Arriving in Los Angeles was like stepping into a new world
Following the path and pace set by Elder Rodriguez, I find myself looking often to the right and to the left, distracted by the sprawling downtown scenery of what will be my new life. Still wide-eyed I redirect my gaze ahead trying to focus my all on keeping up with my speedy companion who seems to be in perfect harmony with the hustle and bustle of the street cars and high speed shift and flow of people and vehicles alike intertwining with each other under the dimly lit avenues. Just this morning I had been on a plane. Already I was flying through the streets, my gears jamming and struggling to lift me over rolling hills, my companion far out of earshot to hear me if I were to suddenly tumble off my borrowed and battered bicycle. My voice would never reach him I thought as the LA soundscape smothered even the gong-blast beating of my heart in its urban orchestra. I pray and I pedal harder than I ever have in my life, as I breathe in the exhilarating, new air of my new home. Somehow I feel someone with me, listening to my unheard pleadings. I am happy. And so is He.
On the Street
Gazing down the sunlit and beautifully dirty walkway I breathe deeply and lift my scuffed-up leather shoe into my first step of the day. The young 18 year-old assigned as both my bodyguard and daily working partner matches my stride and follows beside me, creating a kind of symmetry from the hem of our sun-bleached slacks to the glistening paperback clasped in our hands. “Hey elders!” the kids who live below us call out from their play on the lawn. We continue on expectant in our occasional glances and of someone to talk to and share our message with. “Have you ever talked with missionaries before?” I say to one man, waiting at a stoplight. “Do you have a belief in Jesus Christ?” Elder Dell asks a Hispanic woman, holding her daughter’s hand. With each hurried excuse or reluctant acceptance of a card handout, my breathing slows to take in the day. My brow relaxes and I take each step loosely, allowing my feet to fully interact with the firm pavement before lifting them up again. These days the crowds and clutter of urban living refresh my being, enveloping me into a rich and human world. "Can we help you with those?" The woman moves on without stopping. "Have a great day!" This is their home and my home, my kingdom. “Buenas!” The door clangs dull and empty and we hear no response to our greeting; I pull out my planner from my front pocket, once bulging but now ripped with the corner folded forward, and examine it quickly. "Time to go see Manuel"
The old man swings the tall door wide, welcoming us in with the flies. “Can we sit here?” my companion asks as we sink into the couch. Manuel walks across the room and offers us lime and cucumber water which we sip while we listen and occasionally speak, more to guide than to actually control the conversation. We marvel at the insights of this man, who orders books in the mail, who sells vitamins door to door, who lost his wife in Guadalajara, as he speaks of Nephi and his boat. Somehow as he talks the experience and uncovered wisdom of a lifetime seem to intertwine so perfectly with the words of a book he’d never seen before last week. He pulls out his spectacles to read a passage and we smile at him, listening to the beautiful words we know so well.
A Brave Little Girl
“Did you read?” we ask in spanish as she drags the small wooden bench to the front of the yard, her personal little blue book and red marking pencil tucked under her arm. She sits down and nods, making a face that makes her eyes pop out and accentuates the small dimple in her chin when we ask her what she learned. We laugh and with some coaxing she begins to tell us. About a man on a long path, how he found his family but only some of them would come to him to the tree. A beautiful white tree, with a fruit that tastes like happiness. The young girl pauses, her thin long curls draping her cheeks as she rocks back and forth on her chair; “But how do you get to the tree?” She finally asks. ‘I guess you’ll just have to keep reading”
To my surprise
To my surprise
I walk into the bedroom and see two suitcases spread between the twin beds, muffled rattling comes from the closet and a voice calls back “I’m packing!” to my confused, unfinished question. I take some things from the bags and hang them up again but I’m far from sure I’ve convinced my friend as he silently clears off his desk. We talk softly a while at a time, on and off as I leave the room every so often to give him space. After several hours he paces slowly into where I am on the couch. Without saying a word he spreads his bundle out on the desk and takes a seat, his blue book back in front of him.
At the End of it All
Breaking my gaze from the cabin window down the aisle from my seat, I turn and stand to let an older woman pass and take her place beside me. We talk pleasantly a few moments, at which point she notices my badge and the conversation quietly halts. “You’re a Mormon aren’t you?” she asks. “Yes I am” I reply, breaking into a grin.
Author's note: Writing this narrative was an attempt to make sense of my experiences in the strange and mystifying world of Los Angeles. Description and narrative choice were made with the intent to reflect not only to the diversity and texture of the city, but also of my exhilarating and at times turbulent experience as a missionary. Though there isn't one thing I would point to as what got me through the challenges of being a missionary (or the challenges of having to leave that life), I strongly believe that God is at the fringes of everything. Being able to see that and experience God firsthand in the lives of so many everyday people was a beautiful experience. I think it's the most beautiful thing in the world.