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Whistling at the Northern Lights.

I’m a geek. More than that, I’m a nerd. I love most things science, and meteorology/astronomy are no exceptions.

My whole life, I’d dreamed about seeing the northern lights. There were times, when the news said that there was a particularly violent storm on the sun, and we might just get some auroras when my dad, sister and I would drive out to the desert to escape the artificial lights, and watch for them. All with no luck.

When I received a call to go on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was ecstatic. I was called to the Canada Winnipeg Mission, which covers Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the eastern third of Ontario. The mission also goes north to the north pole, but (at the time I was there, anyway,) there aren’t any missionaries in the territories.

My first area was in Saskatoon, which is why I chose that as the location, but really, the first time I saw the northern lights was in Winnipeg. It was the second night I was in Canada.

During the summer, the northern lights usually came out after we had to be home for curfew, and it was hit or miss if the apartment I was living in at the time would have a view of them. During the winter–well, we were more concerned about preventing frostbite than watching the pretty lights in the sky.

One time, in particular, I remember well. I was just assigned a senior Sister as my companion (young missionaries are assigned companions, which can change every six weeks. Senior missionaries–usually retired couples stick with their companion for their whole mission. Men can only serve with their wives, but women can come out by themselves or with a friend.) My new companion, Sister Place, had come with her friend, but Sister Hillman elected to go home about halfway through her mission, because her daughter was having a difficult, life-threatening pregnancy.

For a few days, Sister Place, Sister Hillman, myself, another of Sister Hillman’s daughters, and one of Sister Hillman’s grandson’s shared a small apartment. One of these nights, I couldn’t sleep, and looked out the window to see the northern lights. I could hear the daughter moving around so I alerted her to the fact that they were out. The display wasn’t very spectacular, but it was the first time that the daughter had seen the northern lights.

One of the things you learn quickly when working with the people, especially the natives of Canada is to never whistle at the northern lights. The story I heard says that the northern lights are your deceased ancestors coming back to visit, and whistling at them would be very disrespectful.

Although, come to think of it, I never heard what would happen if you whistled at the northern lights…

Remembering Winnipeg.

Yesterday, one of my mission buddies posted a link to Hark, a vagrant, specifically, a series of comics dealing with Canadian stereotypes.  It made me remember an incident on my mission, when I was in Winnipeg.

I was in Canada from August of 2002 to January 2004.  In 2003, America invaded Iraq, and Canada wasn’t happy about it.  There were many protests, and Anti-American sentiment rose dramatically.

There were an average of 150 missionaries in the Canada Winnipeg Mission when I was there, and all but a bare handful came from the US.  During this time, we had a Zone Conference (missions are divided into zones, and once a transfer, or once every 6 weeks, each zone would have a conference, or a meeting with the Mission President.  We would be instructed as a group, then have individual interviews with the President) in which we discussed what to do if things got out of control and we had to evacuate the country.  It was also stressed that this was a long shot, and probably wouldn’t happen, but the Church is really big on being prepared.

Basically, the evacuation plan was for all of us to go to Fargo.  Except Elder Slyman from the UK.  (And probably Elder Hastie from New Zealand, but he wasn’t in my zone at the time, and I remember Elder Slyman being singled out) Elder Slyman would go to Toronto, because Canada is a British Commonwealth, and his visa wouldn’t allow him to enter into the US.

I posted this on Facebook last night, and went to bed.  As I was going to sleep, I thought it kind of sounded like something I had made up.  This morning, I checked, and had a couple of replies from missionaries I served with saying, basically, they remember the protests, but not the evacuation plan.

Now, it’s fully possible that I’m connecting two unrelated incidents in my mind, and the evacuation plan could have been for any major disaster, like, say, if a meteor hit Winnipeg.  And it was just because I was dealing with Anti-Americanism on almost a daily basis I connected it to the protests.  To make sure I wasn’t TOO crazy, I pulled out my mission journals.  I didn’t make it through one entry before I was sobbing.

A mission is like your entire life condensed into 18 months or 2 years.  All of the problems, all of the joy all of the trials, all of the heartache are condensed into a very intense time frame.  Well, if you’re not sure what the big trial is in my life, then you haven’t been paying attention.

