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Entries in teen (2)


Blue Highways: Hill Cumorah, New York

Unfolding the Map

This post is about some Mormons in my life.  I'm not concerned here with questions about Mormonism as a faith or religion.  I am writing about a friend, who happened to be Mormon, and the profound effect he and his family had on my life at a time when I needed a sense of normalcy and stability.  William Least Heat-Moon's (LHM) visit to Hill Cumorah, where the Mormon faith began, is what occasions this recollection.  See where Joseph Smith found the golden plates on the map.

Book Quote

"Joseph Smith, an eighteen-year-old with small hands and big feet, a quiet and 'unlaughing' boy, encountered the Angel Moroni, son of Mormon, on a drumlin alongside a litle road south of Palmyra in 1827.  The road is now New York 21 and the drumlin, a streamlined hump of glacially drifted soil, they call Hill Cumorah.  It is not a Mount Sinai or an Ararat, but rather a much humbler thing, yet apparently of sufficient majesty for angels and God to have chosen it as the place to speak to Smith.  There he unearthed the golden plates that he said were the source of the Book of Mormon.  With the aid of an ancient pair of optical instruments, the Urim and Thummin, which Smith found with the plates, he was able to translate the 'revised' Egyptian hieroglyphics, although he insisted on dictating his translation to scribes from behind a curtain."

Blue Highways: Part 8, Chapter 5

Photo of Hill Cumorah, New York by Tabitha on her blog From Single to Married (to Baby). Click on photo to go to host page.Hill Cumorah, New York

In this presidential election season, where the nation's first black president will be squaring off against the nation's first Mormon presidential nominee, a lot of questions are being asked about Mormonism.  The questioning isn't as bad or as pointed, it seems to me, as the questioning that occurred when the Catholic John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960.  But you occasionally see media reporting on attitudes toward a possible Mormon nominee and president, and more articles about the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints.  Some people will most likely always have an underlying fear of Mormonism and the Mormon Church.

My exposure to Mormons was much simpler and more profound than politics, and convinced me that a needless fear of Mormons is unjustified.  I'll put it out there - I disagree with Mitt Romney's politics and am quite sure I won't vote for him, but my choice will be based on his politics alone, and not his religious beliefs.

I went to a small-town's schools, where each year the class was small enough so that everyone knew each other.  Therefore I knew John, but I really didn't get close to him until high school.  We were both members of our school's storied cross-country team that dominated the north coast of California's small schools and a few larger schools throughout the 70s and 80s.  At the time we had similar builds, though he was a little more husky than I was, we were both smart enough to put us at the top of our class, and despite the fact that he was an extravert and I an introvert, we seemed to connect pretty well.  We quickly began spending a lot of time together.

At the time, the dysfunction in my family was becoming terrible.  At 15, I had stood up to my alcoholic father and ended my sexual abuse at his hands.  However, I kept silent about it, and his alcoholism degraded him further and further.  By then, my sister was well into her long and ongoing struggle with anorexia-bulimia.  My mother, desperately trying to keep control over an uncontrollable situation, was at the end of her rope and manifested an obsessiveness with order and cleanliness and trying to help my sister.  My youngest sister did as well as she could under such circumstances.  We all did.

It was at this time that John strode into my life.  He seemed confident, assured, and willing to have a lot of good, clean fun.  Of course, he was restricted by his religion in what he could or couldn't do, but in hindsight these restrictions on him were really good for me.  Because I hung out a lot with someone who was religiously barred from drinking, I really didn't get too involved with drinking myself - I did drink and got intoxicated a couple of times, but not to the extent that a lot of my fellow high school classmates did.  After all, I lived in a small town far from any metropolitan areas.  There wasn't a lot to do and, unfortunately as I have discovered after the fact, a lot of my fellow classmates were dealing with similar dynamics in their own households.

John drove an orange VW bug and I spent a lot of time with him in that thing, often listening to early 80s rock.  He became almost a part of my family.  My mother loved him, and his personality tended to drive my dad into the corners when he was at my house.  What John did best for me was serve as a reminder that there was a normal life out there.  His family was very gracious in welcoming me into their home.  His father was a biology teacher at our high school, and his mother was a sixth grade teacher at a local grammar school.  Their household modeled to me what a normal household looked like.  His mom always apologized for a messy house, but I relished the disorder in their house because my mom's control issues meant that I had the most spotless teenage room in town, perhaps in history.

