[Paper letter, written on the flight from Salt Lake City to Atlanta, en-route to Argentina. It took a while to get to us.]
(By next week it will long have left my psyche.)
Well, looking back on these 12 days, I find that ultimately, the things that gave me a nervous stomach ache were the most valuable things. Public speaking, hours of role playing, being grilled. Nothing that came easy was nearly as worth my time. I've asked a lot of questions. I've cleaned a million toilets. Yesterday morning I was awoken by the melodic cries of pain of a sister from Fiji who was passing a kidney stone.
So, hands down, one of the best things that happened here was discovering that Sister Tucker is my soul-twin. I'm sure I mentioned her last week, because she was my roommate. She's the jolly soul from Oklahoma who half-sings when she talks. She is an architect's daughter. She enjoys baking, reading, and knife-throwing. She speaks the Spanish. She speaks the English. She speaks the Portuguese. I'd like to say that she and I see eye-to-eye, but that would distract from the fact that she's probably taught me more than I could ever teach her. Beyond being witty, Real, and the creator of a highly-acclaimed feminist blog that she later deleted, she is also incredibly selfless. (Re: This morning, when I got up at 5 a.m. to leave for the airport, she got up too, took care of my check-out paperwork, took my luggage to weigh it and help me balance it out, gave me her own carry-on bag because I needed one to carry extra book weight, and carried my two suitcases up the stairs. All on her P-day, a.k.a her only day to potentially sleep in. Now I'm just making myself look bad.) This morning was just one of many episodes of Sister Julie Tucker to the rescue. The other day, I found Annika (who got here on the 4th) and as I had predicted, she and Hermana Tucker jived uber-well. The three of us are absolutely going to share an apartment when we go back to school.
The daytime at the MTC is exactly like the nighttime, since my dreams mimic the classrooms: slacks and dress shoes marching around, prompting me in a very authoritative, garish, second-language accent to sing, to pray, to memorize a column or two. I was in the only non-native speaking district in my branch, so I'm ready to get off a plane in South America and be struck by lightning. I'm planning on insisting that people speak at half-speed.
If there's any eye-opening moment from my time at the MTC that's worth sharing, it's what I realized as I was "being an investigator", role-playing so two Elders in my five-person district could teach me. I like it when they have us do this, because in a way, no one ever stops being an investigator, even if they've joined the Church (we're all just baptized investigators). So I was Laura, they'd invited me to be baptized, I said no. They gently asked why, and I started giving Laura some very distinct attitude--stop pushing this on me, you only want to baptize me because it's what you do, you're too insistent and too confident that this is what I want. Why are you so sure that my feelings will inevitably lead me to want this? If I say no, is it really because I'm numb and hard-hearted? What's the difference between a leap of faith and simply being ignorant and rash?
I've always enjoyed playing devil's advocate, but this time, I was merely asking my own questions under a guise. I was not being a manufactured "stubborn investigator," I was seeing where the lesson would go if I put my own doubts out there. And you know, I'd been spending twelve hours a day with those Elders, so I know they're intelligent and sincere. But they were unprepared to respond. They stuttered. They apologized. They smiled. The teacher saw the lesson was going south, so he was about to end it. I broke out of character.
"Obviously, Laura's interested in hearing what you have to say, or she wouldn't have let you into her home."
"Get her to take a bet on herself. Get her to take a chance on what she does know."
"Les conozco a ustedes," [I know you guys!] I said, rather livid, "You weren't always going to end up on a mission. What changed you? What are you doing here? Think about what it has to do with Laura."
So, I may have taken up all the oxygen in the room again, and the lesson ultimately had to be abandoned. But, on a personal note, rather than going back into a coma when it had finished, I was filled with that familiar fire, the fire that tells me that two different parts of my identity are mutually trying to destroy each other. I don't think either one of them is meant to win in this life, because to me, that conflict, that internal wrestle, is what it means to be alive. So, I know my doubts as well as I know my faith, and hopefully, they will always keep each other in check! It's a constant dance, as Mom sometimes says. What concerns me about the Church isn't necessarily going to be what concerns an Argentine I might be talking to. But I hope my critical nature will one day be what someone needs, because it does not dissolve my faith, nor do I feel it makes me a less-worthy member of the Church. As long as it doesn't go out of control, I find it's the funnest part of being Mormon.
Well, this morning, forty-something missionaries and I stormed the airport by train. Moving in large attention-grabbing groups is not new to me; this was no different than thirty cousins and I taking over a hotel pool, or we in our conservative family of seven trying to look cool as we strut through the streets of New York City. We swept through the terminal, some dragging their colossal luggage with the worried appearance of toddlers in a world not their size, one toting a stuffed animal-pillow fusion, several admitting they'd never boarded a plane in their lives. "We serve a mission to get maturity," we cry to the haggard employees, "Don't expect us to be mature today!"
We arrived at the gate with over an hour to spare. I spent it with Sister Adams, a girl I had met previous to the mission and whose life story inspired me at a dire time last year. She's the only one in our group going to Brazil.
I'm in Atlanta and I have to go! Bye!
xoxoxoxoxo Hermana Tolman
[Note from Allison's mom: Allison had this letter all ready to mail when she got off the plane in Atlanta, but was dismayed to learn that since 9/11, there are no mail-drops at airports. She met a kind stranger who said "I'd be happy to mail that for you." Not long after, as the missionaries were looking for pay phones to make one last call home before Mother's Day, another kind stranger said, "I have three cell phones you could use." Bless those kind strangers!]
[Hermana Tucker mailed us a short note the day Allison left the MTC: "Thank you for raising such a great daughter. She was a great friend and example to us all. We really enjoyed our short (but sweet) time with Hermana Tolman. We both know she is going to be a great missionary. She is going to bless so many people in Argentina. Our lives have already been so blessed by her example. Best, Julie Tucker, McKenzie Snyder]
|My zone, with my companion, Hermana Snyder|