Jack & Lucky Chapter 5
It was one of those bright, sunny days at the end of August when it stays light forever, when anybody in their right mind would be outside by a lake or on a boat. Jack acknowledged to himself that it was a substantial sacrifice to lose this beautiful day to be cooped inside a building away from the natural attractions that surrounded him. He entered the LDS Mission Home on such a day in the early afternoon. He had traveled from Oregon that morning by air after saying good by to Julie for a week.
The building that housed the LDS Mission Home had not been designed specifically for this purpose. It was a hybrid between a church, a hotel and a commercial office. By the time Jack arrived, there were many missionaries-to-be milling around in front of the building. Once he was settled he joined them and struck up a few new acquaintances.
The law of averages suggested he would meet at least one person he knew from college and sure enough he quickly ran into Chris Mumford who had lived in his same dormitory.
“Hey, there’s Chris! Will miracles never cease?”
Chris was a strikingly handsome blond with a well-formed athletic body. He and Jack had been cohorts on a wild and dangerous innertube ride down the Provo River. They had nearly killed themselves during finals week in May just three months before. It seemed like a year ago.
“Hot dog! Hi Jack. They caught up to you too?”
Chris had been something of a party animal and one night Jack had by chance met him in the elevator carrying a half gallon of milk. Jack asked if he had a refrigerator but Chris admitted to smuggling liquor into his room. Jack had just scowled without saying much except to change the subject.
“If they let you in here they’ll let anyone in!”
“Not nice.” He smiled broadly. “I almost didn’t come but it was either this or go to work in my dad’s hardware store. My grades weren’t too great this last year. My best grade was in accounting thanks to you.”
Jack had tutored Chris to get a B in their accounting class even though Chris had already been through the class once. They had gone to dances until the liquor incident. After that Jack hadn’t seen much of Chris except for the trip down the river.
No particular level of righteousness is required for a young man to be called on a mission. Missionaries come from widely divergent backgrounds and with diverse social habits. Certainly chastity and rectitude are encouraged, but these are not a strict prerequisite. All peccadillos can be forgiven. In fact the missionary service may be a form of penance for some who might have gone astray during their teenage lives.
All the missionaries in front of the Mission Home wore white shirts, dark suits and subdued ties and the similarities in their attitudes goes well beyond these superficial signs. They are uniform in their desire for self-sacrifice and moral growth, at least on the surface. There is, however, no way to suppress the unique personality of each individual. The very opposite phenomenon occurs. The rigid, standardized structure of training and unyielding doctrine fosters growth and diversity in personality, leadership and individual expression in rich and useful ways. Like perfume that escapes the bottle to infuse the entire room, missionaries find exceptional outlets for their personal idiosyncrasies.
The missionary experience is not the best test of physical stamina, strength or coordination like a sports contest. It is, however, an endurance test of faith, an aptitude test of the singleness of mind, a measure of the strength of dedication to purpose. These tests would challenge Jack’s mental and spiritual capacity. When you add this to the difficulties associated with communicating in a foreign language or of standing up to the scrutiny of hostile investigators it is a grueling odyssey. Most of these details are unknown to Jack as he talks to his friends and makes preparations but he has the courage needed and is eager to test his mettle against these obstacles.
Jack asked Chris, “Where you goin’?”
“To the Montreal Mission in Canada.”
“That’s great, you’ll get a chance to learn French.”
“No, I’m going to the English speaking portion. They know I’m not smart enough to learn a language.” Otherwise he would have entered his mission at the language school at the BYU to learn French.
Jack enjoyed seeing that his old friend had overcome his previous failures of character. “This is really going to be a shock to your system. It’s going to mean a whole different life style. But you’ll do fine.”
Chris laughed knowingly but unashamed with his handsome smile. “Hey, guys. Let me introduce you to the Sophomore Class Vice President of the BYU.” Chris waved to a few of the Elders he had already met. He introduced Jack who had earned that dubious distinction.