John's religion rarely played any influence in our friendship other than superficial issues, like drinking. We talked about our churches once in awhile.  I was Catholic and enlightened him a little on my church, and I learned a little about his.  His church responsibilities occasionally got in the way of activities we wanted to do, but his church was also a source of fun.  It was built around a large multipurpose room which served as the community gathering and service area, but it also had an indoor basketball court on it, and John would often invite a group of us to come and play basketball there in the evenings.

John also had a way with the ladies, and I believe that it was his innate self-confidence that allowed him to date some very sought-after girls in our class and in the classes behind us in high school.  We often talked about dating and the mysteries associated with girls.  While I didn't have a lot of self-confidence and my dates tended to be disasters, John was always there to give me some gentle ribbing and then help me to move on.

Some things eventually happened that caused us to part ways, though I often think of him now.  We went away to different colleges, he to Utah State and I to Santa Clara, but we saw each other in the summers.  One summer, however, he seemed to grow distant.  He was planning to go on his mission, which he did in Brazil, and he seemed to draw apart from me and others.  I didn't understand at first, but now I think it had to do with the preparation he was undergoing for this combination of church duty and spiritual quest - this was a journey I couldn't do with him.  When he came back, we picked up our friendship again.  He soon found the woman he wanted to marry, a Mormon girl from northern Wyoming, and he settled there.  I was asked to be best man, but as a non-Mormon I could not attend the ceremony so someone served as my proxy when he was married at the LDS temple in Salt Lake City.  I lived in Milwaukee at the time, and took a long Greyhound trip to attend the reception.

We keep in touch via Facebook now.  John has a large family with children who are all in their teens or older.  I don't really know any of them.  I saw John a few years ago when he came to Albuquerque for a work trip and we relived some old times.  I was a little nervous because I had grown more liberal and I worried that we wouldn't agree on a lot of things.  As I danced around what I thought might be prickly issues, John, as forthright as ever, said "You know, Mike, I don't think we're as far apart as you might think we are."

As the debates go on about the impact of a Mormon candidate and possible president, I know that John and his Mormon family helped make my difficult teenage life a lot easier.  If religion had anything to do with their kindness to me, then I am grateful to them for acting out of their faith.  But I know that my friendship with John went beyond religion.  I was a troubled kid, and John was my friend, and he acted just as he would have acted regardless of his religious beliefs.

I'm not Mormon, nor do I plan to become one.  But I'm very thankful for a Mormon family who probably doesn't realize just how much they helped a young man's difficult teenage life.  Thank you, John.

Musical Interlude

Here's a non-musical clip from The Simpsons that I always laughed at:

John and I used to cruise Main Street in Fort Bragg in his VW during our senior year of high school.  We listened to this song by Aldo Nova a lot while we drove up and down the length of the town, talking and looking for something to do.  I doubt the Pope and the College of Cardinals or the LDS President and his Quorum of Twelve would have approved, and I don't really care.

If you want to know more about Hill Cumorah

Hill Cumorah and Historic Sites Hill Cumorah
Wikipedia: Cumorah
Wikipedia: Hill Cumorah Pageant

Next up: Palmyra, New York


Blue Highways: Merrill, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

We turn southeast again at Merrill.  I will once again, and for the last time perhaps, address the daughter that I will never have.  This time, I will reflect on children that are unwantedand seen as the cause of their parents' problems.  I hope that some of them make it over the rainbow.  Thank you, all visiting Littourati, for putting up with my need to get all of this off my mind.  Where's Merrill?  Let the map be your guide

Book Quote

"Looking for the land again, I turned east at Merrill....

"'Nana says Angus never forgave us kids for changing his life.  We kept him from becoming a famous writer.  But Nana says it's because he was too scared to really do it on his own...It's all bullshit.  The only way he's big is pushing little people around.'

"'He must have treated you fairly sometimes.'

"'Yeah?  Like he calls us 'hundred-thousand-dollar jerks' because he read that's what it costs to raise a kid.  Or he calls us 'unfeathered, two-legged arguments for abortion....'"

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12

Downtown Merrill, Wisconsin. Photo by royalbroil and hosted at Wikipedia. Click on photo to go to host site.

Merrill, Wisconsin

This post will be the last in my series of the letter to the daughter I will never have.  Go here to see Part 1 and Part 2.

