A Fairly Dumb Companion from Lake Wanttobegone

Last night my wife and I were able to take part in the Mormon version of paying our indulgences by having the missionaries over for dinner. This usually translates to an awkward little hour where plate upon heaping plate of food is ingested and we are left with a commitment to convert our neighbors by the end of the week. I stared at these two young men, who had been paired together only a few days earlier, and wondered just when the older of them would snap and try to suffocate his companion with a pillow during the night, or when the younger one would grow so disillusioned by his companion’s relaxed personality that he would head out on his own to preach, door to door, the divinity of Chuck Norris. One or the other was bound to happen.

LDS missionaries are sent out to all corners of the world in “companionships” of two. This is in conjunction with an early revelation that made it clear that a 19-year-old can not be trusted by himself, and so must be paired up with an equally immature 19-year-old in order that both parties will act as a check and balance to each other’s insanity, and all shall rejoice. A missionary companionship is the most interesting dynamic of any relationship you could imagine. A therapist might deal with a long-term couple, a struggling marriage, a mother and daughter, a man and his pet ferret, a gun shop owner and his basement dungeon gimp, and none of these would compare in the complexities and difficulties brought on by the missionary companionship.

I experienced this wonderment first hand as I served my mission nearly ten years ago. During my time in a foreign country, speaking a strange, guttural language, subjected to vicious dogs, well-armed anti-solicitation advocates, brutal forces of nature, various people possessed by spirits that would give Linda Blair a run for her money, my biggest challenge was dealing with my companions. I feel that throughout my two-year tenure, I was actually very lucky when compared with others, but that did not mean that it was not a challenge. It simply meant that I did not sustain or have to administer any lasting physical injuries.

I had twelve companions in all, just like someone else we all know. Jesus. Or, Elder Jésus from Guadalarja, that is. These twelve companions really ran the gamut of the human genome. One companion refused to learn a word of French, explaining that it was my job to speak to people and his job to look good in case there were any young females involved. One thought he was black even though he was the epitome of white. One had an unnatural fixation with his Rubik’s Cube. One had palms that sweat so badly while teaching other people that he left wet hand prints on their furniture. One was German. But through all of this, there was one who raised the bar on the definition of annoying and was the supreme example of the limits of patience that a human being is capable of. This companion was, fittingly, the last that I had before ending my missionary service. This companion was named… Elder Boring.
I have no need to hide his identity as I have no idea where in the world he is at this point. I was hoping a safe, padded institution somewhere, but not long ago I received an invitation to his wedding where the bottoms of his dirty, sandy feet were the main focal point of the picture. I felt deeply rooted pity for his wife, knowing that the marriage could not last any longer than the six weeks I had endured by his side. It had to be a scientific fact. And I only occasionally saw him naked.

I met Elder Boring at the train station in Montreal as I said goodbye to my previous companion, one of my favorites, and hello to this strange little smile and stringy hair that was parted just above his left ear. Though he was odd-looking and said a few odd things, I did not fully grasp the experience I was ready to undergo. I believe the first sign came as we attended a dinner appointment with a few of the church members in our area. I heartily ate the spaghetti and meatballs and tried to commit them to convert their neighbors. Some things never change. When I had my plate cleared, I quickly realized that Elder Boring had not touched his meal at all. Our lovely host looked at his plate in equal surprise and asked, “I’m sorry, Elder, did it not taste very good?” “Not really, but I don’t eat spaghetti,” came the shocking response. Yes, the staple food of the LDS missionary was apparently inedible to one Mr. Elder Boring.

It wasn’t just spaghetti however. The next dinner appointment, when a casserole was served to us, Elder Boring pushed the food away again. After a stern “companionship inventory” (a system set up to civilly tell your companion how much you dearly, deeply hate him) I asked what his problem was. He then informed me that he only ate hamburgers and ham sandwiches. That was it. That was all. In complete awe, I told him that was not an option and that he had better buck up and eat every damn (well, darn) plate of food that was put in front of him. “No, I won’t. You can’t make me. You aren’t my dad,” he explained to me. I couldn't help but wonder who his dad was and what harsh chemical fumes he exposed Baby Elder Boring to. And so, I called all the church members in our area one morning when Elder Boring took one of his long showers (*sound of me clearing my throat*) and asked them to not invite us over for dinner while Elder Boring remained.

I later found out through some investigation that he believed that hamburgers and ham sandwiches were made from the same meat. I had to draw out for him through the use of a flipchart, a slide presentation, and a flannel board, how the pig and the cow were actually different animals. Because I found the humor in crashing his pre-conceived, firmly held since kindergarten, notions of food, he stopped talking to me. I let this go on for five days, enjoying the solitude that allowed me to reflect on the girls that I would date when I arrived home in a few weeks. However, I knew it could not go on and so we had another companionship inventory. I apologized profusely until he uttered his first words to me in days; “I hate you.” In a way, it was good to know the feeling was mutually reciprocated.

In the weeks that followed, I would find him reading female interest magazines instead of studying our training materials. He had a way with words that managed to offend Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. He made it a habit to fall asleep on the bus rides between appointments, rarely waking up before he was at a bus stop a few miles away from the one I had gotten off at. Luckily, he could find the humor in certain situations, like when he passed gas while teaching a lesson about the restoration of the gospel or meeting a woman in a full burqa, assuming it was a Halloween costume.

Throughout all of this and more (believe me, much more) the only thing that kept me rooting around for that last shred of patience, which I had stored inside for just such an occasion, was the fact that I would soon be relieved of my duties. And I was. I would soon be home with my loving parents who would shower me with Mountain Dew and R-rated movies upon my arrival. My last day came and, as I stood at the train station where we had met an eternity of six weeks ago, and stared into the eyes of what at this point I was convinced was more demon than man, I offered a sincere prayer in my heart to God, pleading that I would never again be subjected to such trials. I had been taught from an early age that God would never give us trials that we could not bear and that they would end up being for our benefit if we endured. And I found comfort in the fact that one person had gone through much worse than I could imagine and understood the pain I went through. That person was Elder Jésus. He had some pretty rough companions.


Joe said...

I do believe Lisa had to teach Homer about how sausage, pork and bacon all came from the same animal. I would have loved to see his face at the moment that he learned cows and pigs are different.

I had a very similar story teaching one of my companions where food goes when you swallow. One morning I was watching him eat his cereal like a duck. No chewing, just swallowing. I told him, "Elder, slow down and chew your food." He said, "I don't need to, my heart chews it for me." I was dumbfounded and shocked. I asked him to explain to me, in his own words where food goes after he swallows it. "Down my throat, and into my heart, when it pumps it chews my food." I sat there in silence with big eyes wondering how he could have lived 20 years believing this. I then proceeded to give him a basic anatomy lesson about how a human's intake and digestive system works. He though I was making fun of him and just stared at the table. I had call on our roommates to confirm what I explained was fact and not some plot to alter science. It made for an awkward day, but a great story.

doug said...

I got the silent treatment a couple of times. Sweet, blissful silent-treatment...

Haans said...

I don't think I ever met this Elder Boring while I was there in Quebec, but i had a couple of comp. that I just could not stand, that being said, I never had a comp. so stupid as the Elder you just told me about. Just goes to show that there is some one out there for everyone.