Mormonism has it’s own culture as well as the doctrine. My family was recruited into the church by the proverbial white shirted missionaries. I was twelve when my family joined and I love my religion. As a recruit, many things that are culturally Mormon I had to learn and observe. They didn’t come naturally as they would have had I been born a Mormon in Utah. I also wouldn’t have to spend as much money being blond if I was born from good Mormon stock. I was blond as a child and do have blue eyes but it’s not that white-blond that lingers way into adulthood like Utah Mormons. Have you ever been to Utah? It’s as if you stepped off the plane and landed in “The Village of the Damned”. Everyone is either blond with those scary starring blue eyes or a redhead. It’s very obvious that the intense missionary work that was done when the church was new was highly successful in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The people are generally pretty in Utah. Romney pretty. The moms share clothes with their daughters which often creates a somewhat “Dorian Gray” experience. An Abercrombie clad hottie, slim hipped, with long blond hair turns around and you realize with a start that this woman is fifty. Her boyish looking husband may have a gray streak perfectly peaking through at the temples but his curtained brow, draped with Beiber bangs compliment his cargo shorts and “Cougars” T-shirt. The “Stepford Wives” movie comes to mind with quick recollection.
Even now, forty-seven years later, I don’t understand some of the practices and refuse to comply. These aren’t doctrinal mind you, I am a full fledged card carrying Mormon. You might say staunch Mormon if we used that term but we don’t. One of the practices I don’t comply with involves traveling on a plane. Some missionary minded members believe once your seatbelt is fastened, your seat back in it’s upright position, and your tray table locked, your next move is to turn to the person innocently sitting to your right or your left and strike up a conversation that will undoubtedly lead to the question, “Would you like to know more about the Mormon church?” A plane trip to me means that I have been gifted a reprieve from my full time position as mother, wife, grandmother, or daughter. I am escaping and the effort that it takes to get myself aboard a plane can only be likened to the pioneer Mormons leaving Illinois in the dead of winter under duress. I don’t want to talk to a stranger let alone my husband if he is joining me. His companionship only means that the effort to go on vacation was not just doubled but quadrupled. I imagine that others feel the same way.
This idea that you should convert a plane full of captive gentiles was somehow driven even more into the revelation category by the beginning of nonstop service to Salt Lake City by Southwest Airlines in 1994. Suddenly that long drive was no longer necessary for all Saints having the misfortune of not living in Zion. Returning to the promised land was cheap and easy. Certain times of year guarantee a full on congregational reunion at the gate. You will board the plane with all the people that you now or ever have gone to church with in your life. If you are not a member, you may wish to either jump without a parachute before landing, or be baptized immediately upon landing. Will the drinking fountain due?
One of the great things about Mormonism is the feeling of family that you instantly attain upon baptism. No matter where you land in the world you know you have a life line if needed. One phone call to a clergy member and you will be given aid. I love my family but don’t like them all the time. When I’m on vacation it’s sometimes my family I’m trying to get away from, biologically or religiously. This is why I try to NOT fly on Southwest if I can help it when traveling to Utah.
Last weekend I couldn’t avoid the Southwest jubilee. I was traveling to attend a wedding. I focused like an FBI agent at an inaugural event. The TSA had already x-rayed the luggage and patted down the bodies of all those sitting at Gate 15. I was scanning for my own version of a terrorist attack. I was determined to increase the security of my sanity. Within seconds of reaching the gate, I spotted two people that we went to church with thirty years ago. With a sigh of relieve their old age and obvious higher class distinction prevented a catch up session. Once seated on board, I was able to crack open a new paperback, getting lost in a fictional world for an hour and a half. My peripheral vision kept guard and my body language stood sentry. The fluffy floral draped woman seated in the aisle seat next to me, left an empty seat between us. She commandeered the seat by organizing her woolen circles that she was creating, stacking them by color. I couldn’t help but wonder how pointy, sharp, knitting needles, can be allowed on board, but I had to turn off my electronic devices. Her black glasses where as round and large as the rest of her and my quick prayer was full of thanks for a not full flight. I knew that if I even glanced her way I would be forced to know who this Afghan was being made for, why it was being made, and about the other hundred afghans she has made. I bet she has cats. I included in my prayer another thank you for earphones and onboard WI-FI.
Getting on board a SWA flight requires self discipline. It creates frustration for those of us who forget we have to stay awake till one-second past midnight to check in. You stand the risk of being separated from a loved one and instead sitting next to a jolly grandma who is going to share the tales involving her thirteen grandsons, all who have served missions in Brazil. Speaking of foreign missions that include people of color; I can only hope this influx of new Mormons will begin to diversify the lack of melanin in the mother land. Maybe someday, Provo will have people who are at least beige, if not taupe! Anyway, we boarded the plane and secured two seats in the exit aisle. These are the seats most coveted because of the leg room and the rule that no one under fifteen or not physically able to assist others in jumping to their deaths can sit there. This rules out crying babies and old people who love to talk. Two demographics that are often found on flights from or to Utah.
Some Mormons share their devotion like wealthy people share summer vacation stories in the Hamptons and celebrity acquaintances. Soon the three seats behind us were occupied. The woman, uniformed in her Capri pants, anklets and keds squeezed in the center seat and was complimented by her pale faced blond spouse donning a safari hat, an “I survived Mt. Saint Helens” T-shirt, mom jeans, and yes, socks and sandals. The other man was extremely tall, reserved, and glad he had nabbed extra leg room on the aisle. The proud survivor of the volcano, which by the way, exploded thirty-three years ago, (has he had the shirt that long?) knew the other man from his church position but not in a personal way. This did not stop him however from sharing in a personal way, in that “wink wink” we are all enlisted kind of way.
Mr. Volcano exploded conversationally just as the mountain had in May of 1980. The difference being I had no warning of the sharp, silt like, particles of speech he spewed. We were warned about Mt. Saint Helens and watched for days as the peak bulged and steam escaped that mountain. Ironically we were at church when the mountain finally popped. We had to wear face masks for a while but they warned that the ash could even penetrate the filters. I wished I could have filtered what this man was saying. Very proud and puffed up, he announced to the tall man sitting on the other side of the hill which was his wife, “Well, we are certainly doing our missionary work” he said, “We invited our neighbor and her son over just to socialize and they are now taking the lessons and the mother has expressed an interest in being baptized.” “What about the son?” the considerate quiet man politely asked. “He is on probation right now, just got out of jail, so he can’t be baptized” was the reply. “He can’t come to church, he would really like to” he said adding a tone of sympathy, “he was charged with child abuse so he has to stay away from places where there are children. He would have to be accompanied by ‘people’ and that would be too hard for him.” His voice became determined and if I had eyes in back of my head, I know I would have seen an “at-a-boy” fist punch. I wanted so badly to turn around and yell, “REALLY? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?” A convicted felon that has to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life is your golden contact?
The man’s delivery spoke louder than his words which shouldn’t have been audible to begin with. The fact that his neighbor hurt babies was lost in his zeal for recognition. He told this story like a child waiting for his candy after successfully pooping in the potty. I wished I had had a bag of M&M’s to toss him because what he had just announced was crap. I bowed my head and let out a sigh for this man and at his need to be accepted. Maybe others would applaud his devotion, his unconditional love. I just see a desire to have a great story to tell in church AND on a stupid plane to a stranger! I’ve never heard anything like this on a Delta flight. Maybe that’s because Delta is always delayed and the passengers are too grouchy to mingle. I’m good with that.