[This is the second part of a story about my time in Rexburg, ID. For those just tuning in, the first part can be found here.]
I realize that many of us have some preconceptions about Mormons, most of which have something to do with finding them to be a weird cult from Utah. Likely we think of polygamy, weirdly shifting positions on the roles of black people, a curious insistence on genealogy, Joseph Smith, so on.
I didn’t grow up in the West and have had little contact with these people. In fact, I don’t recall ever meeting a single Mormon where I grew up in Michigan. I do know a lot of folks who grew up out here who have had more exposure to Mormons and who, as a result, have some fairly strong opinions and concerns about them, most of which, justifiably or not, fall on the negative side of the spectrum.
All of that’s a little background for the situation in which I found myself, which, for a brief recap, was this: I’d rolled into Rexburg, Idaho, with car trouble. It was Sunday and nothing was open. I entered the local Mormon ward and asked for help. I was given the name of a mechanic and subsequently invited t spend the night in the house of the church bishop, J.
In case I’m not being 100% clear let me emphasize again that I was a total and complete stranger in this town. I showed up out of nowhere with a story that, while easily verifiable, was only as good as my word. I could’ve been a million things other than what I was claiming, which was simply someone who needed a hand. And the treatment I received was kindness and hospitality, culminating in an invitation to stay the night in another person’s house.
Was this the proper Mormon thing to do?—I don’t know much about their beliefs but I have to presume it was. Zoom back and ask: Was this the proper Christian thing to do?—I know plenty about such beliefs and of course it was. More importantly than either of those: Was this the proper human thing to do?—The answer is a simple and unequivocal Yes.
Someone needed help, and help was given. Imagine that world.
But before I could get to my evening in Rexburg I first had to pass the day. The only thing I could find that wasn’t fast food was Applebee’s, which is where I spent four hours of my life that day, catching up on emails and texts, writing nonsense about Yellowstone National Park, and watching basketball. Finally, around 7 that night I connected with J, who’d spent the day working at the ward.
He picked me up and drove me out of town to his sister’s house, where his family was celebrating his parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. That’s right. Into the mix we went. J’s family was to a T exactly like him—tremendously kind, very welcoming and warm, and all good looking and healthy. We ate ribs and potatoes and cookies and drank soda. Basketball was on the TV. Kids ran around and played and siblings joked and joshed with one another. They sat with me and asked about my trip and my life in Seattle, and told me about their activities and interests out there in Rexburg.
I asked his parents what was the secret to 40-years of marriage. They both smiled and said two things: 1) make decisions together, not alone, and 2) never fall out of love at the same time. I don’t know if that’ll guarantee 40-years of happiness, but it doesn’t sound like a bad way to go about things.
J and I returned to his house. I took a shower and he fixed up his 10yo son’s room for me to sleep in. There were model airplanes on a table and a poster of Robin van Persie on the wall, all of which was oddly reassuring. I’ve told a couple people this story and they’ve all wondered if I was nervous or anxious being in J’s house. The answer is a simple and clear No—he was kind as could be and at no point was I concerned about something negative happening.
J sat with me and walked me through a map of the route I was intending to take, offering suggestions and places to stop. We had a nice banter and I enjoyed just hanging out with him, learning about his life while sharing about my own. He’s a good guy and I honestly hope that someday down the road our paths will cross again.
He explained that he’d have to leave by 5:00 the following morning and told me to let myself out when I was done. Earlier at dinner his father, who lives down the block, had written down his number and told me to call him if I needed any help or if there were problems with the car. The next morning I let myself out and took the Focus into the mechanics, a story you can read about here.
I don’t typically think in superlatives but this was a really amazing experience for me. J and his family were more kind than I could’ve imagined or anticipated and they really helped me out when I needed it. Part of the unstated purpose of this trip was to experience people who are different than me, and I was fortunate to find a solid group of folks out there in Rexburg. I’m deeply appreciative of their kindness and generosity, and I feel compelled to close with a reminder that extending kindness and help to anyone is a wonderful gift, one made exponentially more significant when the recipient is a stranger in need.
And with that—thanks, J.