Monday, June 29, 2015

Full Circle June 29, 2015

On Friday, I went back to Espaillat for the first time since they kicked me out in February. It was a beautiful experience, and all the pieces were there.

There was Elder Tillmond, who's been my favorite district leader that I've had, Elder Hutchins, who was the first missionary I met in the airport, Elder Barlow, who is the first missionary I ever looked up to as a bastion of spiritual strength, and a whole slew of other missionaries who've served in Santo Domingo and Hainamosa, my two zones. There was Wilson, who made pants for me, Fransisco, who's mah boy, and a whole bunch of member friends who I left behind.

But most of all, there was Walescak. Walescak and her family were the one family I left behind who made me feel like all of the frustration and struggle I went through in Espaillat was worth it. Last week, she and her husband were legally married, and on Friday, she was baptized, tying her entire family together in the gospel. Words can't describe how much I love these people.

I'm not even going to try.

Humbly yours and love always,
Elder Dallin Lyle Johnson

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pianic Panic June 22, 2015

Ah. What a week. There are some weeks where you can't believe how fast it went. Other weeks when you can't believe you survived to P-Day. And some weeks when you can't even think of a salutory paragraph for your email. So. Uh. Spiritual experiences. Piano. Whatever. Let's get on with it.

"Hey, Manny, what should we do with the bathtub?"
"Aw, just throw her up in the tree."
So as none of you are aware, I am once again the ward pianist. This will likely be something I have to deal with for the rest of my mission. Almost every chapel has a piano in one form or another, and almost no chapel has a pianist in one form or the other. See, you know that part of your brain that allows you to count to four and not be tone-deaf? Yeah, Dominican Mormons don't have that. So, it's left to me. I knew it would be. But I won't lie. I tried to hide the fact that I play the piano at first. It wasn't shame over my ability- I'm no Elder Barlow (although I regularly kicked his amorphous posterior at Egyptian Rat Catcher) but I can get through just about any hymn outside of that old passive-aggressively rhythmed Commie fave, "Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains." No, the problem is the kids.

As a general rule, I like kids. I think they're adorable. I admire their courage. If they wanna strip down and start throwing dirt at each other in the streets, they don't worry about silly things like "arrest warrants" and "cavity searches". They just do it. I think their innocent curiosity is as endearing as it is fatal. I look forward to the day when I'm- well. The day when I'm not scared out of my mind to be a pappy. As a person, I really love kids. 

As a pianist, I hate them. I hate them from the deepest depths of my soul. They come up to you in the middle of sacrament meeting and start pressing buttrons (I have no idea what a buttron is. It was actually a typo, but it looked funny, so I left it there. Deal.) on the keyboard console and hitting random keys while you're playing hymns. Everyone's looking at you like you're a total idiot and then you realize they can't see the devil spawn because it's three feet tall. Since apparently parenting here is more of an idea than an actual thing, I asked the bishop what I should do. He told me I can take care of it however I want. Great advice, but unfortunately, punching a 3-year-old in the face is one of the less appropriate things a missionary can do. Alas. This is my life.

Anyhow, one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was on the program as the pianist for stake conference. Now, obviously this was no big deal for a salty old veteran such as myself. I mean, there'd only be the stake presidency. Their wives. The temple president. President Corbitt. Their wives. Two seventies.Their wives. The entire zone. Their. Um. Investigators. Well over a thousand other people besides. Okay. I'll admit it. I felt a little bit of pressure. But naturally, I'm Dallin flippin' Johnson. So, I took a deep breath. Found my happy place. And I played that piano. I don't mean to brag, but I must've nailed almost half the notes. Ha. Ha. 

Yeah, I crumbled magnificently. Things I've done comfortably since I was ten years old were an impenetrable enigma to me. I couldn't sight read. I forgot what a second ending was and how to use it. There was a moment in which I was somehow literally reading both hands in tenor clef. The choir sounded better in the parts where I wasn't playing (and considering the abovementioned general skill level of our choir, this sort of boggles the mind). And for the piece de resistánce, one of the overhead fans kicked up a scant hurricane during the instrumental solo part of Come Thou Fount and blew my sheet music off the piano, forcing me to drop out and leaving the violinist- who had eight months playing the violin and absolutely no idea how to improvise- to improvise. It was like watching your sister getting kissed. Awkward. Painful to watch. Slightly disturbing. Definitely could've gone better. I could go on.

Um...yah. I can climb it. Watch me.
Needless to say, when the final amen was said, I was ready to bounce. Unfortunately, just as I was about to make my escape, the stake secretary stopped me and informed me that I had to play a postlude. Now you gotta understand. I was exhausted. My brain was fried. My butt was profoundly sore. My body was literally shaking because I was so frazzled. But. I propped on the toothiest smile I could manage and said, "That sounds dandy." And I started playing the postlude. And then. I had the greatest moment of my life.

