Last night Eric Whitlock and I exited the freeway after a very long, very warm Sunday.
In the still of the desert night, when the sun sets and the world begins to cool, Eric and I arrived at the scene of chaos.
As we curved with the road, something clearly wasn’t right.
Hazard lights. Hasty diagonal parking. A neck craning out of the driver’s side window in the car ahead of us. A man, silhouetted in the darkness, talking on his cell phone looking down to the bushes and trees under the offramp.
Eric slowed his driving. I rolled down the window.
“Is everything okay?”
It wasn’t, but luckily, everyone was.
We parked, and my husband bolted over the cement barrier to the wreckage beneath us. A man, clearly in shock, walked back toward him. He was okay, but had driven his car on the wrong side of the median separating the exit ramp from the landscape. Shaky, and uncertain of what had happened, the chaos that had consumed his reality dissolved into a world of color — red and yellow flashing lights, and men and women in neon green vests that read: Paramedic.
The officers and medical workers quickly thanked and shooed us away when they realized we had not witnessed the accident, simply stopped to help.
But there is an unseen hero in this tale.
A family traveling from California on business in Utah. They witnessed the black Acura TL in front of them make a wrong turn, a distracted choice.
The mother, father and son in his late teens stopped to help. The son paced, surveying the scene with Eric. Concern and determination to help were etched on his caring face. The father spoke clearly and directly to the driver, but with great compassion as well. The mother spoke quickly and efficiently with the officers.
“We’re just passing through. From California,” the father said.
The son nodded his approval. He thanked us for helping.
We thanked him and turned to walk away.
But I didn’t get two steps before I heard these words:
“It’s a great way to start a mission.”
The business the family was on, was to drop their son off at the MTC.
I spun around on my heel and practically shouted at this poor, incredible man.
“You’re going on a mission?! That’s fantastic.”
But it was more than fantastic. It was inspiring. Here was a brand new missionary. As in, set-apart-hours-ago new.
And he got it.
He understood that his life for the next two years was not about him. It was not about him just traveling from California, tired from a long drive, spending the last few days with his parents before leaving for what at times will feel like eternity. It was not about the clock ticking later and later, taking away minutes spent on himself. It was not about whether he was going back to the hotel to crash into a bed with scratchy sheets and plastic-feeling brown blankets.
He saw the need to serve. And he filled it. With a glad and willing heart.
I sat in silence, thinking about this Elder as Eric Whitlock and I drove the rest of the way home.
I intrusively looked into the what I imagined his future to be.
I saw him entering the MTC. Terrified, but exhilarated with the spirit.
I saw him successfully making his first street contact, rejected but on fire with calling the cry of repentance.
I saw him on his knees, pleading with God to overcome his weakness.
I saw him driving home to plan after a particularly long day, dejected because appointments canceled, one investigator dropped them, one didn’t keep his commitment to read the Book of Mormon, and another was starting to second guess her baptismal date.
I saw him standing waist high in a fountain of water, dressed in white beaming at the person standing next to him that had become his eternal friend.
And in between all of this, I saw that same attitude. “What a great way to start a mission.”
Yes, Elder. What a great way to start, continue and end a mission.
With love. And determination. And excitement. And humility.
Because that’s what missionary work is. Walking into a scene of chaos and asking those in it to find peace. To be still. To be whole through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Yes, Elder. And good luck.