From that time Jack obtained a certain prestige in the group as the word spread behind his back. He was also one of the “twelve apostles,” as the twelve missionaries going to Italy became know. This also enhanced his image. He became one of the celebrities in the group other Elders wrote home about.
After a minute of reverie, Jack strayed away, pushed gently by his natural shyness.
He was approached immediately by a tall, lanky young man in a dark suit.
“Are you ready for this?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for this. Hi I’m Jack Lincoln.” The Elder introduced himself as Kent Salinski. He was a pleasant person with an uncanny and not flattering resemblance to Jack’s namesake, Abraham Lincoln.
Elder Salinski and Jack talked easily about their plans and personal backgrounds. Salinski had also been a student at the BYU and remembered seeing Jack but the two hadn’t met.
As the two circled the gathering together, there was a sense of nervous excitement and forced nonchalance. The jokes were mostly personal and self-deprecating, all in good taste. Most of these guys had at least one year of college. They came from all around the US and a few from foreign countries.
“You’re going to the Italian Mission. Man, I thought that was a Catholic country. That’s like taking refrigerators to Eskimos,” someone commented.
That thought had passed Jack’s mind too. He dismissed it with the hope that the Higher Authorities knew more about the situation than he did. They in their infinite wisdom wouldn’t send him into a situation that was hopeless.
“I’m glad I’m going where I can learn a language. The only word I know in Italian is Pizza.” Jack’s enthusiasm was only barely restrained.
“I’m glad I’m not going on a foreign language mission. It’s going to be hard enough to learn the six lessons in English let alone doing it in some other language.” Salinski was right about that. “I’ll be in New York. Who knows maybe I’ll get a chance to visit Palmyra?” That was near the origins of the Mormon Church.
It’s a phenomenon that some people, given the chance, will defend their own assignment and choose arguments to support their case. It might be in such circumstances that they are trying to convince themselves.
“You’ll never know what you’re missing by not learning a language. Besides when I return I can get college credit.” Jack always looked at the practical side of things.
There were as many envious as concerned. Those who were supportive shared Jack’s sense of excitement and adventure about having an especially challenging situation to contend with.
Jack made an effort to inquire about the status of the Italian mission in the course of these exchanges. Up to that point he had received precious little information. It was obvious he would have to learn the language but the details of the situation were still a mystery. He learned only that he would be something of a pioneer in this new country since the Mission had only recently opened.
The entire group at the Mission Home was about 125 young men, the women apparently had another facility. This was the largest group of missionaries the Mission Home had to date. This was the beginning of the baby-boomer bulge. It seemed everywhere Jack went he was part of the largest group ever, as if they had to make special arrangements just to accommodate him. He was on the leading edge of this famous generation of post World War II babies conceived during the extended public euphoria after Armistice.
Jack had registered early but when he returned for his key he found there had been a mix-up in scheduling and he was assigned to a different room and a new companion. Salinski offered to help transfer his luggage in a hurry because it was 5:00 and they would otherwise be late for dinner. There was already a significant emphasis on punctuality.
They rushed through their dinner because Orientation was to be at 6:00. The week’s schedule was distributed and Jack found his companion, Elder Robert Hall. Mormon missionaries always live in pairs, this is like the buddy system in the Boy Scouts. You couldn’t go anywhere without your companion. You were expected to help each other, wake each other and most importantly, keep each other from getting in trouble with women. There didn’t seem to be any chance of that happening in this cloistered environment.
As it happens all missionaries have the same first name or so the simple joke goes, “What’s your first name?”
That’s the title associated with their rank in the Mormon Priesthood. Each missionary is ordained to this level of the higher Priesthood. As a further means of standardization they are called by this title along with their last name.
Elder Hall was from Southern Utah and talked with a strange accent associated with people from The City of Spanish Fork. He was somewhat shorter than Jack, oops, Elder Lincoln. He had dark hair combed with hair grease and adolescent acne on his face. He had a slight build, a thin smile and was friendly, except he quickly demonstrated a bookworm disposition.
When they returned to their room they fell easily into conversation.
“You have a preference for a bed?” Jack asked his new roommate.
