S.P. Bailey will be guest posting at BCC for the next little while.
I had imagined myself on the Metroliner. I would catch the 4 a.m., sleep soundly to the lurch and sway of the train, and climb the gentle slope from Union Station to Capitol Hill in early morning sunlight. Here I am climbing off a smoky bus in Chinatown, now a stadium encircled by trendy shops and average Chinese restaurants.
I check my watch. I have plenty of time. My destination: the Library of Congress. A symposium on Joseph Smith. I call him an authentic religious genius. Or simply the prophet depending on my company. I missed three classes (undergraduate, history) to be here.
Arriving at the library, I pass through security and locate the men’s room. Floor to ceiling creamy white and gray marble. Iron art deco fixtures. Only missing is the man in a green velvet suit drying my hands and sweeping my shoulders with a tiny broom. I find my seat and listen to the first session. I locate a friend from home during the first break. He side hugs me and demands that I sit with him.
I eat the lunch I packed (granola bar, banana, water bottle) and explore the library. Not far from the basement auditorium of the symposium is an exhibit on Bob Hope. I spend twenty minutes querying a database–85,000 pages of Bob Hope jokes. I sit with my friend again for the afternoon session. We both pull books from our bags to wait out the two-hour break before the evening session.
Our seats are in the center a few rows back from the front. Backs to the empty stage, we stand and watch the evening crowd fill the auditorium. Many of the same people–academics and students. But others too. He is a Senator, my friend nods at a silver-haired man descending the stairs. He is a partner at a major law firm, he nods again. He runs a federal agency, he spots another. See him with the blonde? He is the CEO of a major corporation. She is his daughter. Not bad, huh? Not bad, I agree. He shrugs: she goes to my singles ward.
My friend also spots a total of four members of the House of Representatives. We snicker as one (the last to arrive) works his way to the front grinning and pumping hands. No seat of honor has been reserved for him. He frowns only briefly. The same as before, he works the crowd on his way up the other side to a seat in the rear.
Twenty-four hours later. On the bus back to the city, I think about where I am going. Academia maybe. Or law school. Or business and then an MBA. Maybe even politics? I wonder whether it matters. To God or the kingdom. To my soul. I have asked God to send me where I should go. No answer. Maybe there is no “where I should go.” No professional mission to be called on. I dread the thought of never escaping the Chinatown bus. I think again of the Metroliner. Business school, I tell myself, can’t be that bad.
Fading into sleep, I picture Joseph Smith. Did he attend the symposium? One panelist made a census of the Mormon elite–the politicians and captains of industry. If Joseph could see us now, he gushed. To what end, another panelist asked. Or maybe it was what is the point? I see him there–seated in the front row, nineteenth century pants and everything–and I try to read his face. Is the prophet impressed? What does competing at the highest levels have to do with the Restoration?