Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Week 89 - Elder Hacker's Quest for Happiness (from August 1, 2017)

So this email won't have any continuity or explanation or flow. Well chalk that up to the pace, confusion, and business of these last few weeks. I wouldn't be surprised if this is what Elder Hacker communication looks like until I'm actually speaking to you in person. Gone, or at very least much less frequent, are the days of long weekly emails that I loved writing and hope were sometimes loved in return.

Best quote these last 3 weeks that isn't spiritually themed: "I showed him how to cut and paste and now he thinks he's the king of Excel." -Sœur Barnes speaking about her husband who I'd describe as a charming ray of sunshine incarnate in the body of a soft, older man. 

This last Tuesday we had a little missionary pep rally where we spoke about loving others. I only just realized that the idea of having meetings/workshops centered on things like 'loving others' might not make sense or sound appealing. Like the kinda of thing Ghandi would be into. Though what surely doesn't translate on paper is actually super cool. So we were all asked to give a definition of the word "charity", which got me thinking. I think a really good way to describe the opposite of "love" and "charity" is with the word "apathy." Love is one of those motor forces that pushes you to do things-- the love of Lucky Charms pushes kids down the stairs and to the table everyday, the love of shoes pushes hands into the bottoms of purses and wallets, the love of mothers pushes the afore mentioned kids to the public schools that they probably complain about. Whereas apathy... that's just about the absence of any driving force. That's the absence of love. "Apathetic Love". My mind and heart is just frustrated seeing those two words together because they shouldn't be all buddy buddy like that. At a given moment I think I thought apathy and neutrality were the same thing. That tolerance and apathy were somehow related? Though now I think the world already has enough apathetic things (Among others see rocks, sticks, the little brown lumps that happen when lawns get aerated, oil barons, time, and old lazy cats). Don't aspire after any of those things! With great respect for those of you who are or were 'pet rock' owners: Those are all really lame roll models! Apathy is the most unique and fashioned skill of inanimate objects. Love and charity aren't love and charity if it's not shared. When emotion doesn't evoke action, it's a desire to love but not really getting there. Be it an emotional distance, or a dishonesty, or a lack of caring or any other ugly cousin of apathy they just don't have much of place :) Voilà. A few ramblings about charity. 

Elder Hacker's Quest for Happiness as realized through other people:
In a roundabout way this might actually describe a little bit of what my mission has actually looked like: 
So I actually went to preschool twice. Not so much a story of incompetence but because by mother was a preschool teacher. The first time I spent a lot of time doing normal preschool things: like eating snacks, being vaguely egotistical, running around. That was the dream! I learned a few colors probably at least ten numbers that may have been in order, and other things. However the second time around ended up being a lot more educational in certain ways. I didn't stay as long, though on several occasions I went back much older to help my mother and to be more of a teacher/child-wrangler. (The same thing at that age.) And that's were some important seeds took root. I saw how happy my mother was talking care of those children and watching them take waddling steps towards the rest of their lives. I felt a personal joy as I watched those chicken nuggets play in the same tub of dinosaurs I played with 15-20 years ago! And for one of the first times I really found joy and satisfaction through others. 

And that's where some credits start to play. There are just some people who've helped me so much and so radically changed who I want to be that I feel like I was supposed to meet them. There's no other way to word that. And if it's a divine providence keeping an eye on his homies or the sweetest coincidences ever I'm terribly on board either way! Seriously though, I've been on the most golden and most impressive streak of my life of meeting, befriending, and being influenced by the coolest people. Coincidentally that really started once I started looking to find people to influence me and just in general, turning outwards. 

What helped me find meaning and resolve adolescent funk (adolescent funk could be a sweet punk band name though here I'm referring to the last 8 years or so of my life. Things were going swell up until that point.) was looking and turning outwards? Not so much what but who. And each specific who that's listed brought so much to the table. Take all the passion that birdwatchers have for birds, or avid stamp collectors have for temps, and transfer that over into an appreciation for others. At the start it was accidental. That's really what worked. That's what made me happy. It was the only thing that worked:

