I tossed and turned in bed, ear plugs unable to muffle the blaring music that penetrated my paper-thin bedroom walls. Jessi, fifteen years old, had discovered the maniac melodies of the Spice Girls and had chosen a most inopportune moment to listen to “Tell ya wut I wunt, wut I rilly, rilly wunt” at jet-engine, ear-plug-ignoring volume. I left my inviting blanket and tiptoed past her door into the boiler room beyond. Relief coursed through my veins as I stared at the circuit-breaker aspirin for my sisterly headache. Hidden in the darkness, my fingers, already programmed and acting automatically (for this I’d often done before), flipped the switch and cut the electricity to her “rocking” bedroom. I leaned against the boiler-room door and stared though a crack there, only to see Jessi mosey by, wearing a confused look every bit as revealing as the Spice Girls’ miniskirts.
I left my breakfast on the bathroom counter across the hall. Orange juice developed into an interesting bacterial culture, even better than the laboratory, petri-dish varieties. Science constrained me to observe its daily development. Daily it grew larger and smellier, but, compelled by scholarship, I nobly bore the stench. A greater commitment interrupted the experiment; I had to leave on my mission before I could published in Scientific American.
Yes my family loved me, a love interlaced with tolerance and longsuffering. I lived to bother my siblings, lived to hear their hysterical giggles every time I yelled “tickle torture.” When I left on my mission, water turned to wine; instead of a tolerated nuisance, I became an incomparable legend, a Lincoln, a Gandhi. A strange alchemy transformed a light-hearted lad into an unequaled legend.
My saintly mother never tired of reminding me to clean my room or wash the dishes. She always stomached me lovingly, a weary grin upon her Dutch face every time she pointed out the many chores I’d “forgotten.” Affliction is a magnifying glass that intensifies sunlight love. I was an electron microscope. When I left on my mission, though, I was no longer simply loved. I was deified.
“It was pretty rough on me today at the MTC as I watched my little boy leave and even worse when I got home. I saw the bathrobe you’ve been using on the floor of the bathroom. Instead of being glad it was the last time I’d have to pick up after you I cried–because it’s the last time I get to pick up after you! Then as I did your laundry this afternoon, I would smell each stinky article of clothing, relishing that unique stench that is only you before I washed it for the last time. Then I discovered your science experiment. When I couldn’t get the smell out of the glass after three washings, I still wanted to keep the glass as a memory of you. I slapped myself in the face, took a reality check and chucked the glass in the garbage.”
Mom saw me as a blessing–Johnny Lingo’s Mahana instead of the “Mahana you ugly” Mahana of post marriage fame–forgetting the time I flooded the basement or the time I dropped our van’s transmition.
“I’m telling you, you better come home cause we are getting too many blessings. It’s almost embarrassing! (But not that much!)”
Even Jessi, who later discovered why her bedroom blacked out every time I wanted to sleep, converted to the Elder Durant cult.
“You are such an example to me. To give up two years of your life to dedicate to the Lord is incredible! Wait, I am wrong you have dedicated your whole life to the Lord! You are so close to perfect and you don’t even know it, even if you say you do. I love you so much and pray for you every night.”
The part of my life spent in the boiler room was dedicated to nothing but my sleep, and my constant comments about being perfect (subtle brainwashing) would have been fruitless had she known about the circuit breaker.
Then there’s my twelve-year-old, skinny-as-a-stick sister Ellie, whose boy friends were, I asserted, really boyfriends. She, too, immortalized me.
“I love you so much! You are such an example to me. You are so smart, and handsome, and you care for other people’s feelings. You are so righteous and are determined to do what is right, and you give good advice, but the most of all you are an example to me because you are going on a mission. This letter is just a short, short summary of how great you really are.”
What a phenomenon! What an unpredicted solar eclipse in the Jake-is-a-nerd starry sky! Jake Durant stumbled into the telephone-booth-of-missionary-service and came out Super Elder. What caused this miracle? First, my family now missed me instead of simply pitying me as before.
“Jessi, Ellie, Kelsey and I were driving down the street yesterday looking for a place to eat lunch. We passed an Arby’s and Jessi said, ‘Oh, Jake used to love Arby’s.’ All of us sighed at the same time.”
Second, the huge distance between Utah and Brazil made teasing and tickling impossible. Without any reality checks, my family’s good perception of me increased as boundlessly as the bacterial growth in the bathroom.
“You are such an important influence on your sisters, son. Especially with you being on a mission. The girls practically worship you now that you’re gone. You’re a lot easier to worship from afar!!”
No matter the cause, when I became Elder Durant I became an example. Like the first domino that knocks over the rest, an example’s influence is enormous. Many look to another to know how to likewise better themselves.
I once added the P.S. “hope you’re all reading your scriptures” to a letter home, added it like a baker throws another cherry on his cake for no real reason at all. Mom returned an emphasized response.
“I’m reading my scriptures, son. Thanks for the encouragement.”
She repeated the same in subsequent letters, making sure I knew she was reading, worried she might disappoint me. I’d thought my comment was unimportant, and yet it had a profound effect. Mom began to listen more in church so she’d have interesting things to write me, and my family became more involved in missionary work.
“I talked with a lady at the laundry-mat, we struck up conversations with people at KOA campgrounds, etc. When we have a son in the mission field, it gives us more courage. The worst that can happen is they will walk away thinking we are weird. That happens to me all the time even when I am not talking about the church, so oh well!”
“You are the biggest example to me and I interminably love you all the time. You are teaching the Lord’s word and we are his children. I love this gospel and would be lost with out it. You are not the only one that has got stronger and spiritual. Remember that your little sister has gotten stronger by you, ok? I love you so much!”
When one follows an example he longs to do what his example does.
“Jake, your letter was amazing. I cried because it really touched me. I want to have an experience like that so much. It makes me so genuinely happy to know that you’re touching lives, young and old, all the way over in Brazil. I wish I could be in your shoes for a little while so I could serve the Brazilians.”
“Jake, bear lake was so much fun! I wish you could be there but I would rather be in Brazil and serving the Lord then on a jet ski in Bear Lake.”
The desire to do what an example does leads to plans to do what an example did. An example is a template. Plans to apply that template have long-term effects the example never knows or understands, pebbles thrown off a cliff that cause an unseen landslide. Perhaps my family was right in immortalizing me! An example is eternal.
“Last Sunday your brother Matty was looking through my planner during the sacrament. I told him he should be thinking about Jesus. He said, ‘mom, I know how I can think about Jesus.’ He turned to your picture at the back of my planner and said, ‘Just looking at Jakie makes me think about Jesus.'”