Monday, April 17, 2017

Week 68 - Sixth Grade (from March 6, 2017)

Hello Family, Friends, and Others who don't fall in those categories!

This email will tell you even less about my week that usual. Sorry to disappoint the three people who wanted to hear about the hours spent on a train. I guess a little update is in order though! The dynamic duo of Vannes is now comprised of an Elder Cheshire and his slightly more handsome companion Elder Hacker. He has not been out of his mission for too long so that already makes a little bit of a change! As times goes on maybe more information will trickle in about him.

So as the title suggests-- notice the traditional three thing nomenclature was simplified here-- I, going to talk about 6th grade. And I want to make it abundantly clear just how special, nigh sacred, this year was to me. This is about as fundamental and important to me as one can get.

For the longest time I defined the all around best period of my life as my 6th grade year. I had a wonderful teacher and an equally wonderful time! Funnily enough I had just switched schools, like the plot of a piece of bad teenage fiction, and was rather terrified about the friends I was going to have to make, about the new teacher and school, and change in general. So I went into that year and that school with a flame of cautious hope wrapped in fear and anxiety. I had felt progressively more and more stifled and not-myself for the years preceding-- a series of teachers I didn't care for amongst other things I think. The whimsy and joy of a child were in danger!... and that year in 6th grade, I found myself! I felt like I was reborn! And no amount of hyperbole will ever do that year justice. I was entirely and unapologetically myself for the first time in a longtime. I could be creative in class and outside. I caused so much trouble for that teacher with my shenanigans. I felt celebrated and supported for who I was and what I uniquely brought to the table. I forged friendships that have miraculously survived the tumult of middle school and still exist today as some of my most cherished and dear friends! My laughter had never flowed so freely. I found so much joy in interacting for others. I wanted nothing else than to make other people laugh and smile and feel good. To an extent I had never known I was completely content with my life and where I was and who I was. I had cracked life! I had it all figured out!! I was at peace.

Alas. Junior High is a huge armpit. The next years were spent burying and undoing all the self-discovery and perfection of the halcyon-glazed awakening of 6th grade. I tried to fit in and do what others said was cool. Like everyone did. Even into high school, well after most of us had realized the approval of others, amongst other things, wasn't what life was about, my life could have been pretty well described as a futile quest to re-find that 6th grade state-- sometimes by turning to pretty stupid places trying to find it. Not to say it was all an uphill slog of misery from the vales of depression;of course there were peaks and valleys during those times where I felt tastes, even prolonged ones, of 6th grade or conversely its antithesis (I got pretty low there at times...), but all the while I longed after
something. I yearned that my life might be what it was before. I wondered if life really could be like that? I had a hard time hoping in that. That it be as rose colored as my perception of 6th grade was?
I feared maybe it wasn't possible anymore, though I still felt like it was meant to be. To quote a wee passage from the Book of Mormon: "...and men are, that they might have joy." And even as an adolescent nearly asphyxiating from the sheer quantity of AXE fumes in a junior high locker room, I felt that somewhere deep in my heart. I wanted deep down that it be true. I wanted 6th grade to have been real. I wanted 6th grade to be attainable , feasible, a reality. I wanted this state of peace and fun to exist even in the face of the vicissitudes of adulthood, the discomfort of change, the tragic crotch-kicks of life like death or illness. Surely I wasn't made to be swept about by the winds of chance: those favorable and those a little less fortunate. Surely I was more important than that. Surely we were more important that that? Surely humanity was made of sterner stuff... And here I am talking about such dramatic ideas that really do make a pretty large difference but it was such a simple question for me. Where was 6th grade? Where was peace? Where was the old me?

This Friday evening I saw what 6th grade looked like for someone else this week. In an awfully strange place at that! (This paragraph will also serve as the JL update!... for all the JLfans out there!) All the floors are sanded. Hot water is available. JL can shower in peace again. The house has been insulated. The walls have been framed and the drywall partially mounted. Electricity is mostly wired. Daniel, someone with whom we've been sharing our message, JLand Us were all moved to his garage. C'est √† dire a large but empty corrugated steel box. There's a tool bench lining one side and furniture draped with sheets on the other side. A lone ping-pong table stands in the center of the garage. We sit down on two leather couches we pull out from the wall and there we start talking about some of those very same questions I was asking about 6th grade. That's really what we talked about. And whether you call it 6th grade, or the Plan of Salvation, or Nirvana, or Valhalla, or whatever... it's just about people being truly happy here and being even happier after. So that's what we talked about. Daniel doesn't speak an English and JL likes to think he speaks a few words of French. So I sat in between these two men and translated. JL talked about his mom and dad. How he liked them a lot. How great it was until  Alzheimer's and dementia withered away those people he so loved. I saw British tears for the first time as JL said he knew he would see them again and that they would be those same people they were when he was young. Daniel nodded and talked about how he was left Harry-Potter style in a foster home, and than another one, and another. How he then met and subsequently lost his real parents. How his family was different but that he wanted to help others because of it. He just wanted to spare others from the same thing. And that's the story of how one Friday evening, in a dusty empty garage, four people found a little more direction in their lives. Four people found 6th grade. We left that night smiling, each one of us, despite the fact we had talked about some painful things, and despite the fact we were all dealing with some currently painful things. 6th grade is about smiling; Life is about smiling.

I have struggled for the longest time to put words to why that year as a 12 year old amongst the Pioneer Park Pioneers (Shoutout to Wyoming for having nothing to name their schools after!)  was so mythical and important-- and I still do. This email doesn't do it justice either. I don't think it's one of those things where words suffice to explain. Just like love or apologies or quantum math. Though I think what is written above makes up in part 6th grade! A life based around doing good things for yourself and for other people. Knowing and loving who you are. Believing in who you can become. Believing in something. You've got to believe in something! Yourself! Sunrises! Climate change! God! Jesus Christ-- Personally I think that's a pretty good choice, and whether you believe in him or not or he sure as heck believes in you. He's definitely rooting for you. Believe in smiles and laughter and other good things. Then seek after those things. Share them with others. Others need to know about our personal 6th grades.

I finally found it again. It involves many different people-- though some of those precious friends are still around. It is mostly in a different language. Recess is long since faded. Though I feel like a child again. 6th grade is alive and well. I had accidentally cemented a year of my elementary school career as the pinnacle of human existence. That was both good and bad I think. Though now I've learned that with some divine intervention-- very little of which involves lighting bolts from heaven; most of which happens in your heart and mind-- 6th grade is a livable, breathable reality. Life can be as beautiful as you want it to be. And that seems idyllic and silly and too good to be true. And I won't refute those claims. Though it's true if you let it be. Voilà!

"Next week will likely be more normal a description of the week." (He said knowing it was most likely a transparent lie :)

Have a great week everyone. I really do care about you guys and love you.

-Elder Alex Hacker

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