23 August 2009

The Music Starts, Chapter One

This year, at least, T. S. Eliot was wrong. April wasn't the cruelest month. It was the most wonderful, miraculous month of Tim's life.

In early March, the mission president had surprised Tim with a phonecall and the news that he was the new zone leader for Northampton. That meant he would probably stay there for the six months he had left. Tim was glad; Birmingham was exciting but loud and crowded, and everyone was so busy all the time. The pace in Northampton and the surrounding towns was a bit slower. People would take time to talk, even with a couple of young Americans in white shirts who wanted to discuss religion. Most were polite but content with being "CE" and with setting foot in church a couple of times a year.

Tim had learned to respect the Anglican tradition even if he didn't agree with everything in it. At least they built beautiful chapels. He wished his own church would build something other than big boxy conference rooms with a plain pulpit at the end. Arches and stained glass just felt more reverent somehow. One of the advantages of being senior was that when Tim got tired or frustrated, he could pull rank and drag his companion into whatever old parish church was nearby, where he would sit and recharge by savoring the reverent silence, the architecture that drew his eyes and heart upward, and the sense of history.

His favorite was the church at Finedon, near Kettering; built in the 1300's, so old he could scarcely comprehend it. People had been worshiping there for over a century before Columbus got on the boat, yet there he was too, in the same place where people who'd never heard of chocolate or Shakespeare or a printing press had sung and prayed almost 800 years ago. Back home in Arizona they sure didn't have any place like that. Tim wondered if he'd been born in the wrong country sometimes. In many ways he felt a lot more at home in England than he ever had where he grew up. It seemed like his life had begun when he stepped off the plane at Heathrow; he could hardly remember anything before that anymore.

That Sunday evening Tim and his companion had back to back appointments far enough away that they had to take a taxi to make the second one. Even after 18 months out, once in a while Tim encountered somebody with the most outrageous countrified accent, and that taxi driver took the cake. He blathered on about his upcoming vacation to Mallorca but Tim and Elder Hemsworth both thought he said New York. Amazing, the variations in The Queen's English one encountered even in a small place like the U.K.

Appointments finished, the two headed back to their flat and the part of being a ZL Tim dreaded the most: collecting weekly reports and writing his own for the mission president. It was an accountant's drudgery, almost always mixed with this or that story of squabbles and spats between other missionaries, or missionaries and members, or somebody allegedly breaking mission rules, or looking too long at a local girl, or sneaking off to the movies during proselyting time. So far nothing so serious he had to go to the mission president, and Tim prayed he'd never have to deal with something like that. Except for the reports and paperwork, Tim loved what he did and was good at it. He'd baptized more than almost anyone else in the mission. He loved being able to share his faith, he loved England, he got on well with Elder Hemsworth and all the other missionaries, who liked and respected him. He couldn't imagine being more content.

Monday morning came. It was transfer day. A big group of new missionaries had just arrived from the States, and according to the mission office several had been assigned to Tim's zone. So he and Elder Hemsworth caught the train from Wellingborough up to the mission home for the monthly check-in with the president and to meet the new kids. It was late April and spring was already well underway. Much to Tim's delight, the sun was out, the low hills of the Midlands were green and fresh as the train clacked toward Birmingham, and tree after tree surprised him with torrents of blossoms in white, pink, blue and purple.

Tim made the rounds in the mission office, visited with the president briefly, then went to the church next door where all transferring missionaries were meeting and making their exchanges. Everything was familiar routine. He found the group of new missionaries and asked for those who would be joining his zone. Two were there waiting, one was elsewhere for a moment but expected soon. Tim had been talking with the two new guys for a few minutes when he heard footsteps behind him, and one of the new elders said "Oh, here's Elder Rayburn."

Tim turned round with hand outstretched, ready to shake. Their hands met. And then their eyes.

(Chapter Two coming soon)

5 comments:

Ned said...

Wonderful, I can't wait for more!

El Genio said...

Oh the suspense is killing me. And incidentally, I'm the type who loves collecting reports, what does that say about me? lol

Ben said...

are you making this up? or is it personal experience? or a story you've heard?

thanks for the comment you left on my blog. I know my mom loves me. I wish I was better at showing my appreciation for her.

Alan said...

@Ben:

Stick around and you'll find out.

Ned said...

So just what is your definition of "soon"? One can only hang on a cliff for so long. :(