On Sunday, our MTC Branch President will ask the departing district to stand. He will say something like, “These missionaries will be leaving tomorrow. We want to thank them for their service in our branch and we certainly wish them well on our missions.”
I always tear up when we say goodbye to a set of missionaries. It feels almost archetypal, from my Mormon framework. Because of the ways I imagine the pre-existence, I can picture groups of spirits standing to acknowledge that they will be leaving for their mortal assignments in the morning, and that they’re ready (or think they are!) for whatever challenges those assignments will entail
They are such good kids, these missionaries—so pure and so full of hope and good will. I love them. Some have done very well with their French; others are still struggling. And just wait until they hear how it’s really spoken!
They have no idea how difficult and how precious the next twenty-two months will be for them.
My daughter’s missionary just returned. It surprised me how young he looked in his jeans and regular shirt, because we met him on his mission, when he was always wearing a white shirt etc. The Sunday of his homecoming, he looked like a missionary again. But there was a slight difference: He was wearing a red tie.
Does that mean anything to anyone? Apparently, in some missions, a red tie is a code. It means you’ve kissed a girl since your return from your mission. (My daughter bought him the tie. Where is that instruction written in “For the Strength of Youth”?) Actually, it was all very sweet and innocent.
There are other missionary rituals I’ve heard about: burning a tie after six months; burning a suit after a year. What do you burn after two years? What do you find you yearn for many years after your return?
I have a 30-year-old Guatemalan huipil hanging on a bedroom wall. It looks like quite an antique with all its rust stains. I love it. I love the memories it brings to me. That whole room is transported from Guatemala, as it were. I wish there were tortilla-scented candles, and I would spend hours just breathing in the smells.
A friend of mind used to save the blankets her children were first wrapped in after their births so she could smell the scent of their new bodies. I don’t know how long that scent would last, but the thought of it, the thought of that sublime and perfect innocence, the newness of the arrival (and departure) is something to contemplate.
In my life, I burned one marriage and sold the first wedding dress I wore for fifty dollars. (I rented my second wedding dress.) I repented of many things, and metaphorically burned my bad decisions. And yet even those days of drifting and doubting, making hard choices and doing stupid things, come back to me as sweet path markers. “Two roads diverged…and I, I took the one less traveled by…”
I love the many beginnings I’ve had. And even the departures have left treasures.