Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Missionary Embarks

I sat in front of my computer at home working on a problem that had stymied me for two days as my eyes shifted from the clock to the phone. How in the world could the optimizer "optimize away" the pointer to the object being executed?

For non-programmers, I'll explain that all computer programs create electronic garbage, which optimizers intermittently remove to maintain efficiency. Unfortunately, in this case the optimizer was identifying the critical element currently being executed as garbage. Perhaps a joke by Microsoft's compiler programmers? If so, their brand of humor eluded me.

Actually, that's not important. My mind wasn't as focused on my work as it should have been anyway. I kept looking away from the center of my screen to the clock in the lower right corner of my computer screen and then to the phone, which maddeningly failed to ring, regardless of how often I repeated this cycle.

The last we had heard, our son was leaving the MTC that morning and planned call us from the airport before winging his way overseas. My boss had graciously allowed me to work from home until after the blessed communication before driving to the office. But we weren't really sure our son was leaving the MTC. Our last communication suggested that he didn't know if his group's visas had arrived. Maybe they would stay at the MTC another week or so.

Finally the phone rang. I glanced at the caller ID. Nope, just a distant out-of-state number—probably either a political or telemarketing call. I let it go to the answering system like I do with all such calls. As usual, no message was left. (It's worse when their insipid technology blathers some message I don't want to hear because it can't detect that it's attached to a machine rather than a human.)

More time. More difficulty focusing on work. I couldn't help but notice that the time we figured our son's flight would leave was rapidly approaching. Wouldn't he have already been at the airport for some time by now and already have had plenty of time to call us? Maybe it wasn't happening that day.

Amid this fog of thought, the phone rang again. The caller ID read "PAY PHONE." I didn't even know such devices still existed. My wife and I answered simultaneously from different rooms. Another son that was at home picked up as well. I was relieved to hear our missionary son's voice on the line along with various background noises. And, whoa, he had ... an accent. Can that even happen when learning a foreign language in Utah?

Our son was happy and excited. He had enjoyed his time at the MTC, but now it was time to go out and do the work for which he had trained for two months. Missionaries headed to several different countries would be on the same flight for many hours before splitting up at an airport on the other side of the globe.

I briefly chatted with our son in his newly learned language, since I am fluent in a variant of that language. I switched to English for the sake of the others on the line. We reported to our son on his girlfriend's efforts to apply to serve as a missionary herself. She may return home before he does. Our son gave some advice to his brother that will soon be entering the MTC.

Six and a half minutes after the phone rang, it was all over. It will likely be the last time we get to chat with him on the phone until Christmas. There will be emails and letters in the meantime. As I drove to work I felt like I should be worried, or concerned, or something. But I felt strangely at ease.

I awoke to my alarm in the wee hours the following morning. My first though upon looking at the time on my alarm clock was that the final leg of my son's flight should just have landed at its destination and that my son would likely soon be enjoying lunch in a foreign land that will be his home for the next 22 months.

At least we suppose this is what happened. I assume that we'd know by now if anything went wrong. We eagerly await our son's first email from abroad, although, we have no idea when that will happen. My mind keeps wondering what he is doing. I am suddenly aware that that the few paragraphs I sent home in weekly letters when I was a missionary many years ago really didn't provide much information about what I was doing as I went through my days.

But that is the way of life. Our children have many experiences when they are away from us in which we can only marginally share—especially as they mature and go out on their own. Though our lives are intertwined with theirs, many things are experienced in a personal way that can never be adequately communicated to others. At this point, the best tools available to me as a parent wishing to help my missionary son are prayer, email, the postal system, and monthly payments. It seems like it's so little, like it's hardly enough. But with proper faith, it will be.

Within days we will begin this process all over again as another son becomes a missionary. We have the potential of repeating this cycle three more times after that in future years. Maybe it gets easier. At least, that's what I plan to tell myself.

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