Friday, August 24, 2012

Sending Off Our First Missionary

The atmosphere in the car was subdued as we drove toward the MTC in Provo. We all knew that a couple of hours later we'd exchange an embrace with our son/brother, and then we wouldn't see him for two years.

I thought back to a similar trip that had occurred many years earlier. I recalled being quite anxious as my parents drove toward Provo. But I also recalled that it didn't take long for me to settle into the work and develop new friendships. I tried to lighten the mood of the family members by recounting some funny experiences from my mission.

There was the time that Elder G. decided to return to his room at the MTC solo. (Missionaries are supposed to stay with their companions.) He thought it was odd that the entire floor seemed vacant when it was usually busy following lunch. He sat in the room wondering why the rest of us didn't return. Elder G. wasn't there when we got to our rooms. About 20 minutes later he showed up, explaining that he had sat in the silent room of the adjacent dorm (all of the dorms are nearly exact replicas) for a long time until he realized that it wasn't his room.

It was not uncommon for the missionaries on my MTC dorm floor to sing religious songs while showering in the communal showers each morning. But on one occasion we somehow started singing theme songs from various cartoons with which we had all grown up. We were in the middle of a rousing chorus of the Flintstones when a fully clothed elder walked in and issued a deeply self righteous scathing rebuke for our frivolity.

We stood silently in our showers as the angry young man stomped out of the bathroom. One of our group contritely said, "I'm not sure what to say." Elder M., a calm, level headed guy said, "I do." And then he belted out at the top of his lungs, "Flintstones, meet the Flintstones!" We all joined in and had a good laugh.

There was the time that my mission president downed an entire glass of beer at a restaurant, thinking that the waitress had brought him Vørterøl, a Norwegian soft drink promoted as a health beverage. (Mormons are supposed to abstain from drinking alcohol.) We thought that was pretty funny.

Our family members were somewhat less anxious as we drove into Provo. My son wanted to eat lunch at a particular Mexican fast food place of which he is fond. Using my phone he found an outlet near our route. The place looked kind of seedy from the outside. It looked even seedier on the inside. The bright orange paint on the walls couldn't make up for the devastated ceiling tiles, worn floor, aged furniture, and equipment that had seen better days. But my son enjoyed his lunch.

As we were dining, another family that was obviously on their way to the MTC came in. My son introduced himself to the missionary in the family and they discovered that they were heading to the same mission. That's kind of surprising, given the number of new missionaries that arrive at the MTC each week. "I guess I'll see you in a few minutes," my son called out as we left.

I haven't driven around Provo much in recent years. I was stunned by how heavy the traffic was. Having had the MTC drop-off protocol explained to us, we first drove to a lot across the street from the entrance. We got out and took a few pictures. None of them turned out very good. But it gave us an opportunity to say our goodbyes.

We then got back in the car and drove through the MTC entrance. We were guided to a spot in the drop-off zone. We quickly jumped out and retrieved my son's luggage from the car trunk as an escorting missionary greeted my son.

Our newly minted missionary exchanged a special embrace with our son that just recently received his mission call and will enter the MTC in a few weeks, shortly before his brother departs the MTC for his field of labor. My son, who outweighs me by about 30 lbs, picked me up from the ground and hugged me so firmly that my back cracked. It felt good—in more ways than one.

And then we were on our way back to the freeway as our son and his missionary escort walked away hauling the luggage and talking enthusiastically. Two years will pass before we see him in person again.

I expected to feel somewhat melancholy as we drove homeward. But instead I felt a warm glow inside—a sensation that told me that everything was alright and that all would be well. Instead of feeling sad because of my son's departure, I felt very happy for him. But I have to admit that I do look forward to the first email we will get from him.

1 comment:

SS said...

What a great story! We drove by the MTC this month on our recent vacation to Provo and saw exactly what you saw, a family stopping for lunch before taking their son to the MTC (this was at the BYU Creamery) and then the quiet chaos that was swirling around the MTC. I immediately thought ahead to when my son will be going on his mission in seven years.

Thanks for sharing!