Having already grown accustomed to a place and culture where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is barely a footnote, on the plane back to Utah I was surprised to hear someone utter the phrase "Mormon heaven". I wasn't sure of the context because there were many conversations going on and that was all I heard. But the next thing I heard him say was, "It's just like any other cult."
I don't know if it's a new policy or I just haven't flown with this airline before, but the folks at Southwest try really hard to be funny. First there was the TSA guy checking our IDs. He informed the guy ahead of me that the governor of his state had blacklisted him and that he was only allowed to drink milk during his vacation. Then, after checking my ID he said, "My friend, this doesn't look very much like you. But close enough for government work."
Then the actual people on the airplane had jokes and wisecracks seemingly every time they spoke. They probably wouldn't be nearly as funny if I listed them all here, so just go and fly with them yourself if you're that curious. My favorite part was when one of the stewardesses was demonstrating how to use the emergency oxygen masks. "Place the strap around your head, breathe normally - who are we kidding? You aren't going to be breathing normally." I think they were following a script for the most part but they also improvised. For example, the guy next to me fell asleep, so she stuck a napkin to the seat back in front of him with Band-Aids. On it she had written, "You sing in your sleep! :)" When we landed in Salt Lake, she announced, "We'd like to recognize a gentleman who's celebrating his eighty-sixth birthday today, and he's a first-time flyer!" All of the passengers applauded. She continued, "On your way out, make sure to wish the captain a happy birthday."
My parents like New Age music and have a bunch of it lying around the house in an antique format known as compact discs. I have fond memories of listening to it nearly every Sunday morning while getting ready for church, but somehow this tradition faded and the selection decreased until I was only familiar with a few albums. When I went through the collection and rediscovered other albums, though, they were as familiar as if I had listened to them the previous day. There was one particular song I wanted to find, though, because I was curious whether it would still depress me almost to tears like it did when I was little. Maybe it's just because I have issues, but a few of the songs my parents played really messed me up. The other most prominent example would be the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour". I was literally scared that these freaks were coming to take me away.
Anyway, this other song, the New Age one, provided me with my earliest memories of depression. It made me think of a little boy wandering along a vast beach all by himself, staring out at a vast ocean, and (around the 2:55 mark) finally breaking down and crying out to the vast sky. And being a masochist I wanted to find this song and listen to it again. Finally, during this last trip home I narrowed it down to one album I hadn't heard yet that it could possibly be on, and sure enough, among all the other songs that were as familiar as if I had heard them the day before, there it was. I was surprised to find that it's called "Symphony of the Forest". And while it didn't have nearly as drastic an effect on me this time around, I still think "Symphony of Loneliness and Futility" would have been a more appropriate title.
Kitaro - Symphony of the Forest
At the first church activity of the new semester, several people were still filling out their pink or blue information sheets to get their records transferred into the ward. One girl near me had taken a blue sheet and written at the top of it "I am a girl". I assumed the pink sheets had simply run out, but almost immediately noticed that there were still several right next to her. So I asked, "Why are you using a blue sheet?"
She looked at me as if I was the stupidest person in the world (insert your own quip about agreeing with her here) and said, "Because colors are not gendered. That's a societal thing. I like blue better."
I was stunned at how awesome she had instantly revealed herself to be, but, trying not to gush too much and sort of being at a loss for a words, I just said "That's cool" three times. The third time was prefaced with "Nah" and was a response to her apology for being weird. Then, as I violated her privacy by looking at the confidential stuff she had already written down, I noticed another awesome thing. "Hey," I said, "you have the exact same birthday as me!"
"Six twenty-three ninety-three?"
Um, yeah, that's what it says on the paper, right? "Yeah."
"What time were you born?"
"I don't remember," I said. "I was very young."
She looked confused for a second, and then broke into a grin. "Oh, stop it," she said, and promptly turned away to talk to someone else.
Finally I'm in a couple of the English classes that I've been trying to get into for three semesters. They have only twenty spaces each. Both of them are taught by the same professor, and both of them will require writing stuff and then sharing it with everyone else so they can politely and constructively tear it apart. Thus, today we had a discussion about vulnerability. We watched this amusing TED Talk.
Brené Brown - The Power of Vulnerability
Before this video and our discussion, I hated vulnerability. Now, after realizing how essential it is to feeling normal human emotions and having normal human relationships, I still hate vulnerability. It doesn't usually work out very well for me. I am put in mind of Evita Peron's fictional incarnation's words, "Time and time again I've said that I don't care, that I'm immune to gloom, that I'm hard through and through. But every time it matters, all my words desert me, so anyone can hurt me, and they do." When I look out at my classmates I see a bunch of people who will hurt me if given half a chance. A fair analysis? I hope not. We'll see.
For some reason we talked about what it takes to have an intimate relationship with someone. (Here I felt sorry for any Mormons in the class who may have wrongly been taught to use "intimacy" as a synonym for sex.) I didn't pursue writing so I could learn about intimate relationships, but whatever. We talked about the necessity to be yourself, to communicate, and all that jazz. But the elephant in the room was that you can do that all you want but you can't guarantee the other party will reciprocate. They can act like they're being all honest and open when in fact they're lying through their teeth. I am not speaking hypothetically. And that's why I only really trust like three people.
But if to love at all is to be vulnerable, then no one is more vulnerable than God. Have you ever thought of that?
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.