Monday, May 23, 2016

Week 27 - Tomatoes, Language Slip ups, and Visiting the Beaches of Normandy

Salutations everybody! I hope that everybody had a good week. And that you make this next one better. Life in France is perfect save the small fact that none of you are here with me!

The whole of my life, I have not liked tomatoes. Not at all. Not cooked. Not stewed. Not in a house. Not with a mouse. These textural abominations lack flavor, visual appeal, and all value. It was a great point of contention for me in my youth. I lost friends, family members, and limbs in this conflict of red fruit/vegetables. I just thought they were pretty gross. So lo and behold: the French people tend to eat a lot of tomatoes. When in Rome do as the Romans do. And so with the utmost humility I admit that a 20 year dislike of something, nay an epic saga of twenty years detailing the conflicts of a young man against his enemy, came to an end. I find tomatoes enjoyable now. And I think this illustrates an important principle. Anyone can change. Just take a moment to reflect on this principle, this mind-blowing idea. What hope! What message it conveys. Nothing about our character is permanent. Our habits, feelings, patterns of thought, likes, dislikes, are fluid. The coolest of the three states of matter! And yes you biologist mentioning how the sense of taste develops over a long time are right, as are any of you thinking 'you hadn't eaten a tomato for so long a period you isn't even remember what they tasted like", but silence those thoughts for a moment and let me make a weak comparison. 20 years of feelings gone in an instant. Just like that! It is rarely that easy. The fluidity of each one of us permits every set of circumstances, no matter how sucky, trying, tragic, to become a livable breathable environment. So take a good long look at what you don't like about your circumstances. If you can change the world around you, go ahead and do it. Then I counsel you, with all the wisdom of a twenty year old lost(and loving it) in a foreign country, to change the world inside you instead. Sometimes it is even harder than changing the outside. Then waiting for the storm to end. Waiting for a new companion. Waiting for the next year. Waiting for the next day. And at the precipice of decision even waiting another second seems so much easier. You can change. Picking up that squishy fleshy tomato with a fork was harder than it had any right to be. But if I can eat a tomato, you can stop smoking or whatever other change you want to make. Though one of those is a bit harder than the other.

I accidentally dropped an unfortunate profanity bomb in French yesterday! I was talking about Vladimir Putin, and so like most proper nouns I figured you just pronounce it with a French accent. As it happens that is quite a vulgar swear in French. Turns out the French have added an extra e to the end of Putin's name: Putine, so that you don't have to swear to discuss Russian politics. Also the expression for swearing is "gross mots" which literally translates over to "fat words". And there is your important French grammar lesson for the day.

We went with a man named Nicholas and three other missionaries to go see the WW2 beaches, American cemetery, and some artillery batteries left over from German occupation. Nicholas is kind of like the French equivalent of Napolean Dynamite. He is one of the least French French people I know and you always know what he is thinking and feeling because he has already bluntly said it. A 35-40 minute drive on winding, narrow (excessively so) French countryside roads... And then I was technically back on American soil. You could almost smell the change in liberty and optimism for youth stepping into that huge graveyard. Which was quite something. This massive, world shaping event that has always seemed so far away, historically and geographically, was right there around me. A short drive through wooded farmland with the trees doing that connecting arch thing above I found myself wandering through German bunkers and artillery batteries. There is no guide, nor rules, nor anything really. Just bunkers and the flashlights we had brought, and a few other tourists. Then we walked to the beach nearby. I love beaches in general but this one was just pretty dang magical. We all took off running with yellow cliffs to the right and the ocean to the left. I left my footprints where all these soldiers had left theirs not too long ago. We found a ball abandoned there and passed a beautiful oh so precious hour doing some of the most satisfying and important nothing I've done: we just explored, threw rocks into the water, raced. I remembered how to be child during that little bit. Such a marvelous experience.

My rough plan is to describe the people who we interact with a little better in the future. Perhaps a paragraph each week describing someone else. Though given my consistency, I'll probably end up not writing again for three weeks...just kidding.

So that is all for this week my friends!

Until next time!

Elder Alex Hacker

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Quarter Review (Weeks 23, 24, 25)

Salutations beloved emailed receivers! Here we have an example of why procrastination is a bad thing. I find myself with three weeks worth of exciting things to write about but with not enough time to write them. It is also, unfathomably, just about the quarter mark of my mission

I wish a happy Mother's Day to all the mothers! Thanks for all the wiped noses, the changed diapers, the birthing, the advice, the hugs, the counsels, the "Yes" when Dad said "No", the otherworldly love, the chastisement, the food, the knowledge of how to make food on your own, the laughter. A young and emotionally sensitive Alex (Not yet hardened by the cold rationality of society) had had a very bad week at school. He was really dreading going the next day in the morning. After a late and miserable start to the morning, Alex hurried out the door holding his breakfast (due to his own dawdling on getting something healthier)
—a cup of Sunny Delight rapidly poured. In the rush to get in the car, the breakfast, and all of Alex's ambitions and hopes scattered to the earth. Distraught, tired, late-to-school, irrational, and temporarily broken, Alex turned to get in the car. He was stopped by his mother's mercy. Seeing his state she told him he could go back inside and get more Sunny Delight and be even more late to school. To this day I don't remember what made that week terrible, I don't remember why I didn't want to go so badly, I can't remember the bad feelings, but I do remember the taste of that Sunny Delight and I remember the love my mother showed me.* That is the love of a mother.