It started with the unrealistic loud crunch of corn nuts (I've always wondered how one makes corn nuts or where there come from) coming from the mouth of a stranger sitting next to me in junior year French class. In a moment of unadulterated pride let it be known I hopefully learned how to speak French better than the rest of them!! A sheepish glance and an instant of laughter and an Ali Hunter Wadas cemented her place as one of the people that would teach me the value of people. You're also missing Mark Kim who was there since about as long as I can remember. A trio, ironic given that I find myself in a trio of friends again today, was born. Fast friendship brought us nearly every day to Ali's house. Her stepdad spent an hour once teaching us record programs on the new television he bought; None of us really liked television though. Ali and I had violently different ways of looking at things. Like on paper we shouldn't have ever been friends. Our friend groups had no overlap. I hadn't ever thought to read a Nicholas Sparks book. Mark was the Korean mediator between two conflicting opposites that loved each others company. I remember sometimes being frustrated with how differently Ali and even Mark saw things... though I also couldn't not realize how much fun I was having with these people. And it wasn't just fun, but a hope and a warmth and a light and a desire to do good filled, such that I hadn't known in a number of years-- so they'd be proud and just because I wanted to be better because of their own radiant goodness. And our differences suddenly changed from 'ways they didn't understand me' and on some worse and more egotistical level, 'reasons I'm right about x thing'-- you can imagine that isn't an attitude that generates a lasting happiness. Those things gave place to a feeling of wonder and fascination. 'Why don't I think like that?', 'Why am I so wrong about that thing?', and the question that was even better: 'How can I help these people?' In a more important way than I had known this friendship was as much about helping and loving as it was about hanging out at someone's house. That silly group of teenage dreamers was an emotional rebirth.

So then... I guess I really had another lesson to learn. I was much happier. Though I was never sure what parts of life were making me happy. I wasn't autonomous I guess one could say. So then God did me a huge favor and suckered a librarian from North Carolina into moving to Wyoming, bringing with him his daughter the Rebbeca Elise Goodson that we should all know and love. It so happened I was working at Spooners Frozen Yoghurt when freshly-moved Rebecca decided to apply for a job at the very same aforementioned youoghourt *British spelling* store. And thus started a most marvelous mutual friendship. This time was even more different. I had never before felt so challenged by the existence and goodness of another being to not be mediocre but to really do my best. That's just a side effect of goodness I think; It's a constant invitation to the conscious of others to rise above selfish tendencies. As I discovered how smart, engaging, and hilarious Rebecca (maybe an easy way to illustrate that would be her inhuman talent for making supernal quality puns) was I noticed that other people, as in literally everyone else around me, didn't become more flat and black and white in comparison, but that my depth-perception of everyone who had ever been around me, especially my family, was widely enlarged. It was like seeing new colors that I'd never known before. As if a fog lifted and suddenly a new sharpness, color, and brilliance surrounded my little sister who I used to ignore more than I probably should have. I suddenly wanted to actually befriend my parents-- and go beyond just having kinda matching genetics (fingers crossed I didn't get my Father's hair)! With Rebecca, driving around at absurd hours of the night/morning after an evening shift, slicing two infinities worth of strawberries, talking about childhood books that had shaped us, thousand other things that will never make sense to anyone but the two of us constitute not only some of the most cherished memories I think I could make but a permanent and lasting change of character. I learned that for me, happiness wasn't going to be found within myself. This person who didn't mean to do these things intentionally served to teach "...that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God."

I hope even up to present reading what literally just turned into some kind of an essay-- instinct preparing me to start studies again?.. Hey? Hasn't made you think all that much about any of these names I've listed. Of course a little! Rebecca, Mark, and Ali deserve more cosmic street cred than they've ever gotten or will get and I'm happy to serve as a minor publicist. My real hope is that you thought about other people. Names that mean nothing to me but lots to you. I hope that active love/charity I mentioned way back at the beginning stirred somewhere inside. I hope you call one of them! I hope you do something you wouldn't have normally done. I hope and would like to believe with all my heart that these lessons aren't unique to me either but are things everybody can learn-- or should learn because they sure make things better! (The teenage dreaming never really fully died inside-- did it?) 

Then I went to college. For largely the same reason a child might like a frozen pole during recess: enough people told me it was a cool, profitable, and important thing to do. I had about as much vision about what I wanted to do as the kid from A Christmas Story :) Though I went and there I had a more dynamic friend mush that's important but a little weirder to describe and doesn't fit here. And then... I left the country. And I actually had reasons for doing that. I went off to France! And that's where things got even cooler. That's where I really learned to and to be happy and to care about others. 

