The Note I Wrote
NB: This is my first post as a member of the Exponent blog. I appreciate the opportunity to share this experience.
A few months back, my mom’s ward had an Enrichment night where my old Young Women’s president spoke. I remember that she was the YW pres when I was 14 and had just moved into the ward. She was very involved and led the YW and YM in a program called “53 Days from Jerusalem to Commorah,” in which we would go to her house after school each day and read together the Book of Mormon so that we would finish in 53 days. Even though I had grown up in a scripture-reading family, that chance to read the Book of Mormon made a memorable, positive impact in my young life.
In the summer came girls’ camp. This YW pres and the other leaders put so much work into it. Our ward was determined to win the skit prize in the stake as we did every year. I enjoyed my new ward and its leadership. I got my hair braided into 50 some odd strands with beads. I was happy to be a camp girl.
Four days into the camp came our ward initiation for all new girls attending camp. This meant a few first-year beehives and me, even though I was in the mia maid class. I explained that I’d already done my initiation in my old ward and stake, when I was a beehive (we had to dress up as the statue of liberty to sing patriotic songs to the other wards). The YW pres told me that every person needed to be initiated in their specific ward. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but reconciled myself to its inevitability.
When the initiation came, we were told to put on adult diapers and blindfolds. They took us on a tour of the stake camp, and despite my blindfold, I recognized my “initiator” as another girl in my mia maid class who lived on my cul-de-sac. I still remember her laughing at me as I stumbled along. Next, still blindfolded, they had me and the younger girls feed baby food to each other while the rest of the camp watched. There was a lot of laughter, it was all in good fun, definitely not physically harmful. However, I was personally very embarrassed and after about a half hour went by, I could barely cling to my composure.
When the ordeal was over, I went back to my tent. We were to have the stake fireside that night, followed by a campfire testimony meeting for our ward. I felt the little braids in my hair and noticed that there was a significant amount of baby food in them. I thought about how long it had taken to put the braids in my waist-long hair, realizing I’d have to take them out now, and I began to cry of frustration and loneliness.
I undid my braids quickly, ripping and breaking my hair as I fumbled to undo the knots. I waited for the girls and leaders to go to the stake fireside, and then I walked down to our pit toilet and knelt on the dirt next to the water pump to rinse out my hair. It was dark by the time I made it back to my tent, dripping cold water from my hair, and I collapsed onto my sleeping bag and sobbed.
I didn’t attend the testimony meeting that night. The next year it would have been my turn to initiate new girls, including my little sister, but I felt homesick and had a leader drive me home early. I don’t remember going to girls’ camp after that, and I had already stopped going to Tuesday night activities. For the last two years of YW, I only attended laurel class a handful of times, telling my parents I just didn’t have any friends to entice me to go.
I’d like to say I that I am good enough at putting things like this behind me and that I am completely over it, but I’m not that big of a person. Over time, I have looked back on my girls’ camp experience with disappointment and anger, seeing how it rippled through my fragile teenage years. I am envious of the safe haven the Church provided for many teenagers, but not for me. I sometimes feel anger at the leaders’ involvement, at their supply of all the initiation materials and oversight of the ritual. Anger that they planned initiation on the most spiritual night of the week. Anger that I had to clean up alone. I’ve sometimes thought about writing a letter to my old YW president, but when the anger passes, I’m glad I didn’t act on that feeling.
Fast forward to a few months ago at the Enrichment night. My old YW president said she likes to keep special thank you notes to remind her that she’s made a difference in someone’s life. She brought an old stack to share. She red the first few, and then paused. “This next one is from Alisa, as a thank you for her wedding present.” She stopped to read the note, and began to cry, which soon turned to sobs. When she finally got her voice back, she read the note: “Thank you for being such a good YW president to me and welcoming me when I was new to the ward. I’ll never forget the time we read the Book of Mormon in 53 days.”
There are so many other things I could have told my old YW president, but for some reason when I sat down to write my thank you letters years ago, I mentioned the one hugely positive thing she had done for me. And she kept that note. That’s how she remembers me: not as a bitter woman twisted by some baby food that once got stuck in her hair, but as a gracious person who was specific enough in her gratefulness to warrant preserving the note.
I may be both of these things, both a bitter and a gracious person. Like everyone, I’m complicated that way. But this time I am glad that the note I sent was about the kindness I forgot, rather than the pain I remembered.