Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Português

"So Sister Daniels called me back. She said we can go ahead and stay with them while we're out there," said my fiance (we're going to call him Noivo,) breaking a long silence. I continued to say nothing. I was listening to what he was saying, but I couldn't bring myself to be as excited about our coming trip as he was.

Perceiving that I wouldn't respond, he continued. "She said I can stay with her son down in the man-cave. He just came back from his mission to New Zealand. And you can stay in her daughter's room."

"Oh man, he must be suffering a lot," I said without thinking. I instantly realized that my response probably sounded strange because the fact that Trevor just came home from a mission wasn't the focus of the conversation.

But I served a foreign mission--I know how it feels to wonder if you'll ever see it all again. I know how it feels to be in your own house and to feel like nothing is familiar. Not only have you been gone for that long, but the language is all wrong. Old habits die hard, and it starts from the moment you wake up. How do you explain how weird you feel when you've nearly put the toilet paper in the trash can for the three millionth time instead of letting it get flushed simply because "that's how we do it in São Paulo." How do you explain the hesitation at taking a shower without flip flops on? How do you explain the confusion which carpet creates, or the incredible hunger which only strikes in the middle of the day at almoço time, with no desire whatsoever to eat at any other time, even when you're hungry? How do you explain the pain because you keep remembering it all, and the even deeper pain of not wanting to forget? It was only a few minutes later, as I sat through more conversation that I just couldn't follow (and it took me WAY too long to remember the word for beterraba) that I simply started to cry.

The great thing about the Noivo is that he doesn't expect me to be happy. He doesn't even expect me to be OK. He just asks what he can do to help me. I think to myself that he can't because he just doesn't understand. He served stateside, he just wouldn't know. With time, I'm seeing that it would be beneficial if I stop saying that to myself and to him--I don't want there to be a wall so tall around my feelings that his empathy can't scale. That will just hurt me more.

I am excited for our trip to Vegas, to visit the Noivo's mission--to meet the people whose lives he changed and whose hearts he touched. I think it will ultimately be good for me, even though it will only put my pain through another jarring paradigm shift. And seeing the Noivo struggle to know how to help me, I've asked myself a million times, what would help me? I can't afford to go back, and doubt I will be able to for some time. So how do you cope?

 I don't have the whole answer yet. I've taken to immersing myself in the language as much as possible. It gives me a way to feel like I still have a way to hold onto what I truly loved about my mission. As long as I can remember the language, I have my connection to the people. This led to a really interesting moment when I was completely lost in rush hour after putting my phone into Portuguese, and even the GPS was talking to me in my mission language--but even that was rewarding because I understood what it said. Here are some other suggestions I've found helpful:
  • Read the Book of Mormon every day in your mission language
  • Set up contact lists of members and converts on Facebook, Skype, MSN, etc. (Skype calls are the best!)
  • Do Indexing in your mission language
  • Start a blog in your mission language or about missionary work. I just started a new blog in Portuguese about my Brazilian discoveries. Check it out here
  • Learn to make the food. Be careful with that panela de pressão, they explode. (See Breakfast at Tiffany's)
  • Journal in your mission language. (I have already started this one.)
  • Explore music and find new artists (online radio stations here, Pandora has select artists, ask your companions what they like--that's how I found this, this, this, and this, then ask members what they like--that's how I found these guys)
  • I've been studying my patriarchal blessing in Portuguese because I translated it into Portuguese. It took a lot of work and editing but it was totally worth it
  • Listen to General Conference in your mission language. Random fact: Elder Scott doesn't use a translator in Portuguese, he speaks it himself.
  • Do a temple session in your mission language (where available)
  • Find books translated into Portuguese (Here are suggestions for Brazilian literature, you can also look for things like Harry Potter and Shakespeare)
  • Find movies translated into Portuguese (This is complicated because most Brazilians pirate movies and buy them in the street. Netflix Brazil appears to only operate in Brasil, but I did find this site, looks legit)
  • Get a job speaking your mission language. (Believe it or not, I may accomplish this one.)
I don't know what is harder--remembering how different everything is, or forgetting the little things I thought I'd always remember. With each passing day, I can focus on both of them less and a new person with a new perspective emerges. I will always love my mission for what it taught me and what it gave to me. But it's time to come home now, and to embrace all of the changes which come along with that.

I know the Lord would have many, many more of His children be missionaries. He would also have his returned missionaries continue to be missionaries. I have been called to participate in missionary work already, and I'm excited to have those new experiences, and to embrace the life of a returned missionary.

It's like my mission president always said, "Only eighteen months to live it, and a lifetime to remember."

Too true, Presidente Pinho. Too true.