Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Heaven Hugs

Recently, I was going through a huge binder full of hundreds of letters I sent home over the course of my LDS mission. The following is an excerpt from a letter dated September 15, 2005:

We had a number of people come to Church on Sunday. One was a very eccentric guy named Dean. Dean is definitely a product of the 60's. He was wearing a baby blue polyester suit and has this wispy hippie beard that makes you think his name should be Valley or Rain. After sacrament meeting, I asked Dean what he thought about the meeting, and we began to talk about God and things of that nature. He began to tell me about a gift God had given him, a gift unique to him alone. Feeling a good mission story coming on, I asked him what that was.

"God has given me," he began, "what I call a Heaven Hug."

"Hm," I said.

At length I asked, "So, what is a Heaven hug?"

"A Heaven hug is what I do when people are having a bad day. I've had men and women tell me that when I give them a hug, no matter how bad they're doing, it makes them feel better. I just put my arms around them, rub their backs a bit, and all their problems just go away."

"Hm," I said. "That's-" I strained for the word, "neat." I tried to make it sound sincere, but I think my attempt fell flat.

He went on, "Now it's not a gross thing or anything. I just give them a hug like you would your own mother, and I give guys a 'guy hug.' You know what a 'guy hug' is, don't you?"

"Yes," I said hastily, trying to avoid what I thought might be coming. It didn't work.

"A guy hug," he said as he rounded the pew and threw his right arm around me and frew me close, "is sort of like this. You know, we're buddies, we're pals. It's not gay or anything. Sometimes I'll do a full-on Heaven Hug with guys, but they're usually more comfortable with this."

Comfortable was pretty far from where I was at the time--but he went on. "Yep, I'm able to just wipe people's cares away. You want an example?"

Being pretty sure that I had just gotten one, I promptly assured him that I didn't have any worries or cares, that I wasn't in need of a Heaven Hug at that point in time, but I'd let him know if I ever did. (It was vaguely similar to when contacts told us they'd give us a call to learn more about the church.)

Dean, though, was insistent. "Well, here, just grab my hand," he said as he clutched at my hand. Totally uncomfortable, I tried to shake his hand like any missionary might. I was desperate to be done with the whole conversation.

"No. Don't shake. Just feel."

So there I was, standing in the middle of the now-empty chapel, grasping hands with a crazy old dude. In the back of my mind I thought, "Wow, I don't think I'll ever sin again if I can just get out of here."

"Do you feel that?" Dean asked.

I replied honestly. "Yep. I feel it." I was feeling something. It just wasn't anything that remotely resembled peace. I dropped my hands promptly into my pockets. No one has a blank check to hold my hands. Ever.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Peru's Wild Side

My friends Alex DeBirk, Steve Howell, and I are all dreamers; big ideas, little follow through. When we were sophomores in high school we had elaborate plans drawn up for a three day, sixty person, 100 acre, monster game of steal-the-flag. It tanked. We've since planned a trip to King's Peak. It tanked. We planned to build a flatboat and spend a week on Utah Lake. It tanked. We planned a trip to Fresno, CA, where we would hike Yosemite and I would get my trash dumped by a girl I had been dating. Well, that one actually happened. But suffice it to say, we love to indulge in pipe dreams, and in the many hours it takes to plan activities we don't actually expect to undertake.

One night I had mentioned to Steve that I had never been out of the country, though I had once, while on the border, taken an opportunity to spit on Canada. Steve was incensed, and our pipe dream planning session ensued. At length we decided that we would go to Cairo, Egypt; Angkor Wat, Cambodia; or Machu Picchu, Peru. Each locale had a satisfactory combination of hikes, strange cultures, and historic venues. We spent hours that night learning about them and planning our activities.

The next day Steve called me, "Dude! I just found round trip tickets to Lima, Peru for $400!"

"Seriously? Man, I think we should get them."

"I just did. You owe me $400."

Thus was our pipe dream thrust into the realm of reality.

Almost a year later, we were in Astete Internacional Aeropuerto the small airport at Cusco, Peru, wondering what to do next. Our plane had been delayed a few hours, and so the cab our hostel had sent to fetch us had long since left. We had no idea where our hostel was, or even how to ask. Perhaps it was the backpacks, our white skin, or the dazed, blank look on our faces that clued him in, but a man named Angel immediately deduced where we were headed. “You go to Loki, yes? You come, you come, I take you.”

With a nose for bargains, Steve had booked us into a hostel with a somewhat seedy reputation, which wasn’t unfounded. Hostel Loki was known for its drinking, wild parties, and somewhat lewd activities. But hey, at $4 a night, we (and by we, I mean Steve) were willing to put up with a lot!

On the way to Loki, Angel, who became a regular contact and friend throughout the trip, asked us what we were going to be doing. We told him about the hike, but said we had nothing to do that day.

“You want to see sexy woman,” he asked in his stilted English. Obviously Angel knew about Loki’s reputation, and assumed we shared its promiscuous disposition.

“No thanks,” Alex said with a chuckle.

Angel again said again later, “You see sexy woman. You need sexy woman.”

Alex spoke Japanese. Steve spoke Mandarin Chinese. I was the only one of the three with any experience whatsoever in speaking Spanish. My Spanish experience had been a three-month period of my mission where I had learned to say things like “Yo se que el Libro de Mormon es verdadero,” or “Somos missionaros de la Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Ultimos Dias.” Knowing neither phrase was going to be at all useful on the trip, I generally kept my mouth shut. Luckily I understood a trace amount more than I could speak, and so was able to have rudimentary communication with Angel, who’s English was about the direct inverse of my experience in Spanish.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to claim we in no way needed sexy women.

“You go to sexy woman. You see sexy woman,” he insisted.

“Sachsaywaman”, as it turns out, is the ruin of a massive Incan temple just outside Cusco. The complex, that covers a number of acres of highland that overlooks Cusco, was the site of the last stand between Incan warriors and their European invaders in the 15th Century.

I’ve had communication problems in my life, but never have any come to such a happy conclusion as did that one.

"Every improvement in communication makes the bore more terrible."

-Frank Moore Colby