If you listen with the Spirit, you will find your heart softened, your faith strengthened, and your capacity to love the Lord increased. —President Henry B. Eyring
This post is going to go in two extremely different directions. There is always more than one side to a story and sometimes different stories, happening at the same time can be like alternate sides of a coin. That’s kind of how this last week has been for me. It’s been a pleasing reminder and a rude awakening all at once.
This last weekend I went on a spontaneous trip to New York. It was fantastic as most random adventures are. As before every trip, I prayed for safety and guidance. This was particularly important in this instant due to the rare nature of the trip and my lack of familiarity not only with my travel companion and people I would see, but also with the place I was going. New York is often seen as a busy city, somewhere to hold on a bit tighter to your wallet. I was aware of what I was walking into, and knew that I would need heavenly guidance to get me on my way and avoid negative situations. I’m happy to report that there were no problems or altercations of anytime. I felt totally safe the entire time I was there and for that I am immensely grateful. However, this serenity did not come without my own decision making.
There were times where I was prompted to go one way or another, to wait or to cross the street (kind of a big deal in NYC where pedestrian and driving rules are skewed). This was little guidance that I’m familiar with receiving. I did find myself in some situations I had not anticipated facing at this current time, but from the time I was young, I was told these situations would come someday. For the first time this last weekend (yes, the first), I was offered alcohol more than once, despite being underage. I was amazed and strengthened by the ease at which my ability to say no and explain my reasons for the refusal came to me. Immediately, I recalled how my young women leaders had taught me for years and years that if I decided upon such things while I was young, that the choice would become easier and easier when it came. And it was. It was incredible how easy it was, and how much I was edified by a choice I had made years ago.
In addition to this whole experience, I had a missionary moment at the most unlikely of times. This is where part of my other side of the coin comes in, because as I had been packing, I’d contemplated how I would read my scriptures in New York and whether I should bring a Book of Mormon or just read on my phone like I do at home. I decided to read on my phone, but looking back, I really wish I’d had a physical copy with me. I can’t say that it would have changed my missionary experience at all, but it would have given me the choice. Anyways, this experience. My friend and I went dancing, etc. etc. and we ended up having a couple of guys we’d met walk us back to our hotel (it was late, dark, cold and New York). I felt completely at ease with this and it really was totally fine. As we walked and I talked to one of the guys, the topic of religion came up. I shared some of my beliefs and such and he realized I was a Mormon, and not only was I that, but I was also the first Mormon he’d ever met.
He had many questions due to his limited experience and despite my sleep deprived state, I found the spirit taking over and I was able to explain to him things about the church in a way that he could understand. There were analogies I couldn’t have thought of on my own, but the spirit so strongly helped me. He asked about my belief in the Bible, and how true/literal/commanding I found it to be. With all of the news and discussions that happen today about whether everything in the Bible should be taken literally or if some of it was only for the people of that time, this was a totally valid question. He had trouble wording it and I have trouble even trying to explain it but despite this, I could hear and understand what he was wanting to know. I talked about how the Bible was like the original smart phone and while much of it was true, there were also parts that may have happened more figuratively than literally. The Book of Mormon, I related, was like an update on a phone. It gave new information and somewhat of a new operating system that helped perform tasks better. General Conference, or the words of modern church leaders were like more frequent updates that we received to help us keep up to date with the changing world and have things specifically apply to us.
He shared with me some of his family’s beliefs and how he was areligous, that is, he didn’t not believe in things, but he didn’t practice or specifically stick with one thing. He was so open with this and told me how his family practiced Judaism, but he didn’t really know much about it. At once, I was able to recall some of the similarities I’d previously studied between Judaism and Mormonism and told him about these. This made so much more sense to him and connected the conversation even more.
Many missionary stories similar to this one consist of dispelling rumors, but this guy was just so open to understanding and asking questions. He may have had predisposed thoughts, but with me being the first Mormon he’d actually met, it deemed as though he dispelled these and relied on me as a source. I can’t say that this will go anywhere for him, or that he’s even given it a second thought after that evening. For me though, the experience was so enlightening into the way that the Spirit can guide me through a conversation on a whim. I was not prepared for a conversation like that one. I hadn’t been studying vigorously, but I knew enough and that felt good.
My weekend spent in New York was a grand one and I loved it all. A few things bothered me though and it wasn’t until I got home and felt more relaxed that I realized what it was. This feeling of “relaxation” wasn’t that at all. It was a feeling of privilege and it really upset me. Having spent the last seven plus years in small Idaho towns filled with small town farmers, I’d grown accustomed to the ways. In these towns, it seems as though there is a basic level of equality wherein people only fall below if a) they make choices that lead them there or b) they are immigrants and are working to move up to that equality. I’ve recognized these two populations for years and work to respect them and try to understand where they come from. In New York though, I was reminded of all of the other inequalities. It didn’t seem to bother anyone there, that in the bitter cold wind with below freezing temperatures, there were homeless people sleeping under the shelter of construction zones. No one seemed to notice the people digging through the trash or looking for their next meal. There were comments about how people didn’t feel sorry for them because their own choices had led them there and if they really wanted, they could change their situation. There were comments about how money given to them would be used to buy alcohol and drugs. I can’t say with certainty that these are invalid, but they weren’t proven either.
I didn’t do anything though. I didn’t stop the comments. I didn’t spout off my usual round of statistics declaring how the majority of homeless populations suffer with mental and/or physical disabilities. I didn’t give away change or leftover food. I didn’t give away the second hat I had with me. I didn’t do anything to make these situations better, and for that I’ve been upset with myself. I let my own middle class white privilege get in the way. I let my fears be stronger than what I spent my college career studying. I let myself down.
It wasn’t just coming home that made me realize this. It was my brother, years younger than me. He’d also spent the weekend in a city, albeit much smaller than NYC. He spent his night there walking around the city and talking to the homeless. He shared food and such with them. He learned their names and addressed them by such the next day when he walked around and saw them again. He did what I should have done.
This struck me so hard, because of the struggles my brother has had. I’ve worked so hard for everything I wanted (college, jobs, etc.) and I’ve been thinking of myself as being so great. And then my brother, who’s lost so many things from making decisions, did the better thing. He didn’t let his skin color get in the way. He didn’t let his money, his time, his friends, or anything else stop him. He was the Samaritan, and I was the Priest and the Levite.
I spent my weekend thinking I was in tune with the spirit, and at times, I was. I don’t know how closely I was truly listening though and the residual sting of this has left me thinking all week. I can’t go back and change what happened, but next time, I don’t think the trip will be for me. It won’t be for the sights that I get to see wherever I go. It won’t be just to have fun. Next time, it will be to open my eyes, and to see what life is truly like. Not for the majority population, but for the people I ache to be more for. It would have hardly taken any money, any time, any effort, to change just one more person’s day. It would have been so easy.
This weekend served as a reminder; A reminder of the spirit I have with me and the skills and abilities I’ve been blessed with. Also, it was a reminder of what more I can do, every single day.
Give a hug, Ladybug.