“No. Do you have a good alarm clock? My folks are going to bring me one for a going away present. But I don’t have one yet,” Elder Hall said somewhat apologetically.
“Sure. I have this handy travel alarm that never fails me. How ’bout I take the lower bunk so I can operate this thing.”
The room they shared was little more than a closet with two narrow bunk beds on one side, a writing table at the end below the window, a light above, an open closet in front of the bed, a chest of drawers and that was it. The window was heavily screened on the outside either to keep bugs out or keep missionaries in or both.
Their assignment the first night was to memorize Section 4 of the “Doctrine and Covenants,” one of the Mormon scriptures. They reviewed it together and decided it wasn’t absolutely necessary to memorize it and went to bed. Both Jack and Elder Hall had been wired and going for nearly twenty hours and they were both exhausted.
D&C Section 4. Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, to his father, Joseph Smith, Sen., at Harmony, Pennsylvania, February, 1829.– Qualification for the labors of the ministry are set forth.
1. Now behold a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.
2. Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God a the last day.
3. Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work;
4. For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul;
5. And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work.
6. Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence.
7. Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen.
Maybe Elder Hall could meet this criteria, but Jack knew he wasn’t up to this standard. Certainly Elder Mumford was far from having been temperate or virtuous. Everything is possible in this new life.
Jack made a few notes for his diary: I did my push-ups and sit-ups to start my routine, I will continue this each night then a prayer and to bed. So ended the first day of missionary life.
Elder Lincoln’s alarm was effective and the pair woke at 5:00 AM. They dragged themselves clumsily around the room and prepared for the day with some study and prayer.
All missionary trainees must memorize the first lesson of the six prepared lessons. Missionaries were to adhere to these lessons when teaching investigators or “contacts.” The two began by reading through this liturgy.
Elder Hall was serious about his Call and Jack felt comfortable sharing that common interest, otherwise they would not have been natural friends. As they were getting ready and on their way to breakfast they drilled each other to learn a few “conclusions.” They ate at 6:30 across the street in the Hotel Utah cafeteria. By 7:30 they were in the meeting room to proceed through a series of lectures from Church notables.
The schedule of speakers was like a Who’s Who in the LDS Church: At 7:30 Elder Tanner, a general authority, spoke on our responsibility as missionaries. Then at 8:30 we heard President Horace Richards speak on the temples. Then at 9:30 we heard Franklin D. Richards who encouraged us to accept our missions as a reward and exercise love, faith and study. At 10:30 we heard Gordon B. Hinckley on the military draft. Then after lunch at 1:00 we heard Mark B. Gantt. I particularly liked his words, he demonstrated a broad knowledge.
This last speaker reminded Jack of his brother Sid and one particular conversation they had relating to his peculiar philosophical beliefs. The two brothers and Sid’s two sons were driving together on one occasion. Jack, as usual, was circumspect about the details of his own identity and religious beliefs.
Sid had previously agreed to provide an explanation of his thoughts but had procrastinated doing so. During this drive the conversation quickly turned to religion. Sid had a good deal of experience and interest in the subject having already suffered through fifteen years of investigation and soul searching. He was no longer active in the Mormon Church, in fact, he didn’t identify with any particular religious creed.
“Do you think I should go on a mission?” Jack asked as the scenery of the Columbia River Gorge passed them by.
“Well, it’s not up to me to give you that kind of advice. That’s something you have to decide for yourself.”
Jack outlined in as much detail as possible what he thought the pros and cons of going on a mission were. He summarized by saying, “I want to gain a testimony. I want to learn to believe in God and Christ and all that without having any nagging doubts.”
The passion in his voice was clear evidence of a chronic frustration. Jack had tried and failed to come to a clear conclusion about these religious questions.
Sid had discovered by chance, as such things often happen, the writings of one Harold Percival. The huge tome entitled Thinking and Destiny had taken on the significance of a guiding light for his life. He was well on his way through re-reading that metaphysical work for the fourth time when he had this first significant opportunity to discuss religion with Jack.
