Today I reflect on one year in this town. The anniversary already passed in mid-July, but I was a little busy to reflect on it much then. I kind of hate saying it, but it took me a year to transition from life in Utah to here. I came here, and it was “comparison city.” A fish that went from the salt water pond to the fresh water lake, it was probably the hardest transition made since I first went there. I never thought that I’d get used to it, or that any of it could ever be considered home. I denied it the whole time that I was there, but I was pretty much hooked. It wasn’t about the place, it was the people. People make a place home for me. I get asked where I am from. Still mention where I grew up, even though I haven’t been back there since Jan 2006. That was for a weekend for a friend’s wedding.
I’ve never told anyone that I was from Utah. I likely never will. It was home, though, for six years. People ask me where I am from now, and I get to say my town, and I feel like I’m from a cooler place. (There is more to do here, period.) I never made fun of the location when I got here, though, because I lived there and I learned to appreciate it. I met someone’s sister and it was actually the first time that I made any in-kind jokes about the place. Nothing bad, just hadn’t done it before.
I am a lot more sensitive to people making snarky remarks about the place. While there are people who have to transition like I did, I never knew that was what they were doing until I had my year of crazy where I had to get used to life behind “the Mormon curtain” as a friend put it. You live in Utah and you get used to things being a certain way, which is absolutely different from everywhere else on planet earth. There is no place else quite like it. It’s not better and not worse than anywhere else. It’s just another place. Coming out of Utah, though, you get really sensitive to the culture and splitting the Church, the gospel, and the culture apart got harder than when I was growing up. I never saw the changes at all until I had that brief conversation with the guy’s sister, and then it was as if I saw where I changed incredibly. I was partly back to my old ways (pre-Utah) where I could see things in a manner where things were funny instead of being claustrophobic.
Being in this town, though, I have learned more respect than I had out there. My ward here is full of people from everywhere. That is nothing new to me. I’ve lived in big city (or multi-ethnic populated wards) my whole life. I served a mission in LA, and it is much more normal to me to have people from every walk of life and everywhere than a bunch of people who look, act, and think alike.
There’s no one right way of living the gospel. There are as many ways of doing things right as there are people within it. The basic commandments are completely standard. It’s not a “make up your own religion” place. There was a general authority sister, Chieko N. Okazaki, who wrote about giving a talk somewhere and holding up in one hand a bottle typically used for canning peaches, and a basket. Both used for the same purpose, gathering and preparing food for the respective women’s families. One way was not right and the other was not wrong. There are a lot of standards in the Church that dictate life patterns. This is on purpose. But honestly, being single or married, having children or not, being in a city or being in a rural area, in high-tech land or without electricity, the gospel works just fine in any environment. It’s not a bunch of middle class white people, thank heavens.
Also, it’s definitely not made up of only people with ancestors who crossed the American Mid and Mountain West in the 1840’s. Although I found that population disproportionately higher in Utah, that’s NOT how it is in the rest of the world. Also not how it is for my life.
When I was a child, I lived in a suburb of a big city and there were a lot of people who came there for work from Utah, Arizona, and Idaho. They acted like where they just moved to was a dirty place or that somehow it was not as good as where they left. That attitude left an extremely bad taste in my mouth, so to speak. I grew up thoroughly prejudiced against people from those areas. Now, I realize that either they didn’t know any better or else they needed the year to transition. I have more compassion for new kids from parts west. They’re not completely ignorant. That was another assumption that I had, and I tended to be one of the annoying Easterners who thought that I knew so much more than those westerners and made “corrective comments” in classes in college.
Well, guess what? Nothing works that way. No one is smarter, no one is prettier, no one has a right to judge unless given the authority from God to do so (and that’s pretty rare), and even then (to quote my Mom) God has better taste than to do that 9x/10. So now I’m living in a city where finding $10 when I was out of cash randomly is really humbling. And where 95% of my ward are converts (meaning chose to join the Church on their own versus growing up in it) and for the people who grew up in it, there is a deeper strength here that I have not seen. People here work HARD to be members. It is a choice, and it’s not an easy choice. Being a part of my Church has a lot of benefits to it, and it’s also not easy because you are different from other people around you. It’s not specifically a self-reflective thing about the difference. Other people see it and it makes a difference one way or another. If you’re not living up to what you covenanted to, that’s pretty obvious, too.
Living in Utah and being where I was gave me a lot of good experiences, and those should be coming out in a book soon. I was able to get a lot of experience with idealistic ways of how the Church can be, and I figured out ways of making things better that others hadn’t tried and they worked well before. They also work now, even if the actual product is different. The fundamental concepts behind it are the same. That is comforting.
I love this place, and I am extremely grateful for the people who I know, the people who I meet who are nice (and for the gruff or silent ones, I know that they have great hearts…just takes longer and more patience to get to know them if they allow it) and there are good things done here by extraordinarily great people. I have never been among a group quite like this before.
I have definitely loved groups that I was a part of in the past, and the people tried hard (for the most part) and accomplished a lot. Those places and the people were pretty transient and I got used to never really getting to know people THAT well. It is a tiring existence. Here, there are families and more-stable situations. People here are nicer, they care about each other, and they try VERY hard to do what is right.
It’s this little miracle group in the middle of a big city that’s not known for being kind, but gets things done. You know it’s here, but I was able to ignore the city for years without any problems. It’s kind of this amazing thing that leaves me in awe whenever I think about it. I’m among a bunch of titans. Whether or not we all agree all the time, that’s not the point. I love these people. I don’t know them all yet. Working on it, though. And I hope to have enough time here to get a chance to do it. I live in city-meets-suburbs, and you can see that the people here are genuine. We can be ourselves, and people WANT you to be yourself. It’s kind of fantastic in its own way.
I’m grateful for where I am now. I am not done by any means, and my life this past week alone changed so spectacularly that I am not sure how it will all work out, but I do know that things continually get better and I look forward to it.
Thanks for the hardest and most challenging year of my life so far,