Summer Lessons

The summer after my freshman year in undergrad, I worked at a summer camp for children with disabilities in Texas. It would be my first experience away from Utah for any extended period of time. I packed my bags, complete with extra copies of the Book of Mormon, and headed off to the hill country of Texas, confident that my knee-length shorts and well-covered clavicles would proclaim that I was a Good Person. I had ideas in my head, planted by many a lesson in Young Women’s and Seminary, of being a shining example to all of those “nonmembers” who saw me. My goodness and light would be a beacon and they would all want to know about my religion. Soon after my arrival, I was befriended by Corrinne*, who was to challenge my judgmental and narrow views of what it meant to be a good person. Not only did she wear tank tops (which to my naïve sensibilities was practically a mortal sin), she was quite rough around the edges and cursed like a sailor. Something of a tomboy, Corrinne was markedly unfeminine and had a lumbering gait. She was in the Army Reserve and would leave some weekends for boot camp. She’d had a rough life, but shrugged it off as no big deal. I remember one day when she described a scene from a pornographic video as if she were talking about the weather (I sat in stunned silence).

Despite many aspects of Corrinne that were, frankly, shocking to the immature girl that I was, I quickly came to see that she was one of the most caring, selfless, genuine people I had ever met. To this day I’ve met few like her. One could never question her motives. Even when Corrinne wasn’t on duty, she would spend time with the children, entertaining them, listening to them, playing with them. I was off to the staff lounge for a break any chance I got. When I had a weekend off, Corrinne generously offered me the keys to her beloved truck. I fear I would not have done the same. I never once saw Corrinne do anything self-centered. She was constantly giving, to the children, to others, to me, wanting nothing in return.

I learned many important lessons that summer. I had gone to Texas (I’m ashamed to admit) with a misguided sense of moral superiority. I saw that the state of another woman’s heart –so open, so giving, so caring and seemingly incapable of passing judgment– was a far better measure of goodness than my outward “modesty” and piety. Even more importantly, I learned to see the goodness in all people. I met many people, some religious, some not; each was trying to do their best in their own way. Everywhere I looked there were compassionate and generous people. A crack was forming in my stark divisions of “us” and “them.” Over time I have come to view my self as part of the great family of humanity rather than a member of a privileged few. I am glad to have met Corrinne, a true diamond-in-the-rough, who taught me to see past a gruff exterior and helped me begin to work toward truly seeing people rather than my notions of what I thought they were.

*Name changed.

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  1. Dora says:

    Thankyou AmyB.

    At Sunstone this year, Carol Lynn Pearson shared a lot of her stories dealing with various communities. She relates on rabbi telling her (and I’m paraphrasing here), the task for every religion is to remind us of those we’re obligated to love (everyone), not the ones we’re privileged to hate (the other).

    Generally, I think that people are good, and want what they consider as good things for their loved ones. Sometimes I wish I could put a huge pair of bifocals on the world … the top portion to gain an “eternal perspective” (to use a hackneyed phrase) and realize how things may affect change in the long term; and the lower portion to see how change can also have real and dramatic effects in the present.

    As is said many times in feminist discussion, I think that our simliarities outweigh our differences.

  2. Deborah says:

    What a wonderful story. (Your 20-year-old and my 20-year-old would have been good friends!)

    In a missionary culture, there is the danger of viewing people as “potential” first, people second. It’s certainly not malicious (generally). I suppose I struggle with the concept of missionary work in general. Last year, our ward theme was “every member a missionary.” Talk after talk after talk about how to “reach” our neighbors, how to invite them over for discussions or FHE, thoughts on how to weave the gospel into conversation. Specific goals and challenges. Of course, every time I heard, “Have you reached out this week to someone not of our faith?” I thought, “Yup, I hugged my husband this morning!” 🙂

  3. AmyB says:

    Dora, I wish I could have been at Sunstone. What a great opportunity. I like the rabbi’s thoughts on love. That’s what religion at its best is all about.

    Deborah, I also have some reservations about missionary work. It can potentially interfere with the ability to create genuine friendships.

    You remind me that I should look back on my 20-year-old self with some compassion and not be too ashamed of her. She was trying her best. 🙂

  4. Seraphine says:

    I think the lesson of learning how to see others for who they are (rather than a stereotype or judgmental image) is profoundly important. Thanks for sharing your experiences with this, AmyB.

  5. jana says:

    Great post! It’s odd to me that for the part of my life when I was most interested in finding “missionary opportunities,” I had the fewest non-LDS friends in my life. As I widened my circle to include more friends of other faiths, I found the chances to speak about the church were abundant, yet I was much more reticent about trying to convert the people who I knew. I think that’s because I could see that they were already such _good_ people, and we had friendships where they knew they could ask me anything about the church w/o any preachiness on my part.

  6. Eve says:

    AmyB, this story really spoke to me. Sometimes I fear that I follow the easily-measured rules parts of the gospel because they’re easier than the two great commandments, covering up my clavicles and sipping my Postum and (well, OK, work to do in this area) trying to give up my swear words, and then someone like Corrinne will come along and show me how small, how petty my own self-regarding goodness is. I stand in awe of people like Corrinne who just (and often unconsciously) radiate completely genuine unselfishness and concern for others.


  7. Caroline says:

    Great story, AmyB. I count myself lucky that I grew up in an area where Mormons were the vast minority and my best friends growing up were a Muslim and a Greek orthodox. I’m thankful that I learned pretty early on that goodness knows no religious bounds.

  8. Denae says:

    Wow, what a wonderful opportunity you had. I am priviledged to interact with a number of wonderful disabled people through my volunteer work raising service dogs. I know that wasn’t the point of your post but that was my first thought.

    I hope I don’t sound flippant but my second thought was, “well of course you met someone nice who wore a tank top and cussed.” But then I have never lived in Utah and unless I wanted to grow up without friends, I rejected those messages at church that seemed to imply that I should judge a person by how they dress or the language they used. One of my dearest friends in high school wore all black, a long black trench coat, and cussed. Any mother’s worst nightmare. His mother was dead and his father was an alcoholic. He was taking home ec because that was the only way he would have home cooked food was to learn himself. I was his only “normal” friend because I was the only person that didn’t judge him on what he wore. He would proudly bring me the food he was learning to cook because I was the only person he wasn’t ashamed to show off his cooking skills to. I have to remind myself often that it isn’t where a person is on the path of life, it is how far they have come and Donavon had come so far.

    My dear friend Nathan had grown up with the typical message that a person has to accept Jesus as their personal savior to go to heaven. He was a preacher’s son and very educated. He had the opportunity to go to Israel a number of times and interact with some Rabbis. He came home, looked his father in the eye and said “If they (the Rabbis) aren’t going to heaven, ain’t none of us going.” I think we ruin our “missionary opportunities” when we focus on conversion to get the person into the celestial kingdom. That seems to be arrogance of the highest level.

  9. AmyB says:

    Denae, thank you for sharing your experiences. Your story about your friend Donovan reminded me of something my mother always used to say: “Sometimes those who are hardest to love are the ones who need love the most.” It sounds like his attire was a real cry for help, and you were there.

    Caroline, how wonderful that you grew up with diverse friends. I live in the most diverse place on the earth right now, and I love the thought that my children– if I have any– will grow up around so many different kinds of people. There’s no way they could grow up with the myopic view that I did.

    Thanks to Eve, Seraphine, and Jana as well. I really appreciate your feedback and thoughts.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Best regards from NY! » » »

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