“Don’t you think you should have a testimony before you go on a mission?” Sid asked what seemed a very practical question.
“Well, I do, I guess. Enough to hope there is a life after death. How else can you explain this life we all share? What other reason is there for living and obeying laws?”
Sid was sympathetic to the questions that Jack brought to their discussion having been plagued by similar questions in his own life. Sid was educated as an nuclear engineer, had studied nuclear physics and had worked in research. He was a quiet person, a good example of that adage “still waters run deep.” He had gained what wisdom he had the hard way, by studying and challenging his own background. This wisdom made him reluctant to answer Jack’s questions directly.
“Well, those are good questions. I’ll tell you how I understand it but I only want to tell you once because I don’t wish to influence your decision. I know it can’t be easy for you judging by what you have told me.” Sid reluctantly but clearly gave Jack a description of his understanding of the Universe according to the teachings of Percival that he had begun to accept.
Jack listened closely trying to relate these teachings and the specialized vocabulary to the concepts he had been taught. The vocabulary was confusing, not because of the vagueness generally associated with metaphysical teachings but just the opposite. Percival gave a very precise identity to terms and a specific description of the hierarchy of intelligence. The newness and vastness of the concepts left Jack more baffled than convinced.
“That’s the best and most precise presentation I have found.” Sid concluded. “The Mormon Doctrine has many of the right ideas. But there is also a great deal of intolerance for people of differing opinions. Of all the religions I’ve studied it is the closest to the writings of Percival.”
“Well do you think I ought to go or not?” Jack repeated the question at some point, probably in a somewhat petulant and frustrated tone. Frustrated by his own indecision.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to go when I was your age, I wanted to. I went into the Air Force immediately after high school because the Korean War had begun. You can learn a lot from this experience if you let yourself. If you do go, be sure you read all you can and keep an open mind. You can do great things if you let yourself.”
Sid extolled reading as a point of virtue in his soft spoken way. At one point or another he may have answered, “No.” But, it was during this conversation once again that Jack resolved to go in search of that illusive vision of Truth.
It was difficult for Jack to focus on missionary training; so many thoughts were circling in his head.
The next speaker was dynamic and a famous Mormon writer, Bruce R. McConkie. His presentation was open and he forced audience participation. He answered questions and taught us to do the same. At 3:00 we heard from Milton B. Hunter speaking on the “Doctrine and Covenants” and the “Pearl of Great Price.”
Elder Lincoln sat with the group going to Italy and struggled to stay awake during all this sitting and listening. Any way you sliced it, this was an impressive list of notables.
Jack shared dinner with Elder Salinski who was equally impressed with the luminaries.
“These guys are for real. Coming from Oregon I’ve never been exposed in person to any important leaders like these. I always wondered if they were for real. Seven in one day is really something.”
“Well, they’re just getting started too. Have you memorized any of the first lesson?” Elder Salinski was obviously concerned.
“Just barely. I wish I had taken my brother’s advice and begun this during the summer. He got me a copy but I never found time. Each time I started to read, it put me to sleep. So I’ve become conditioned to sleep each time I see it. It took me a whole month just to read through it once. I worked so hard this summer I was always too tired at night. Now I’m living to regret it.”
“I’ve never even seen a copy until now. I don’t think I’m going to make it. I get stuck in the first conclusion, it’s so long.” Elder Salinski seemed rather depressed about the whole thing.
“You’ll make it. Elder Hall and I have been working together. That seems to help. I had to learn a whole lead part for my senior class play. But I had more time and I only had to learn my part. This is more complicated. If you can learn the logic along the way it helps keep the words in place. The words come more easily after that.” Jack reasoned with more confidence than he felt. He was definitely trying to convince himself more than anyone else.
Jack’s missionary diary describes the next day.
Elder Hall and I got up at 5:00 this morning. The days are so long it feels like two days in one… Our first hour was spent listening to S. Dilworth Young. He said to disobey is to begin to apostatize, but repentance brings us back. Then La Grande Richards; he is certainly a great missionary. Marion G. Romney spoke at 9:30 outlining the Book of Mormon to us.
