We attended a block party recently. We live in a nice SoCal neighborhood with a large number of really fun folks of all cultures, and - GASP! - we get along beautifully! We even have a Mormon neighbor family just a few houses away...and this isn't Utah.
Our family attended most of the day, then took a couple hours off to shower, nap, and recharge so we could head back to hang out from dinnertime on. It was awesome: the perfect piece of Americana. About half an hour before we headed indoors to de-funk, our LDS neighbor and her kids swung by the party, which was in full swing, and made a beeline for us. She looked incredibly uncomfortable amongst the beer-swilling group (none of them drunk or even close to it, by the way), and when she found a (former) ward member, BAM!, she latched on.
That's all well and good. She's a nice lady, our kids are about the same age, and other than the fact that we no longer share a religion, there was nothing odd about her being friendly with us. (Bless her for not shunning us!)
But then we had to go, and she quite literally followed me to the door, chatting all the way. When we left we could see her through the window of the home that was "base" looking lost, wandering aimlessly over to where her kids were now playing. We returned later that evening, of course, and guess who was eager to strike up a conversation and stay glued to (specifically my) side? Yup.
And that made me so incredibly sad. She didn't understand how awkward that was...to everyone around her. Though I'm sure she feels she has tried to befriend people in the neighborhood, and though I'm certain she does her best to ignore the free-flowing booze, occasional swear word, and tank top or bikini, it was clear that SHE felt awkward...which leaves other people feeling awkward.
It was remarkably painful for me to watch, both because I think she's a really great girl who would make for a wonderful friend and neighbor, and because all I saw in watching her try and fail was MYSELF a couple years back. Me saying hi and then trying to disappear into the background. Me chatting for a minute or two and then heading to the kitchen to help out. Me clinging to ANYONE who even REMOTELY shared my religious beliefs because I could not function among "other" people. (I now see those "other" people as NORMAL, by the way.)
Whether we like to accept it as fact or not, if you were born and raised Mormon, you tend to view people in one of two ways:
- A proselyting opportunity/responsibility ("Where much is given, much is required!"), which means you're supposed to strike up a conversation about the church and get whatever stranger with whom you've come in contact to accept your faith so you can thrill over saving their eternal soul.
- An automatic judge: Could this person cut it in the church? Could they devote themselves to the TRUE religion and give up the coffee they're drinking? the beer they're ingesting? the cigarette they're smoking? the tattoo they're planning? the tank top they're wearing? the significant other they're living with but not married to? If the answer is yes, it is now your perfect duty to convert them, and if the answer is no, they are not worthy of the truth, and therefore, not worthy of your friendship because they may lead you away from truth.
So it IS difficult for Mormons to befriend non-members...especially once your teen years are through, the church is your entire identity, and you don't associate with as many strangers on a day-to-day basis to remind you how to get along with others. Yes, Mormons may be some of the nicest people on the planet...but that doesn't mean they know how to be inclusive of anyone but their own.
And maybe that's a good thing: it means there are fewer people being duped by the church because the members have already determined that someone won't convert and therefore don't try. WHEW.
But it still makes me sad. For my LDS neighbor, for my LDS friends, and most especially for myself. Heaven only knows how many wonderful friendships I've missed out on over the years because I just didn't know how to be a good friend...or for that matter, a good member of the human race. I'll never get those years - or those potential friendships - back.
I just sincerely hope others wake up early enough that they don't have to feel like I do.
Can I get an "Amen"? ;)