I talk about is the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young Sunday School manual that was released that year, and which the ward had given to Mabel after her baptism.
April 30, 1998
…Mabel had read some anti-Mormon article in the newspaper and had gotten mad, but she said that she had her faith and wasn’t going to let it bother her. She said she met some journalist at the club with her husband, a specialist in theology, and she asked him what he thought about the Mormons. He told her it was a sect that came from North America, but a good sect; the only bad thing was that they didn’t believe in God. Mabel shook her head in disgust and told the guy to sit down with her as she explained to him that we didn’t worship Joseph Smith but rather God. She said he thanked her because it might come up and he had to give reliable information.
Then she started off into dangerous territory. “It’s just like this polygamy thing: a lot of people think we practice polygamy just because a long time ago a couple of Mormons sinned like that (and were kicked out of course!) and the people began to talk and say the Mormons are all like that.” If only she had known that Brigham Young had 26 or something wives, the very same man from whose book she quoted, not realizing that every mention of polygamy had been rooted out of that document completely. I wanted to tell her the truth but I also didn’t want to give her a reason to go inactive; she didn’t ask us about it so I shamefully kept my mouth shut. That hadn’t even occurred to me to be a doubt, but now it has suddenly reintroduced itself. How we completely stonewall on that part of our history…
That’s not exactly true, however. Almost a year and a half previously, I lied about polygamy to an investigator too. Unfortunately, there is no denying this: I was a coward. I was content to let them believe in things that were false and let these ladies to find out the ugly truth when I would be thousands of miles away. Yes, I am ashamed of things I did on my mission, but only of the things the Church wanted me to do.