I had quite a problem staying awake today because I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately. President Haycock came a 10:30 and outlined the mission rules for us. He repeated what others have said about chastity. I have now become scared to even look at a girl. I haven’t had an evil thought for some time.
One significant ritual provided to any Mormon taking a position of responsibility is being “set apart” by another authority. Because of the quantity of the missionaries going at once they created a routine something akin to mass production. Jack was set apart by Elder Franklin D. Richards who is a charismatic leader, very fluent and inspiring. He spoke as if in a slight trance saying different phrases and giving different advice to each elder as the Spirit moved him.
When it was Jack’s turn Elder Richards placed his heavy hands on Jack’s head in routine fashion and offered an inspiring prayer to bless Elder Lincoln in preparation for his work and pass on the necessary authority. Jack felt a certain nervous tension but beyond that nothing changed. He was waiting for a jolt or a spiritual awakening but nothing noticeable happened. Such uplifting experiences as he had heard expressed by others must be more subtle than the capacity of mere physical sensibilities.
Each day made him more aware of what he was actually doing. Each new event added a new dimension to his sense of enthusiasm. With this setting apart he felt he now belonged to a sacred historical tradition stretching back to 1829 when the Prophet set his own father apart for a similar mission.
Jack shared the sense of thrill to be so close to the living Prophet, David O. McKay, and operate under his direction. There is a sense of rapture that captured his mind momentarily for quick glimpses; a sense of profound relaxation, confidence, enthusiasm mixed with happiness. All the cares of the world are either forgotten or subordinated to the pride of responding to this challenge of preaching the Gospel under the leadership of men like Elder Richards who were by all appearances so close to God and said such inspiring things.
These glimpses passed as quickly as they came when Jack was reminded of the necessity to memorize the First Lesson.
Jack and Elder Hall had time for some personal shopping during the afternoon of the third day. Jack had been unable to acquire the special garments, religious underwear, so they went to The Church supply store during this time. Elder Hall explained that the new synthetic kind were preferable to the cotton kind that tended to sag out of shape.
Once this was completed Jack found time to call Julie to summarize the proceedings. They arranged one final visit on Sunday, the day before he would be leaving. Jack tried to keep the thought of this meeting from his mind, he tried to be nonchalant but underneath his calm surface he was more excited than usual.
Julie stirred restlessly. It was only 6:30 but she was already awake. She decided to get out of bed and do something, anything to keep her mind off her loneliness. Her room was a floral bouquet of pink and light green decorations. The matching curtains and bed comforter blended with the extra pillows and the cover over the soft reading chair in the corner. Her furniture was modern and modest with every detail neat and orderly. Bottles and containers were well organized, brushes and hand mirrors were placed precisely.
These furnishings were gay but wasted on Julie, they appeared bare and coarse, influenced by her mood of sadness. She moved to the bath with the aid of the dim morning light seeping around the edge of the venetian blinds.
When Julie was dressed and prepared for the day she made her way to the kitchen. She put a pot of water to boil for some Postum and put a slice of bread in the toaster. While these conveniences were starting she went outside the front door to retrieve the morning paper.
When Julie’s mother found her she was sitting quietly, day dreaming in a chair near the window in the large kitchen dining area. The toast had gone un-finished, the kettle had nearly boiled dry and the paper spread on the table remained unread.
“Excuse me for interrupting.”
Julie shook slightly as she turned in surprise. “Oh, good morning. Its such a beautiful, bright morning. Its certain to be a nice day.” She automatically tried to be pleasant. She turned her head back toward the expanse of country outside.
“Would you like me to fix you some toast.” Her mother teased gently, noticing the signs of absentmindedness for what they were.
“Oh, I forgot. I’ll get that, don’t bother.”
“It’s no bother, would you mind if I joined you.”
“No, of course not. I’d love that. I was just thinking about some of the dances Jack and I went to before. I can’t imagine what it will be like to go to the BYU without him there to share it with.”
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