I've been decoding and transferring various jots and tittles that I wrote down on a small stack of 3x5 cards during my mission, mostly while I was at the Language Training Mission (LTM; this turned into the MTC — Missionary Training Center — in the fall of 1978, when I was serving in northeastern France). Anyway, one can well imagine that most of my notes were of the various LTM sacrament meeting talks, Sunday School or Relief Society lessons, or of LTM or BYU devotionals and firesides featuring various general authorities at the time. Most of these notes are in everyday English… but some are written using the phonetic Deseret alphabet.

I used the Deseret alphabet whenever I interjected a personal observation, indulged in (hyper-)religious breast-beating about my sins (both real and imagined or at least exaggerated in the rarified atmosphere of the LTM)… and when I was angry or upset or puzzled about something or someone (as illustrated in a previous blog post). As ever, writing in Deseret was a whole lot easier than decoding it (especially some 35+ years after the fact).

I came across one such (blessedly very short) note in Deseret the other day, to wit:

Dec. 11, 1977 — O Tristan Wood — come back and serve your mission.

Tristan (not his real name) was a young man in my home ward, a couple of years younger than I (in keeping with the age requirements/restrictions of the time: he would have been 19-ish, and I was 21.5 years old). I frankly do not remember the precise circumstances which would have led me to write this little plaintive private and unsent plea, but obviously Tristan went home. Did my mom write to tell me about it? Did someone else? I had entered the LTM on December 1st; had Tristan already been in the LTM for some time, or had he just arrived as well? Why did he go home? "Unrepented sins"? Homesickness?

No matter the reason, his leaving the LTM and going home would have been a big shock to our congregation ("ward" in Mormon parlance) … and doubtless to his parents in particular. There was (and still is) scarcely a greater disgrace for a young Mormon than going on a mission and getting sent home early (or in some instances deserting). And certainly the social stigma of going home early — even for completely legitimate reasons (health, significant family problems, etc.) — is shamefully still alive and well among the saints.

Well, whatever Tristan's reasons for going home… I can willingly wager that he ultimately went back out and served his mission. Why? Because he's now a stake president, and it seems pretty unlikely to me that that would be the case if he'd gone home and stayed home thereafter. (I could be wrong, but I think institutional forgiveness goes only so far.)

And this all said, I am still rather surprised that he is a stake president, given that he works for one of those awful vulture payday loan companies (which have legally bribed — I mean, donated tens of thousands of dollars to prop up politicians and legislation that will keep them as unregulated as can be in the Beehive State, among other places). It's… a little hard for my brain to reconcile Tristan's profession with his church job, but truly, "God works in mysterious ways" (insert eye-roll here).