There I was. Me. The piano. The postlude. Only slightly more humiliated than the time I walked into the girls bathroom at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Then, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and found myself face to face with Elder Hugo E. Martinez. Of the Seventy. He smiled at me and said (in English), "Thank you, Elder Johnson. It really makes a difference." Um, so yeah. I've had some pretty decent moments in my time. Finishing my public education. Being born was a pretty epic moment in history (although it probably sucked at the time). Being named Outdoor Skills director. Breaking the Bridger Elementary school record for pages read in a year (by an 8000+ page margin #....boss?). But a Seventy. Heard my piano-playing. And called it difference-making. Posterity's in for a rude shock if they think their births are gonna mean jack squat to me now.

In other music news, Elder Tillmond and I had a singoff with Ventura and Carter. We started with old missionary classics like Eye of the Tiger and Call Me Maybe, moved onto Adele, and put the nail in the coffin with my favorite hymn, the Pokemon theme. Haha when we left, the downstairs neighbor jokingly told us she thought we were torturing cats. That must've been during the falsetto verse of Thrift Shop. Nyaha some might say Tillmond and I carried it too far, but let it never be said we aren't willing to put forth the effort when a completely empty, meaningless victory that doesn't even come with bragging rights is at stake.

In more serious news, we had three baptisms. Pictures are attached, but it's only half the family and I already spent too much time with the upper stuff, so you get the story next week when the rest of the family gits 'er done.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Journaling in the Face of Entropy June 15, 2015

Happy Monday, all ye who somehow still read these nine months later! Yes, yes, it's almost practically official. You could have had a slightly premature baby in the time I've been gone. Or grown 5 inches of beard hair. Or cooked 18144 boxes of Western Family Cheesy Mac Dinner. Or successfully filled out form 153667B at the DMV. It's been a crazy ride up 'til now and it's bordering on just about all downhill from here. Everyone- we're kind of virtually at nine months.

First, in heartwarming news, my journal has been saved! Sure, the pages are a little gluey and ink-smeared, but praise be, it's readable! The only downside is that the receipts and such that I done stuck between the pages got wiped clear. I reckon it could be worse, but now. My posterity. Those curmudgeonly little sweet chucks. How are they gonna be able to take my word for it that I went to Burger King on November 10?

Speaking of which, it struck me this week that there's only one real downside to growing up in a strong Mormon family. If you do something immature or stupid, it will be remembered for time and all eternity. There are eight people in my family, and you already know that SOMEONE wrote it in their journal.

What happens when you nap in
 the day time in an apartment of  guys.
I had to talk in church this week. Considering that I had about five minutes to prepare, it was pretty good. That consideration aside, it was fracking awful. I got up and got out before they started throwing coconuts. Mission problems, I tell you what.

We had a dinner with an investigator family, the Muñozes, this week. They have this thing with always putting music on when we visit. That may sound distracting, but it's actually good. See, there's telling the story of the First Vision, and then there's telling the story of the First Vision with a heavenly choir of angels singing choruses of jubilee and glory in the background. So we showed up for the dinner and they were like, "Hey, let's put some music on," and we were like, Sick! The dad, Moses, went over and searched something on YouTube. I have to interject here- it's usually his wife who does the searching. She is an excellent speller. Moses.... not quite so overburdened with the ability to spell. He writes you a note and you're like, "What IS this? Who would do such a thing to this poor piece of paper?? Ventura! Dang it, Ventura, what did you do with my Urim and Thummim?!?!" The only recognizable word in his search was Mormón. YouTube evidently took that to mean HATE. DESTROY. FORWARD THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO TO YOUR FRIENDS. Whatever he'd searched had brought up a list of anti-Mormon videos discussing topics that are bad for people who've only finished the first two lessons, including, but not limited to, polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and lizard people (that's not a Mormon doctrine, by the by. We do not. DO. NOT. Believe in lizard people. Except for Bossk, but only because he's Bossk). After a fortuitous lollapalooza in which his wife ignited the frying chicken on the stove with an explosion that would've put a flashbang to shame, Ventura took advantage of the resulting chaos and covertly took the route of least evil. We ended up with a clip of the Book of Mormon musical. Total apostasy, sure, but apostasy in not-Spanish and Moses liked the dancing anyway. He is also now under the impression that Neil Patrick Harris is a Mormon. Eh. Take what you can get, I reckon.

