6 years ago, I was a missionary in a little town called Siaton. I was the 4th missionary ever assigned there, and was, at the time, very proud of that. It was exciting and new, and we were having great success. It was, in many ways, the most challenging area of my mission, in that I was very sick and lonely most of the time I was there. Also, it was challenging because I was struggling with all the stereotypical things a missionary struggles with, only all at once: My non-member family, my fiance back home, my ethnocentricity, my lack of faith, my selfishness, my fear, my self. And it rained everyday all day, and had been doing that since August 1st or so.
And then, on the other side of the world, an airplane flew into a building, and then another one. Due to a twelve hour time difference and a lack of phone, I didn’t know about it until in the morning. In this small town, a member told us about it as we visited him. The whole day was spent then gathering clues about what happened, as all we got originally was airplanes with terrorists were hitting the world trade center in new york city. Information and misinformation were rampant. At one point we were told that the statue of liberty had been taken down also. At another point, while we were riding a bus from one appointment to another, my filippino companion struck up a conversation with a man on the bus and they spoke of it as you might expect two people to talk about a basketball game, dispassionately and with the same tone of general enthusiasm for just having something interesting to talk about.
Personally, I crumbled. My uncle worked in the pentagon and I wondered if he was alright. We drove to a local phone station and I called my mission president. He e-mailed my Dad and my Dad said my uncle was ok, but that his friends had been on the plane that had gone down in pennsylvania. Even with this reprieve, I was in anguish. All I could really do was continue to serve, and pray, and hurt.
And that’s what I did. I limped along, and kept doing what I knew I was there to do. And my fears abated, and my selfishness became manageable, and my faith increased. I accepted my family for who they were and I married that woman, the one who had given me a book of Mormon in the first place.
Strangly, I do not remember how many days went by until I had the opportunity to get into a town large enough to be in front of a tv and actually hear the news and see what was going on. I know that by the time I got in front of a tv, the much talked about fact that the only thing on tv was replay after replay of the plane hitting the building was over. I wouldn’t actually see the gruesome deed until months later when my future wife would send a time magazine covering the event. I memorized every picture, etched them into my identity as an american, and was finally able to have closure and move on. In a way, I became more American than I ever had been before, but at the same time, I also was able to leave my ethnocentricity behind and see the world with new eyes.
Also in the package was a rain jacket, which to this day, I still consider the best gift I ever received.