Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Week 58 - A Memorable Christmas

Hello Everyone! Merry Christmas to you all!

I hope you spent time with your favorite people doing your favorite things. I hope everyone had hot chocolate too. I hope whatever family traditions you like were perpetuated and that you all used this occasion to love each other and to love others. What a wonderful time the holidays and specifically Christmas time can be!

From Wednesday evening to Friday morning we were zipping around from Vannes to Rennes to Paris and then back again for a Christmas conference of sorts. It was as much a large Christmas party as it was a conference really. There was still instruction and missionary advice and clerical matters discussed, though the real beauty was seeing everyone there happy. I was able to see the Vandivers-- a lovely couple of mature age that I have adopted as my third grandparents. They are taking care of Dunkerque and my son for me since I've moved. Bless them for all that they do.

I had mincemeat pie this week!... thus solving the age old English mystery of what 'mincemeat' actually is! It turns out it was spiced (see gingerbread seasonings among others) bits of fruit chopped up. Thanks to retired English gravedigger and the softness of his heart.

Thank you to everyone who wished Merry Christmas! Thank you Monterey Heights relief society for the very touching Christmas package. Thank you Elder Bise for miraculously not forgetting me even though its been 6 months since we have served together. Thanks to my family for the cards and goodies they have sent.

I don't like singing much in public. I lack the musical knowledge, vocal control, nerves, and just about every other skill one might want as a vocalist. Every time I have been invited to perform a musical number somewhere I've ardently refused (for the benefit of those asking). I also know about 6 words in German. So you might imagine my surprise when the members here asked me and my companion Elder Deem to perform the first verse of Silent Night in German... with about 30 minutes of preparation... with only the sheet music before us, not knowing how to read German. They had so much hope in us though! We couldn't say no. So sure enough, in front of the whole congregation as well as their families and guests, I performed the first, worst, and hopefully last duet of my life. There was an awesome blind guy named Guy accompanying on the piano. I don't think he was grateful for his attuned sense of hearing that particular day. In effect we just made our own very throaty language and belted it out before these people under the guise of being German-- no Germans were present to be offended thankfully. The most fiery of train wrecks that everyone else so kindly pretended wasn't a train wreck.  And we must have been somewhat persuasive--there were a couple of people in the congregation who came up to us afterwards thinking that we were actually from Germany!

After church we went over to the Bouaka family's house. In the most touching display of kindness they invited the two American missionaries into their house to share their family traditions, their shelter, their family members, their food, and their company. We ate all kinds of nifty French things! First the salty snacks. Then the plates of hors d'oeuvres. Than we had the seafood course. Followed by the main course. Then the toast with duck liver course. Than the cheese tasting. And lastly the dessert. A real French holiday meal! I tasted fresh oyster for the first time; for sadly the Wyoming oyster industry tanked along with the sugar beet industry long ago. It was pleasantly slimy. I had something that wasn't turkey (They made sure to clarify multiple times) but instead was a rooster that had lost his masculinity in a rather violent sounding fashion and then had been allowed to grow extra big and tasty (it's called a "Capon").  A chestnut mushroom dish. All kinds of goodies. It was incredibly kind of them.

Look at this email! Actually including information about the week and not random stories/hastily-formed thesis(s... how does one make that plural? Thesi maybe?).

The rest of Christmas was excellent! The highlight would have to be Skyping with my family. It's been a little bit since I had seen them, and you know, I miss them quite a lot. Turns out I had to leave them for two years to realize to a fuller extent just how much I love them. The adventure here in France has definitely magnified this love for my family and friends that count as family. I was an emotionless pebble when I compare what it means to think of someone as a friend, what it means to care about them, what it means to listen to them, etc... My understanding of empathy from turned from a "check if present" box to a 3D topographic map that is constantly changing. It as though I went from believing in geocentric orbit to discovering that the universe is immeasurably vast and riddled with wonder. I was able to see a livestream of my family opening Christmas presents like I was almost there. The impatience of my younger siblings was  palpable as they waited to open their presents. I got to call up my sister and see her kids. The baby lump named Carter that I cradled in my arms a year ago was now able to show me what and where his nose was. With impressive accuracy. He hesitated on the ears though.

The rush of emotion and feeling that overcame me as I saw how much everyone had grown, how much my younger brother's voice sounded different, how little and how much everyone had changed was something I have never experienced. It didn't make me long for some stasis either. I didn't wish they would have all stayed the same. Regret didn't nip at my conscious as I saw how the world had continued to spin-- pretty darn rapidly I'd add-- while I've been away. Feeling this displaced from everyone didn't hurt. It made me excited. It was 1 part hope, 1 part impatience, 1 part pride, 1 part love, and the zest of two seasonal oranges. 🍊🍊 I thought I had understood and assimilated the message that scores of cheesy Christmas movies had strived so hard to teach me--to date I have yet to shoot my eye out, though, so maybe I did pull something out of those movies after all.

Through this year I think I learned deep down in the gooey red fibers that make up Alex what it means to do things for others, what it means to love others, what it means to think about others.


Elder Alex Hacker

The Rennes and Paris South Zones Christmas Conference.  Alex is in the back row in the middle.  Photo courtesy of the Mission facebook page

Alex and his companion enjoying a meal at the Christmas Conference.  Photo courtesy of the Mission facebook page

[Note from Alex's family: We had a very nice chance to Skype with Alex on Christmas Day.  He and his companion did their Skyping from the church building]

The many faces of Elder Hacker while we skyped with him!

Here are a few other things that we learned from our call with Elder Hacker:

Their companionship has a car, but he can't drive it.  His american driver's license is only good to use in France for his first year there.  His companion, Elder Deem, who served in Belgium (which lets them do something to get a driving permit that can be used over the whole mission time) does all of the driving.

It's very rainy there, but no snow.  Alex got quite excited when we showed him our "white Christmas" out the window---I guess he missed the snow a little (but I'm sure not the wind here)

He's quite enjoying the apartment in Vannes, which is like 2-3 times as large as his Dunkerque apartment.  (Although he said he misses the view of the ocean/harbor that they had in Dunkerque).

He told us a very touching story about how the missionary who was leaving Vannes called him up to see what food Alex wanted him to get (so that Alex wouldn't arrive mid-week without anything to eat), which by itself is very nice.  Alex indicated that the missionary didn't need to go to any trouble to get food.  But when Alex showed up in Vannes, that missionary had obtained and left a small box of yams for Alex---that is a gift of both personal and cultural significance, Alex explained, and so it was a very kind and thoughtful gesture that went beyond just leaving some food to eat.

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