Something like twenty-three years ago, I was a young missionary for my church. Living in a small town in Western Pennsylvania, I spent my days going door-to-door from dawn to dusk, telling anyone who would listen that God loved them, that he had a plan, and that he spoke through prophets on the earth again--just like he did in Biblical times.
At some point, I got mono, but didn't know it. I just knew I was tired and didn't feel well. But I figured I was just being lazy. Or that I hadn't quite adjusted to the demanding life of a missionary. So, my partner and I kept going. Day in, day out, we knocked on doors, walking all day long, fall, winter, spring, and summer.
I didn't know I had mono. But my body eventually figured it out. So, although I kept going, it finally couldn't. A year later, just about this time of year, it simply stopped. Overcome with exhaustion, I couldn't get out of bed, and I mean that literally. Getting up to shower constituted an enormous effort for me, and driving to go get groceries or eat dinner at some kind person's home was, quite literally, something that took all my energy for days.
These were bleak, bleak days. For months, during fall and a very dark winter, I had to stay in bed all day, every day. Because missionaries travel everywhere in twos, my poor partner (we call them companions) had to sit there in the tiny apartment and do basically nothing. I think he had it worse than I did, honestly. I don't know how many times he re-read the New Testament.
I remember, one very difficult day. I had a portable tape recorder and my mom had sent me a tape recording that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had released. The name of the album was "Gloria," and it was sacred choral music composed over the years by the great masters: Mozart, Schubert, Puccini, Vivaldi, and on and on.
This music became my comfort during dark times. It spoke to my soul when I was struggling both physically and mentally. It also gave me a desire to be a teacher and find a way to share the great masterpieces of the world with students so they could have richer, fuller lives as well.
In fact, during these wretched, claustrophobic, soul-stewing days, the vague thought of being a teacher took root and started to become a real desire and goal. Up until then, I'd planned on being a doctor.
Eventually, I got better--although it was a long journey that involved a bona fide miracle (for details, ask me--or tune in around January since I usually re-tell it then). But even all these years later, I am not quite the same. I simply don't have a lot of physical resilience, and when I get worn down, I absolutely have to rest or risk serious relapse.
I know that now. I learned it the hard way over a lot of years. So, when the warning signs come, I rest and catch up. As long as I do this, it's not a big deal, and remains very manageable.
Today is one of those days. After a few busy weeks, I am worn down to the point of getting sick. I just can't keep pushing it. So, I'm in bed today. I turned on some music, and since it was Sunday, I am listening to my Mormon Tabernacle Choir playlist. Of course, some of it is exactly the same songs I listened to all those years ago.
As I lay in bed listening to Vivaldi's "Gloria," while struggling with the same flu-like mono symptoms, I remember then, and think of my life now, and I can't help but compare and contrast the two.
Instead of a tiny, dark apartment, I have a house. It's small, but comfortable and cozy and includes every convenience I could need or want.
Instead of living with a guy my age (who will change every few months), I have a loving, lovely wife, who is the best woman in the world, and the person I most want to be with forever. We have five wonderful children who bring so much to my life. They good, affectionate kids, and are growing up, and bringing deep and abiding satisfaction as I watch them meld maturity with good choices and growing abilities.
I have become that teacher I thought about being. I get to spend every day at a truly amazing school, trying to help adolescents experience the beauty and transcendence of music and theatre. I'll be better tomorrow, and I'll go back to a boisterous, joyful noise and energy in my classroom. My students might not quite sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but hearing them sing makes my heart soar.
My life has become exactly what I wanted it to be back then, although I couldn't have dreamed about just how wonderful that life would be.
And so, I need to pause and thank God for this goodness--and sing my own Gloria!
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