What happened next was the greatest miracle this side of the Mighty Ducks. God and 9 other people made some really great choices: Kelli Mattson, Ashtin Markowski, Elizabeth Anne Huston, Katelynn Maxine Marshall, Margaret Lea George, Brook Andrew, Daniel Mario Iacopucci, Zachary Stewart Taylor, Braedon Jason Dunoskovic, and Sarah Nadine Simpson  all showed up at the missionary training center a faithful November morn. Picture 9 of the good members of the Justice League with one of the Power Puff Girls thrown in there. 9 lifesavers of different flavors with a wad of pocket lint. Seriously 9 of the coolest people from whom flowed countless lessons. Suddenly the picture I'd been trying to color with maybe 5 or so crayons got 10 new marvelous colors with their own talents and weaknesses and stories. And it really was surprising to see how wide my smile was in all the photos I took with that group. I couldn't understand really. Had everyone else always been that special and unique? This time I really made an active effort. I decided from day one that I would care more about those people than I did about myself. I decided I wanted to be the shirt people put on the ground to avoid puddles. And I did just that. And my goodness was I happy. Those friendships were different for me... they were entirely founded upon things that were important; we would still talk about the weather but it was the last thing we would talk about. There was an immediate sincerity with them. I was so positively influenced by these people. I'm sad I can't make the transition from general to specific right now given time constraints but these people are just too cool. Like multiple 😎😎😎😎 emojis cool. So cool. 

Though I kind of forgot all that once actually getting to France. Like a rolly-polly (sp?! The bug that curls up into a ball) well... I curled up into a ball. And I stayed somewhat in ball form for much too long. In Dunkerque (Not officially sponsoring but go see the movie and you'll get to see where I lived for 6 months) It finally took Jean-Paul Albert Fahy, who in my eyes is up there with French legends like Victor Hugo and Charles de Gaulle, to squish the rolly-polly of pride. Now, unlike the other people I've mentioned so far, Jean-Paul isn't filled with a sparkling liquid intelligence. Jean-Paul's sense of humour is incredibly simple and he couldn't understand any of the puns I tried to share with him. Jean-Paul and I have like a 90 year age gap between us. However, he loves missionaries an absurd amount. I felt like his grandson. I saw him every day. He called us most mornings at 7h00 or so. I must have prank called the goofball 15 times during our 6 months together. He has dentures and likes to make silly faces with them removed. The greatest cackle I've ever heard. He speaks the worst and most unintelligible French of any French person I've met. So how did he squish the rolly-polly? How did he help me find a more solid happiness despite more stressful and difficult conditions than I had before in the first city where I lived in France? We didn't talk about anything important like I did with others because he's not really in a mental state to talk about much that's important. One of the only things important to him was me at the time. And that is a really important and touching thing. To be important to someone else. And he was in return super important to me. It wasn't even about what we said or did together this time... it was basically the fact that he exists. And that should be enough, shouldn't it? 

Another huge story arc in the Elder Hacker saga would be centered around the, Rennes Sœurs Power Trio. One part Courtney Damae Neistadt, one part Alexis Dianne Romney, one part Flora Hélène Henriette Piazza formed probably the coolest and most complimentary group of people I've ever seen. And my happiness was complete as I was able to see, and help from a reasonable distance these three people. I basically saw these these people twice a week. Once in person as I directed a little meeting and the other time when I called them all at the end of the week. I saw the most incredible evolution in these three missionaries. I prayed for them every night and then stood up and did everything I could for them during the day. Taking care of them and a handful of other missionaries was literally what I was jobbed with doing. Oh how we laughed and sometimes got almost emotional together. Oh what dumb pictures we took together. What absurd phone calls. The reason these three stand out-- I've interacted with relatively lots of other missionaries in my short lifespan-- is that I saw the very same process I'm currently describing playing out. I saw people finding happiness in the challenges and differences they presented one another. In turning outward and towards others in altruism service Las Vegas, Boston, and Lyon collided in the funniest way-- probably a little bit of what you imagine that look like. I'd compare the feeling... I imagine it's the same feeling of seeing one's own children really succeed. I felt like these three dear friends climbed Mount Everest. Every day. And seeing people you love climb Mount Everest every day gets yours pretty excited and pumped. That's pretty darn inspiring. 

No one better have the time to this week to read this :) you need to find better things to do with your time. And I guess that's the story of how I quested my way into the greatest source of happiness imaginable. I asked a struggling friend the other day, "do you want people to be inspired or do you want to inspire others?" And that's a diddly darn thing I've learned! There's only one I in happiness and it's better if that I is someone else saying I. 

A quote that I find used to find terrifically cheesy-- and I'm profoundly sad I was ever someone who would find this type of quote cheesy-- that was cited by members of my family and is tucked away, inscribed in a paving stone with a small crack in right hand corner in the botanic gardens of Cheyenne: "To love another person is to see the face of God." In a year plus's time if there is any message that has sunk into my soul it just might be that one there. I don't think there's a mortal high that feels so good, proper, and clean. 

And that's about all she wrote for another mystery number of weeks! 

I do love you though.

Same with you parents.

And you grandparents. 

And God too. 

-Elder Alex Hacker

My best friend in Dunkerque

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