A few weeks ago I heard back from Teach from America about my interview: I’m in. They’ve offered me a job teaching middle school math in Cincinnati. That’s in Ohio. I accepted the job; I start training in Atlanta in June, and then I will move out to Cincinnati in July.
“How are you going to do that?” everyone asks, out of what I believe to be a sincere concern for my well-being. This question has a couple of subtexts, the first one being Pack up and move to a new place where you don’t know anyone? Eeesh. Another is Who would ever want to live in the Midwest? Yuck. (That one mostly comes from natives of the American West.) The last, a really fun one, is Why would you leave the Promised Land? There aren’t any Mormons in Cincinnati. My answer to all of these external struggles is, simply, This is what I am going to do. My decision to join Teach for America was a prayerful one, derived from about a hundred moments of personal revelation which led me to it. So as irritating as that initial question is, it really doesn’t mean anything to me, because I know that this is what I should be doing.
Still—and I never thought I would say this—Provo, in the past seven years, has become a home for me. I’m at the point in school where I love being in my classes and feel on top of college, rather than crushed by it. I love working at my job, where I get to help people learn to write, and where I am part of an inspiring community of writers. I love my apartment—after four years of searching, I’ve finally found one that is close to campus and not gross! I love the mountains, I love the 7-11 on 5th and University. And I love the friendships I’ve made here, which are ultimately what makes me love everything else. There are some people in this town that I cannot imagine not seeing every day.
How do I carry out my own plans? How do I move to Cincinnati without being terrified?
 I’m being patronizing here because you would not believe how many people think that Cincinnati is a city in Utah.
The Doctrine and Covenants contains a verse that reads as follows:
Hearken, O ye elders of my church whom I have called, behold I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall assemble yourselves together to agree upon my word;
And by the prayer of your faith ye shall receive my law, that ye may know how to govern my church and have all things right before me. (41:2-3)
I still remember the first time I read that. I was sitting at a desk, white shirt and tie, trying to ignore the moan of the cicadas in Boca del Monte, Guatemala. Is this really in here? I thought. It was one of those jarring moments when you read the scripture and the white space around the words shouts out at you. How have I never read this before? I stared looking past the page, for at least a full minute, I suppose.
The elders of the church had to exercise faith in order to receive God’s law. We usually think of the commandments as bolts of lightning sent from heaven—but they had to ask for it. This seems so strange in a world where freedom often implies lawlessness, where people think that happiness comes from erasing the rules from their existence.
That scripture has come back to me often, both as a consolation and as a reprimand. I have not found anything quite so stirring as its image of a soul, pleading to be given a more difficult way to live.
Six months ago, I sat out on the top balcony of the Broad building, a center for all of the arts, photography, and architecture that are taught at UCLA.
California is no Arabian wasteland, nor is it an overgrown Mesoamerican jungle. As I sat there, I rested my head against a wall of manmade steel. Nine stories below me passed the student masses, all of them in a place that they had come to know as home. And beyond the campus, in a complete perimeter, was the city itself: Beverly Hills to the East, Bel Air to the North, Santa Monica and the ocean to the Southwest, and the PCH, Westwood, the 10, the 405, all serving to connect the dots. It’s Los Angeles, not wilderness. It’s the city that sleeps at 11, not Mt. Sinai.
But I was alone on the top of that building. I tiptoed around what seemed to be empty offices, pushing the elevator button with confidence so that I would look like a genuine Bruin. And when I got to the top and felt that California breeze, I decided I would want to stay up there for a while, so I ran down to the bookstore and bought a notebook and a pen, returning to my lofty platform to watch and write and breathe.
What did I think about up there? I must have stayed at least two hours, but I did not write down any impressions of that day in my journal. All I know is that the spot became a holy spot for me, that that horizon is seared into my memory, and that to get out of your mind, you really do have to go up into the mountains, whether that mountain is made by God or by man.