It was on my mission that I discovered that I really would need to take an anti-depressant every day for the rest of my life.  I struggled with many of my companions, and, if the rate at which I went through them is any indication, they struggled with me.  Reading my entries, I was reminded of investigators that we thought were golden–who we knew felt the spirit, and knew it was true, but eventually dropped us.  I remembered petty quarrels with my companions, and feelings of being excluded.  I remembered the despair, the heartache, the stupid early mornings struggling to stay awake, the struggle to find motivation to get out and do the work.

I should mention that writing, for me, is a panacea. I would write more about the heartache and the problems I was having then about the fun I would have with my companions. In a series of a week, I would talk about the frustration I had with certain investigators, but not about Marjorie, who was planning on baptism. When I look back, I see the good times, the fun and remember how much I loved it.  When I read my journals, I remember the struggle.

Basically, I don’t want to scare anyone considering a mission.  Yes, it is hard work, but it is worth it.  I count myself lucky that I’ll be able to go again when I’m old–whether or not I find a husband.  Men don’t have that option.

It’s been a hard day for me.  The emotional aftershock of dealing with E hasn’t been too bad–but the head cold I’ve been fighting for a week has kicked into high gear. Combined with the mission flashbacks…

I’m trying to cheer up before Institute tonight.  Hopefully, the topic isn’t something else that’s going to kick me in the butt.

Blame it on the Olympics.

I’ve had Canada on the brain recently.  I suppose the whole world has Canada on the brain right now, but I’m not thinking about Vancouver (much), I’ve been thinking about Saskatoon.

Saskatoon was the first city I served in on my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  When you’re a missionary, you go where the Mission President tells you to go, and are never more than three feet away from who the Mission President tells you your companion is.

Saskatoon was my favorite city that I visited on my mission.  Yes Regina has the temple, and Winnipeg has…stuff, but Saskatoon is special. If I were to move to Canada, Saskatoon would be the city where I’d want to live.

I’ve been thinking specifically about three people who live in Saskatoon, or at least did when I was there in 2002 and 2003.

The first is a man by the name of Tony.  I never knew his last name.  We met him while we were out tracting (that’s what we call it when missionaries go door-to-door, soliciting appointments and handing out literature, or tracts).  He was sitting in a lawn chair in his driveway, so he had to see us coming.  In his benefit, he didn’t hide inside like most people do when they see Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses coming.  He was very friendly, and talked to us about how he had gone through a difficult time in his life recently, but had found religion in another church.  (I don’t remember what religion he found, but it was a main-stream one).  He wasn’t interested in hearing our message, so we left him with a pass-a-long card. (cards that missionaries hand out, with a phone number or a website where someone can find more information on the church, or order a video, Bible or Book of Mormon free of charge.)

The next was a woman named Danielle.  She wasn’t very old–about 28 when I knew her, and had been a model, but her life was a wreck.  I think she kept working with us because she wanted friends–she was distraught when I told her I was leaving after the first time I was transfered out, even though I knew I’d be back.  She was one of our contacts for the whole two and a half months I was in Saskatoon the first time around, but dropped the discussions sometime in the six months I was away from the city.  When I was called to Saskatoon a second time, the first thing I did was call her to let her know I was back, and asked her to return my call if she was interested in continuing the discussions.  I never heard from her again.

The third person I think about is a man named Leighton.  Leighton was a teacher at a seminary outside of Saskatoon.  He lived a few blocks from our apartment, and I think he was in love with my companion.  Teaching him was very intense.  We even had the chance to visit the seminary, and meet some of his students.  I thought he was a solid investigator (someone who is investigating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and thinking about being baptized), but he had dropped the discussions between the times I was in Saskatoon.

I don’t know why these three people are the ones that I think about (in my head I just pronounced that aboout.  I love Canada.) when I think about my mission.  I should think about people like Marjorie and Jaime, people I worked with who eventually got baptized (I do, quite a bit, actually, but I don’t wonder about them like I do Tony, Leighton and Danielle).  I should think about Gerta, Darcie and Ann, the sweet members of the Church who helped us so much.  I should think about companions, and the friendships made and the lessons learned.  And, really, I should be thinking about Winnipeg–I spent twice as much time there as I did in Saskatoon.

I don’t know how much of an impact I had on Leighton or Danielle’s lives.  I don’t know if Tony even remembers me–I don’t even know why I remember Tony.  But these three people had a huge impact on me–and I don’t think I’ll ever forget them.

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