On Soil Myths
“The bad thing about death is not that it changes the future. It’s that it leaves us alone with our memories.”
–Peter Hoeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow
So this is my first post since I’ve been back from my mission. Yes, I’ve been back for six months. I know that’s a long time. But I’ve been trying to get used to life again andthere have been both amazing, wonderful things about that - and some distinct challenges. I’ve thought a lot about why it is so challenging to come home. Why is this cliche difficulty so pertinent and real? You know what? I think I finally put my finger on it.
All you other return missionaries, have you ever had a moment like this one? Where you find yourself telling a mission story (every single day of your life) and you get more and more animated and in the end, you’re either laughing or dead serious, but either way, you look at the person you’re telling with big glowing expectant eyes and they say obligingly, “Wow. Yeah. Cool.”
And slowly your big glowing eyes become normal sized and you frown a little. Because no matter how nice they are about it, something in their answer is unsatisfying. Something’s missing. I’ve puzzled over what that could possibly be and I think I’ve finally figured it out. There used to be a power in those stories - a power that benefited both me as the teller as well as the listener. That power is dormant now.
I don’t mean the power of the Spirit, nor do I mean that the stories have no impact whatsoever. But the power I was expecting them to have no longer was in them. Here, I’ll try to explain what I mean.
It all reminds me of a myth I’ve heard about farming soils. This is something I’ve always been told but have no way of knowing is true. I’ve always heard that different soils have different balances of available nutrients, some having more of one thing and less of another. I’ve heard that different plants require more of some nutrients than others and thus some soils are better suited to those plants. I’ve also heard that it is a good idea to rotate which types of crops you plant in a particular field so that no one nutrient gets depleted and the soil maintains a proper balance.
Well, I don’t know if that’s true about soil, but I think it may well be true of people. Each one of us, whether by nature or nurture, have our own individual balance of nutrients. Each of us specialize in some character traits and have a shortage in others. Unlike soils, however, the concentration of our excess quality - the nutrient we specialize in - increases with time. This doesn’t even have to be a character trait as distinct as diligence or patience. It can be an affinity for poetry, or love of a particular smell, or a hobby. Anything. Whatever small natural tendencies we have that can grow in us with time. Only the problem is that each and every quality, even if good, grows poisonous in excess. Too much of any one nutrient makes the soil barren and unproductive. And if we, as human beings, are constantly having some nutrients increase, then our soil is always moving toward excess, toward barrenness. In short, we have a problem.
What is the solution? The solution is relationships with other people. As we build those relationships, we open a conduit between our own inner fields and theirs and they take part in our excesses and we in theirs and thus balance each other out. This is one of the reasons human relationships are so vital. This is one of the reasons that marriage is so essential to progression. These relationships restore balance and harmony to ourselves. They take the foam off the virtues that have boiled over into faults, giving us back our good qualities as good while at the same time providing us with those qualities which we lack. It’s beautiful, the way relationships help every member come to a new level of wholeness.
And I ask you, what is that conduit, that relationship built upon? What are the bricks that build that tunnel between two souls, that create the connection? They are our memories. As we do things together, have conversations, memorable outings, uplifting experiences together, we build these tunnels between us, stronger and deeper with each experience. And when we share memories, laughing about things we did together in the past, we’re doing more than just reminiscing. We’re using our tunnels. We’re trading essential human nutrients. We’re balancing out our fields, our soils, our characters. And as we do so, we feel a cleansing relief, a joy in harmony, a peace in that one step closer to perfection.
That’s what telling my mission stories used to do in the field, when I would laugh with companions. When we would tell amusing Swedish tales to each other as a district, as a zone, as a mission. We had this intricate maze of tunnels from missionary to missionary, from missionary to president, to district leader, zone leader, to investigators, members, companions, and more. We built ourselves a network of deep relationships that helped round out our souls and fill us with light. Of course, we grew closer to Jesus Christ and God and those tunnels never close off, but much of the benefit was also the connection to those other people.
And so what was unsatisfying about telling mission stories wasn’t that somehow the stories were different. It wasn’t that the person reacted differently than I’d anticipated. It was that the joy and refreshment that telling such stories used to afford is gone. I’ve been removed from my network. I still feel the tunnels, the conduits, and I’m still telling the memories, trying to use them - but they’ve been completely blocked off. I have these phantom limbs I’m still trying to use, expecting to do things with them and nothing happens. I’ve been cut off. I’m locked within myself. And these memories that used to do so much have grown powerless. And all my excesses are swelling and there is no relief.
This is the frustration I’ve been feeling. This is part of the sadness we feel when anything ends. But do you know what the solution is? We must build new relationships, create new experiences, open new conduits. This is painful and difficult, especially because eventually, at least for a while, even those tunnels will be closed. But you know what I’ve decided for now?
I think it’s worth it.