Late this summer, I took my six year-old son Jeffrey on his first road trip. Headed to Salt Lake for a conference, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for bonding time before school started. It might have been quicker to fly, but seriously, road trips are a rite of passage I wanted to share with him. There would be other kids at the conference, and I would have plenty of free time. He was excited to go, and piled his pillows and toys in the backseat with puppy-like exuberance.
Ten hours and a ghastly amount of “Are we there yet?” later, we pulled into our Salt Lake City hotel. Our room was right off the pool, and I promised my tired boy we would hit the water as soon as we got dinner. We unpacked and decided to walk to a restaurant up the street.
Turns out those wacky addresses in SLC are a bit confusing for a stranger, and the restaurant was farther than I had imagined- oh yeah, and the air was like the inside of a furnace. The moisture was being sucked out of my body as I dragged my hot child through the arid desert, looking for something called the Blue Iguana. Who hides a restaurant underground anyway?
After a short wait, we got our food, but the look on my son’s face told me he was going to crash into the guacamole if he didn’t get some sleep. Chugging a pitcher of water while the waiter boxed our food, I temporarily hydrated my parched self and made ready to re-enter the blasted heat.
The shortest way back to our hotel was walking down West Temple, where we unexpectedly found ourselves at the Conference Center. Like most Mormons, we watch General Conference twice a year in our jammies while eating cinnamon rolls. We weren’t prepared for how huge and impressive the actual building is- and Jeffrey immediately recognized things he has seen in pictures.
“Can we go in, Mom?”
We were both so tired, but there were people milling around, so I thought I would ask. The doors were locked, and we couldn’t see anyone inside, but a guy on a Segway whizzed by, shouting over his shoulder that the doors on the other side were open.
Looking down at Jeffrey, I told him we could go in, but he had to understand this might take up our swimming time. Was he sure he wanted to do this?
“Yes, mom, I want to go inside” Wow. OK, what six year old boy chooses a big old building over splashing in a pool?
That building is big. Especially when you are hot, tired and don’t know where you are. We finally found an open door, and the blast of cold air was all I could focus on for a few seconds. There were scattered people, but no crowds. A kindly older gentleman approached us holding out a paper.
“Are you here to see the choir or for a tour?”
Choir? What? I was a little confused- we just came in to see the building- the cool air was a bonus. I looked at the paper in my hand, and back at the gentleman.
“Sister, the Choir is practicing here tonight, and you and your son are free to watch if you like. The orchestra is warming up right now, and you can go through those doors to your right.”
Jeffrey was jumping up and down, “Let’s go, mom! Let’s GO!” He was yanking my hand and flapping his own arms in excitement; I mumbled my thanks to the man and headed toward the doors.
Who knew the Choir was practicing, and that we would stumble in at the exact right time, on the exact right day?
Honestly, I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention. I had a hopping boy, I had been driving since before dawn, we still hadn’t eaten our dinner, and I was dizzy, parched and grumpy from our unexpected walk to dinner. I wasn’t thinking of anything spiritual, I wasn’t thinking much of anything at all. My son was yanking my arm, and I was distracted…
So when I walked through those doors and smashed completely unprepared into a wall of my own emotions, I couldn’t move. Standing there, looking out at the arc of seats and the smattering of people, there was nothing special happening- someone was folding some chairs, another was tuning a violin, the choir was on the stand in small groups, but there was no music yet. So why was I paralyzed? Why were my feet refusing to move as my eyes filled with tears and electricity rushed up and down my back?
“Mooooommm! Come on!” Jeffrey was yanking on me again, and I snapped out of it long enough to wipe the tears from my chin. Yes, my chin. “Why are you crying mom?”
“I don’t know…” Why was I crying? What was wrong with me? An empty building, a few people idly chatting, my son excited to hear some music… why was I crying?
Jeffrey skipped towards the front and I followed, searching my purse for a tissue. I just wanted to sit and feel what was happening inside me. There were thousands of empty chairs and I slumped into an aisle seat as Jeffrey bounced from chair to chair, seeing how close he could get to the organ and counting the pipes.
My body looked warm and solid, but things were stretching, moving, slowly leaning on the shelves inside my mind. How odd to be a spectator of my own life- Gently at first, like an oiled toggle on an old lock falling into place, then quicker and hotter, the ideas began to tip and slide- My breath caught in my chest as the channel opened and suddenly all the pieces shot home and everything fell off the shelf inside me.
Stunned, I sat there.
Holy crap. I’m a Mormon. This isn’t just an experiment. This isn’t something I’m just trying out, until the next interesting thing comes along. This isn’t something I can ever walk away from- Not ever. This Is Who I Am. This is right. This is what it claims to be. This is the rest of my life, and the life beyond. This is eternal progression. This is lead into gold. This is man into God.
I was crying again. The music had started, but I hadn’t really noticed. Jeffrey snuggled into the crook of my arm, and I wiped at my eyes, for the first time turning my focus back outward. Everything looked the same- but I was not the same.
An hour later, we left the cool of the building and walked into the late blue twilight. The heat was abating and the sky showed only the last strands of color on the horizon. We were both quiet as we walked across the courtyard, lost in our own thoughts.
Jeffrey reached out and took my hand, “Mom?”
There was a hitch in his small voice, “What, sweetie?” We stopped on the sidewalk.
His voice was thick, emotional, and I could see his face full of concentration as he worked to find words for his feelings. “I’m so full of the Spirit right now, and I don’t know why.”
The breeze whispered across the empty shelf inside me. I squeezed my son’s hand, letting him know he was not alone.
(I joined the church six years ago, at 29, already a mother and a wife.)