So a couple of months ago one of my best friends happened to be in DeKalb, Illinois, the town where we both grew up, and eating at a local Mexican restaurant called Rosita’s. And it occurred to him that there are still a lot of people we went to high school with that are local to the area, and he wondered whether if he sent up a bat signal would people get together for an evening of food, drinks and conversation? So he picked yesterday, Friday May 29th, and shot off the flare, which is to say he posted an open invitation to our high school classmates on our class Facebook page. He even offered to pick up the drink tab. The actual event was last night, and about a dozen of us ended up having a very pleasant evening together. It kind of unwittingly turned into a fascinating social experiment, because that particular set of people probably never would have gotten together while we were actually in high school 39 years ago (our 40th anniversary reunion will be next year). But now which side of town you grew up on or which middle school you went to or which group you hung with didn’t seem to really matter all that much anymore. Just having gone to the same high school together now seemed like an ample stake on which to tether our shared life experiences.
Anyway, this event for some reason called to my mind a little white lie that I told to a number of people 39 years ago. Everyone was excited about being done with high school and making college plans, and so that was a big topic of conversation in those last waning days of high school. I had been accepted to BYU (I don’t precisely recall, but I think that may have been the only school I even applied to; my dad was a big proponent of me going there). Of course my close friends all knew this. But for some reason when more casual acquaintances asked me the inevitable question of where I was going to go to school, my response was “the University of Illinois.” It’s true that I had visited Champaign-Urbana many times, my older sister was attending there, and I eventually would go to law school there. But none of that changes the fact that what I said was a lie; I was going to BYU, not the UoI.
If this happened today, I doubt I would be so reckless as to tell such a fib. Last night photos and commentary on our dinner were appearing in real time on Facebook, and this morning I woke up to quite a few more. But there was no Facebook or internet back in those olden days.
Why did I do that? I am honestly not entirely sure. It wasn’t planned, at least the first time it happened. I’m not aware of any conscious thought having gone into it. And I ended up loving my time at the Y. So feel free to psychoanalyze this in the comments.
But I do have a guess. Saying I was going to BYU would have immediately outed me as a Mormon. Now, today I could imagine not feeling as though I wanted to personally have to bear the weight of all of the Church’s public policies, such as its stance with respect to gay marriage, with which I disagree. But I don’t think anything like that was really in my head at the time.
Rather, I think my concern was with our aggressive proselytism. I didn’t want anyone to think that my friendship was just a ruse to try to get them to become members of my Church. I’ve known lots of Mormons who are friends with people for only so long as their joining the Church remains a live possibility, but when a firm disavowal of interest comes, there goes any pretense of friendship. And I really, really, really didn’t want anyone to think my friendship with them was conditional on their reactions to or feelings towards Mormonism. That our convert-at-all-costs mentality had the potential to color how people perceived me as a friend apparently led my adolescent brain on the spot, unbidden by my actual consciousness, to formulate and communicate my little white lie in an effort to head off that perception at the pass.
I regret telling the lie. But I still possess the feelings that generated it. I would hate for anyone ever to think that my friendship was not genuine, but rather a cynical ploy to boost the baptism numbers.