    *Note: The writer of this email doesn't advocate truancy, nor, in a hypocritical twist, being late to things*

Firstly, I am staying in Caen for another 6 weeks after which I will pretty likely change cities. This is my companion's last 6 weeks and I am his finale companion. The two sister missionaries are sticking around here in Caen. However, we did lose Elder Wheeler our former district leader who is being shipped off to Strasbourg. He was someone who had really inspired us to be better missionaries, better people, and was a good friend. Some new fellow is taking his spot in Cherbourg and his former companion is the new district leader.
The number we're each holding up corresponds to the number of changes (roughly six week periods) we have completed

We met our homie George, who we met while he responded to natures call in some nearby shrubbery. We were out prowling the streets looking for people to persuade into learning and believing the same things we do ... We had some luck in that we had met friendly and nice people up until this point. Then ahead of us, an old man (and not the eccentric back-to-the-future type but more of the Scroogish black-licorice-lover) veers off his route and disappears in some medium hedges. A very very awkward greeting later and we are happily chatting. After hearing the word Jesus we were treated to quite the stream of profanities. He threw out a complaint about religion (ex: people who died before Christianity don't have a chance, church's steal money through obligatory tithes, original sin, etc...) and then we would discuss it with him sharing our thoughts and opinions. His heart really softened during the conversation. Turns out he is an organist and has spent most of his life in Catholic Churches. We ended by exchanging phone numbers, and he offered to sell us an organ—the instrument that is.
My companion

Explaining to our Russian friend that the American themed barbecue we held a few Saturday's back was not the same thing as the Fourth of July was more difficult than anticipated. Despite that, we had a wonderful turnout. Lots of people came, lots of people invited their friends, many of the people we meet with came. Using bald eagles and sheer patriotism as fuel we roasted some burgers and hot dogs— though the latter were profaned by baguettes in lieu of hot dog buns. Combined with the Jello and Kool Aid we prepared it was a feast. The Jello was particularly fascinating to the French. Everyone asked what it was, how one ate it, where it came from. Remy was particularly enchanted by the jiggling. (See the jovial mustached fellow in the photo below)

All in all it was a wonderful chance for people to meet each other, to meet other people, make friendships, fix some rendez-vous's, etc... The French may be good at revolting but they do not know how to grill. Minor charring occurred.

And with those few paragraphs giving little tastes of life, I transition now to the 25% review:

My mission has been the hardest, the most fun, and the all around coolest experience of my life. Nothing I have ever done or seen has affected me the way this has. I am so very grateful for all the events and contributions that have given me this incredible opportunity. I have done no work more satisfying in my life. As much as grass cutting and frozen yoghurt selling filled the soul, this experience has taught me who I really am, what I really want, and how to find peace and happiness regardless of the circumstances. I have learned how to work in a way I didn't know before. I have felt and learned about a level of disappointment I didn't know existed. I have learned how to forgive better. And I am sure each thing just listed will be largely redefined again by the halfway mark.

The last quarter of a year has been the fastest and most incredible experience of my life.
I have:
-Eaten a grotesque amount of French pastries and bread
-Gained weight (relatively speaking)
-Drank cranberry juice sitting in a parking lot while a woman found hope again
-Gotten absolutely destroyed by a world ranked professional board game player in his shop while sharing stories explaining how we found our beliefs
-Seen the Eiffel Tower and the view from it
-Met people from every continent save Antartica
-Stood where WWII happened
-Helped an old lady carry stuff
-Seen William the Conqueror
-Learned how to understand another language
-Learned how to pretend to speak another language
-Added a noticeable percentage to my "types of animal's eaten" list
-Seen just how big and how small the world can be in a way that no amount of imagining, wondering, or documentary-viewing ever could provide me.
-Mowed a lawn

I have learned a little something about growth, about endurance, about the potential of each individual. To quote an excerpt from a personal letter written by the greatest old man who ever lived, Patrick Hacker, "you need to believe that you can do more than you ever thought possible." You don't need to run faster than you can but I will tell you that you can run a lot faster than you think. Trials and hard times are so often viewed as negative things, as obstacles only. The word weakness leaves such a bitter taste in the mouth. Though I testify to you that the opposite is true. Endurance, failures, tragedies, doing hard things, changing your life— these are not the worst parts of life, but the most purifying and educational doctrines. It is your choice to make them such.

And you are not alone in this either. That is another thing my mission has taught me. While we as humans are the coolest and greatest treasure on this earth, we cannot succeed alone. And we are not asked to. Nor are we asked to succeed quickly or perfectly. We have our families, our friends, and the goodness of a loving deity, a God, to help us. And one of those three will never abandon us, even when we are alone. For example: a sheltered Wyoming-raised boy lost in a foreign country. I was not alone. I am not alone and neither are you.

Sometimes the way to fix things is just to go to sleep and start again the next day.

I have walked an awful lot here on my mission. I have been rebuked pretty harshly at times. I have been hungry, drenched by rain, canceled on, disappointed, and many other bad things. It is not those that I remember right now though. It's the friends I have made, the city and culture I have fallen in love with, the people who I have seen change their lives, the love I have seen, the emotions I have felt. I could prattle on all day about the things I have, will, and will continue to cherish on my mission. It is your turn to find things you cherish in your own missions. And if you aren't on a mission right now I encourage you to find some direction.

I send you all my love and I will see you in while!

Happy Mother's Day!
Elder Alex Hacker
Dressed in whites for a baptism

BONUS: A few highlight phrases that could be put on the cover of the book of my mission emails when it is finally written and finished:
"5 out of 5 stars."
"A groundbreaking work of staggering genius"
"Who reads this junk?"
"Why are there random weeks where there is nothing written?"
"Pretty alright at times!


[Alex got to Skype call home for Mother's Day and so the family got a great chance to visit with him.  We also got to meet his companion and the nice local member, Jean, who let them use his apartment and WiFi connection to make the Skype calls home]