Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas past-- Here's to you Spence

I dont know what it is about this time of year that makes one (me) get sentimental. I think its that with all the festivities there are more opportunities for memories to actually keep. My brain get less and less efficient as I get older and I need those sense triggers to help me out. One of the memories that keeps circling in my brain is the second Christmas I spent in Montana. Mission Christmases were always very memorable and as I shared some of my feelings from the first, I wanted to share an experience I had just before I returned home.
As I mentioned in the previous blog, the first Christmas was filled with homesickness and I found reassurance through music. My second Christmas was spent with much less homesickness and far more "taking in" as much as I could before I left. It was spent visiting families and funning with the Elders in the same apartment complex. It was spent busy with teaching opportunities and tying up loose ends. With all this bustle there was no time to feel anything but excitement. And then I got the call that stopped me in my tracks.
I'll never forget the shake in Stu's voice as she said, "he's gone, Martin..." I didn't really understand what she was saying. After a few more sentences that I dont really remember hearing, I put it together. A very close friend of mine, Elder Platt, had died in a car accident the day before.
Platt, or Spencer, was one of my boys. Those of you who know me, know I always seem to collect "boys" everywhere I go. He was added in after I threw out a smart ass comment about one of the elders who was playing basketball without his shirt on. He was giving me trouble about checking the elder out and I just laughed and said if I was gonna look at a guy I would wanna look at a man not a stick. From then on he was a puppy that always seemed to follow close behind.
We followed each other around the mission, always running into each other at District and Zone Conferences. At first, I was kinda bugged by his attention, but after a while I came to depend on his excitement to run into me and tell me everything he had been up to. He became a little brother.
My favorite memory was when we were helping fix up a mobile home for a very large, very poor member of a ward in our District. Their daughter, about 4 at the time, followed him around all day and called him Prince Phillip. He was sweet and played along. He never lived it down and we forever called him Prince Phillip.
All the time spent around him came rushing back, kinda like now, when the call came and I crumpled. Luckily it was prep day and I didn't have to put on a mask. I was able to have a good cry. I went about the rest of the week, numb. Our Zone Conference, usually a big celebration at Christmas time, turned into a memorial. And while it felt good to share memories and feelings, it hurt to even try to enjoy our meeting.
Finally, after about a week of moping around and just keeping it all in, I remember falling apart again. I remember falling down on my knees, crying out Why? And so quickly and so very clearly my question was answered with another question. "What have you been teaching these people all this time?" I was struck. It hurt. Here I was at the end of my mission and I still didn't get it. What had I been teaching all this time? How could I teach it over and over and over and still not get it?
It was one of those moments when you realize that religion, that tenets and beliefs are not just abstract concepts. They had real life application. While I was still smarting from the forceful nature of the answer, I found a peace that I had never felt before. I knew that he was looking down on me, shaking his head, and letting me know he was busy being a missionary, if not in Montana anymore. Its funny how trite that sounds. How many times do we say, "they are in a better place", or "the Lord needed them on the other side" when we really haven't had the opportunity to grasp what we are saying. But, I knew it. And I felt comfort from both Platt and Heavenly Father.
Now, so many years later, he still comes to mind every Christmas. And I am reminded of my not so subtle lesson. And I hope, that when I get to cross my finish line, that he will be waiting with a big smile just as excited to see me then as he was every time we ran into each other in Montana.
Merry Christmas, Spence. I miss you!

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