Letter to
the Daughter
I Will Never Have
(Part 3)

"Thousand dollar jerks."  "Two-legged arguments for abortion."  How people who bring life in the world can so discount their own offspring, so minimize them, so utterly demean them, is infuriating to me.

What makes me angry is that there are so many children that need love and affection, and I am continually left with the question why?  Why are children born into homes that don't want them?  Why do people with attitudes like the father's above even bother to procreate?  It is not only a huge act of irresponsibility to get someone pregnant when you don't even want children, but an even bigger act of irresponsibility to demean them and abuse them once they've been brought into the world.

As a semi-practicing Catholic, the Church tells me that I should believe that abortion is evil.  This is echoed by evangelicals around the U.S.  But what kind of world is a child coming into if he or she is born into a family that doesn't want a child, and who views a child as a cause of problems?  Wouldn't it be better to simply not allow that child to be born?

On the other hand, what kind of world would it be if people can simply abort children when they want to correct their own irresponsibilities?

I try to steer away from that debate, but it seems to me that the answer to the question is to be responsible.  Don't have children if you don't want them.  Use a condom or birth control (another method my Church doesn't condone, but I really don't care).  If you are responsible, and still a pregnancy results, then all parties should consider all options instead of just taking a seemingly easy way out.

What bothers me about the rhetoric that flies around about the abortion debate is the assumptions that are made.  There are assumptions made that if children are not aborted, that the families will want them, or that there are people out there just waiting to adopt.  Maybe, but it's not guaranteed.  Again, I ask, what kind of life is a child consigned to if there are no safety nets to catch newborn babies?  There are also assumptions made that it's just easy for a woman to have sex, get pregnant, and then go and get an abortion.  I know that is not true.  A person would have to be an unfeeling, complete sociopath to not have any emotion about having that procedure.

Yet, it's easy for me to extemporize.  It's easy for me because, in a sense, I've been irresponsible.  In my case, I put off my own wants and desires for children and it has cost me ever conceiving you, or conceiving of you, getting to know you, caring for you, raising you, and loving you.  But at least I am not putting you into harm's way.  Someone else will have you, someone else will raise you, someone else will love you.  At least that is my hope.

I just hope that the persons who raise you want you.  I hope that they don't see you as an impediment to their dreams, but as a dream come true.  I hope that they don't see lost opportunities in your existence, but find the incredible opportunities that arrive and await them because you exist.  I was talking to a coworker who is raising a teenage daughter and he was remarking on the amazing amount of dystopian literature aimed at teenage girls.  It makes sense, because the world is a scary place for girls in the teen years, when they are so vulnerable and still have to be so strong.  The world is dystopian enough for teenage kids.  Why do we have to reinforce that frightening view?  We should be shattering it.

I hope that if I cannot be your father, that wherever you are out there I'll meet you.  I hope that I'll meet you in the park with your mom and dad and that I get to play with you a moment.  I hope that I meet you when, as I hope, I volunteer with an organization like Big Brothers or some other non-profit that matches needy kids with someone who will pay attention to them and provide companionship or mentorship to them. 

Perhaps I've already met you in the myriads of kids with which I've gotten on the ground or floor, suspended my worldly worries, and just gone into their world.  Maybe you've already touched my emotions or for a few moments relieved my sorrow about not having a child, a daughter, of my own.  Maybe I've still yet to meet you.

Yet I know you're out there, and if you aren't to be my child, I can still be a special person to other children.  I can still be someone to which they can become close and get support and friendship.  They just have to find me.  I have a feeling that it will happen.  And when they do, regardless of the reason, they'll know that they are special.  Maybe, in this way, I'll be able to honor you, the daughter I will never have.


Michael Hess
Your Father that Might Have Been

Musical Interlude

Life always throws one curve balls.  I've had a few hit me in the face.  When I get down and melancholy, this particular song, Over the Rainbow, has always given me a reason to keep going.  I remember it touching me when I was young and when I hear it now, I often get tears in my eyes, especially if the singer puts some real emotion into it.  Judy Garland made it her own, then Jane Monheit claimed it, and most recently Israel Kamakawiwo'ole nailed it.  I've loved them all, and I can imagine that a lot of kids in difficult situations wish they, too, could fly over the rainbow.  Pick your favorite, or listen to them all.

If you want to know more about Merrill

Merrill Chamber of Commerce
Merrill Courier (newspaper)
Wikipedia: Merrill

Next up: Green Bay, Wisconsin