Some of my greatest flaws as a person are probably offshoots of my wretched social skills—an inherent tendency to find a common interest to spark a polite conversation and avoid awkward silence, and a selfish instinct to censor myself from saying things that might be uncomfortable for me talk about.
So it was not exactly a surprise that within roughly ten minutes of my arrival here at the house where I will be staying while I tutor two Hawaii-bound kids, I made my first big mistake and quickly managed to follow it up with a second one.
You see, there was this portrait of Jesus Christ, hanging on the wall of the living room, and I needed only a couple of neurons to figure out that it was one of those Mormon church-commissioned paintings.
By the time I blurted out that I am a “brother,” and my hostess rushed to shake my hand in ecstatic fervor, I could no longer bear to break her heart and disappoint her. There wasn’t an urgent need to tell her that I have not really been able to drag my feet to a chapel in almost ten years, was there? Who was I to deny her the delusion that an old-fashioned Mormon boy has come to keep her company for two months?
For the next several weeks, she was tireless in encouraging me to prove that I was exactly the nice young man that she thought I was. She did not fail to ask me to attend sacrament meetings with her every Sunday. She often talked to me about the spiritual rewards of going on a mission and the blessings of a temple marriage—over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She even had girls my age to come over for snacks in an attempt to interest me in what I call a “date with a saint.”
Of course it was not long before she realized that I am batting for the other team that I deceived her. Somehow she finally saw through my rotten soul and promptly threw in the towel. And I bet it was not just because I sometimes smell faintly of menthol cigarettes.
Just last week, an ex-missionary came to visit with his whole family and stay for a couple of days. You know those Mormon families who are the embodiment of niceness? Those whose piety ooze from their pores and form a halo around their blessed heads? They were one of those. I am familiar with that sort because my own family used to be one. (And then my parents started to hurl furniture against each other and decided to separate out of a very Mormonish mixture of guilt and decency.)
On the very night this saintly family arrived, they held a Family Home Evening, a wholesome activity that involved hymns, scriptures, pastries, and parlor games. My hostess apparently got the memo, but somehow, somebody forgot to send me an RSVP. No surprise there. Rumors of an evil reputation travel fast.
I was inside my room when they started to sing “I know that my Redeemer lives.” You see, I was on the phone, talking to MSF, and I could have excused myself so I could join the Mormon folk and enjoy some spiritual air. But I systematically crushed this sentimental emotion, because I cannot help but observe the fact that they did not bother to check if their wayward brother wanted to redeem himself.
So is it just my attempt at dry wit? Or did I write the words “sentimental emotion” out of an entirely different reason? You see, whenever this sort of thing happens, I remind myself that I survived high school without a clique, and nearly all the friends I made thereafter do not share my political leanings.
But for a few seconds at that moment, while I was inside my room, listening to the hymn-singing and scripture-reading just outside the door, I could have sworn it would have been nice to be invited to this Mormon thing, even if my testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet has not strengthened since I was eight. I could have sworn it would not have been that bad to be with a group simply for the heck of it. Just because.
Ah. Well. I guess that qualifies as another flaw in my otherwise splendid set of personal qualities.