Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Elephant in the Front Yard

Oh, it smelled good. Tyler opened the grill hatch, the smoke wisping around his heavily-tattooed arm. Pork, beef, chicken, shrimp--a regular petting zoo getting cooked right in front of me. As a missionary I had gained a strong appetite, something I had lacked for much of my adolescence. Just 2 months earlier in fact, aided by a prescribed regular dosage of corticosteroids, I could down more food than my formerly 300-pound missionary companion. Considering my 150 pound frame, this was an accomplishment. 

Watching that searing cooked meat that day? I knew I wouldn't have any. I wasn't hungry. I hadn't been hungry. I began to wonder if I'd ever be hungry again.

Our mission president arrives with his wife, both dressed in black. They hug, shake hands, comment on the cooking food. They smile and show genuine enthusiasm for being able to see me and my two companions, Elder Clark and Elder Blair, and to finally meet the family (the Moores) that had kept us sane the last five days. Our mission president's wife, perhaps a little less likely to stay composed in situations like this than her husband, shows signs of losing said composure at the sight of Elder Clark. I look away, afraid to fall down that hole with her. 

Conversation remains light. Jokes are made, laughs are had, everyone doing their best to avoid the house-sized elephant in the room (or the front yard, in this case). And why wouldn't they avoid it? Elder Clark needed every opportunity to get things off his mind, and this BBQ was the perfect chance to do that. It's funny, then, that he was the first to address it.

"How was it?" he asked.

"It was really great." my mission president said, volunteering to take on the difficult task of describing the funeral. "The gym held 600 people and it was packed full. Just a wonderful celebration of his life."

You don't hear many funerals described as "great" but I was beyond relieved to hear that this one was. 

"Good, good." Elder Clark said. "Who's ready to eat?"

I'm reminded again of my lack of appetite. Was I taking things too hard? Elder Clark was grabbing a plate, piling it with meats. Why couldn't I stomach the thought of doing the same?

Our mission president takes Elder Clark into the house for an interview, plate full of food. I could only imagine what they would talk about. Things had improved since last Tuesday, but only as time tried to push the event further and further from our memories. But the uncertainty surrounding us was far too great for us to move on, and the memory of the event was mercilessly vivid in Elder Clark's mind. I could hear him at night. I could hear him waking up, gasping for air. I sit still, paralyzed by my perceived inability to comfort him.

"Elder Parker, wanna go for a walk?" my mission president said, emerging from the house with Elder Clark. Neither one had touched their food, it appeared. Elder Clark seemed well, content, maybe even happy. 

My mission president and I walk around the farm, along the recently harvested wheat. He asks me how I'm doing, how the counseling's been going. I tell him I've been better but I'm happy Elder Clark's been doing so well. He agrees. 

"How do I help him?" I ask. "I'm never sure what to say or whether or not we should even talk about it. I just don't feel helpful at all."

"I don't think he would agree with that."

A feeling of relief washes over me. I don't realize it right away, but this is exactly what I need to hear.

"I know you're dealing with a lot too," my mission president continued, "so I'll tell you exactly what I told him." 

I prided myself on not showing how stressed I was. I hoped no one would notice, but he knew it right away. 

"When the Savior says he'll take upon him all infirmities, he means ALL infirmities."

In all the time I had spent worrying about what was to come next, what would happen with Elder Clark, what would happen to missionary work in the area, I hadn't taken thought for how to actually heal myself. I reasoned that it wouldn't happen until months from now, when the whole ordeal was hopefully behind us. I was content to let time take care of it.

We walked back to the BBQ.  Elder Blair, oblivious as ever, was explaining to Tyler the proper way to grill a chicken breast. The mission president's wife talks with the mother of the Moore family about the two kids they have back home. Elder Clark was joking with the father of the Moore family about something crazy he did in high school. 

I take a bite out of a tender piece of grilled chicken. My body welcomes it.

No more elephants in the front yard. 


  1. I really enjoyed reading this. I thought that you illustrated the setting and emotions of this situation so well without directly stating them. I also really like the title because it is something that we all culturally understand.

  2. I really liked this too, but was a little bit confused. Why was Elder Clark more upset than the rest of you? Was it somebody close to him that died? Why would missionary work change? It is good to to be too implicit with things that are sacred or personal, but you have to give a enough information. I love the process that your mission president allowed you to heal as well and eat again, but it would be nice to know a little more why.

  3. looking back. This also made I the elephant in the room be that much larger. I feel that leaving out all the details was best and focusing on the emotions was very appropriate.