A thought. Before the mission, I had this notion that I was going to go on a mission, fix some of the fatal habits I'd since developed, and then I was gonna come back, study, and then I would grab life by the horns and through blood, sweat, and hard work, I'd leave a Mark On the World. This (or at least the idea) is a pretty common thought. People talk all the time about how they want to leave something that humanity will remember them by for all of existence. I myself at one point had a personal motto of "The goal is not to live forever. The goal is to create something that will." However, I have since come to a different understanding.

I am never going to leave a mark on the world. Neither are you. Neither is anyone else. One of the defining characteristics of our mortal existence is that everything here is temporary. Our lives flare up and then pass away. Our mortal bodies decay. The things we built in this life crumble and eventually fade. In time, the very memory that we once walked this earth with shrivel up and disappear. Even with the existence of eternal life, I propose that God does not read Shakespeare nor does He particularly care about whether Conan O'Brien or Jay Leno hosted the Not-At-All-Early Show. Our temporal works are all eventually fated to be worth exactly nothing.

That sounds bleak, but understand- this is not restricting or fatalistic, nor is it a Bad Thing. It is liberating. When we realize that our economic status or level of fame or whatever we had in this life means absolutely nothing, we begin to see more clearly what  does matter.

I submit that the only things that we have in this life that matter are our relationships with people. Our families. Our friends. Our Heavenly Father. See, when we die, we'll have nothing of fame and Ferraris. What we'll have is each other. In a world where everything will eventually fall prey to entropy, souls endure.

So don't get caught up in the strangling web of temporal problems. Don't worry so much about whether your dream is stupid or not. Write a letter. Take the time. Don't participate in petty backbiting and gossip. Help a stranger. Be there for your family. Inspire someone to be better. This is the only chance you'll get to be this kind of a brother, son, or father (I swear that's not sex bias, I'm just writing from a male perspective. Stick the female equivalents in if it bugs you) so make the most of it.  And make your Heavenly Father proud.

Have fun. Do hard things. And stay safe.

Rock it like a wagon wheel,

The sisters from Paco left their phone at Carlos's baptism last week.
We gave it back, but not before setting this little nugget of joy as the background.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Six Down, Seven to go June 1, 2015

Transfer six is over. Last night, we received our transfer orders for number seven. In a sweeping move almost as exciting as the life of your typical Idaho sugar beet, they're sending me to Los Solares with Elder Ventura as my
companion! Let the peasants rejoice!!!! Wait. Los Solares? You mean to tell me. I'm here for a fourth transfer? Are you barmy? I'm gonna spend a quarter of my mission in Los goshdang Solares?!! AARXGHHBLGTH!!!.... Huh? What was that? We have seven baptisms scheduled for the month of June? Oh right! Yeah! Let the peasants rejoice!!!! :)

We're gonna get depressing news out of the way first. We woke up on Saturday morning to discover that our house had flooded. There was a huge rainstorm during the night and water had come in through the open windows, leaving about an inch and a half of water on the floor. There was no real damage to the house. The floors are tile and carpet is a distant dream that'll have to wait until August 2016. But. I'd left my journal on the floor by my bed. When I picked it up, it was a swollen, smeary brick of sadness. I think that was probably the closest I've come to crying on my mission. Ah. But in the words of Jonah and the Whale, L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.

In happier water news, we had another baptism, a fine gentleman named Carlos! This one was the fastest baptism I've ever had. Two weeks ago, this random dude we'd never seen before showed up in church. We actually thought he was a member all through the first hour. But then, he came up to us and the conversation went about like this:

Carlos: Hey, what do I have to do to serve a mission?
Us: Talk to your bishop. He'll get you started.
Carlos: I don't have a bishop. I'm not a member of your church.
Us: Really? How long have you been talking to the missionaries then?
Carlos: Never have. I don't know anything about your church, really. I was just playing dominos with my neighbor, who's a Mormon, and I just got curious about your church so I went to an activity and now I want to get baptized and serve a mission. 
Us: Uh....
Carlos: Can you guys teach me?

He's the bomb. We had to teach him fast because he's twenty-four and turns twenty-five this week. If we hadn't baptized him last Saturday, he wouldn't have been able to serve a mission. It wasn't easy. He asked a ton of questions, but they were good questions, and he didn't fight the promptings of the spirit. With all due respect to Walescak from Espaillat, I think it's fair to say that he was the most spiritually receptive and intelligent person I've ever taught, bar none. It was a testimony-builder if ever I had one and whatever mission the man serves in will be lucky to have him.

So that was a thing. Kinda slow week overall, though. Congrats to Ryan for graduating high school. Have yourselves a lovely week, all.

Still kicking,

Elder Johnson

 Zetina sent me this picture because it was his dream to milk a cow. Hey. Some people've got being an astronaut or slaying Bowser. Some people have got extricating lactosy liquids from bovine udders. Don't hate.