One of the furthest things from my mind when I left on my LDS mission was that I might die. Because I was doing what Heavenly Father wanted, it automatically followed that I would come home without a scratch.
I had done the research. Years of stories from church magazines and Sunday school lessons had given me a testimony that the only people who got hurt in the service of the Lord were those who weren’t good servants.
I was barely out of puberty when I left on my mission, so logic wasn’t my strong suit. More study proved that lots of good people came to bad ends in the service of the Lord — apostles, prophets, disciples, the Savior himself, etc.
Before long I was convinced that going about the Lord’s business actually improved one’s odds of getting hurt. So I stopped working so hard.
That didn’t stop my mother from worrying about me. The part of the Lord’s vineyard I labored in was convulsed in violence. Skyrocketing inflation and labor unrest added to the potential for me getting hurt.
But if I ever had any concern for my own safety, it didn’t manifest itself in my journal entries or the letters. My mother saved the ones that actually made it home.
Among them is a letter I wrote two days after the military overthrew the government, declared martial law and shot a bunch of people for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“July 19, Please send another raincoat and my Elton John tapes. Elder Muntz’s leg got infected. Love, your son, Elder Kirby.”
Meanwhile, the world news from South America was considerably more dire. Mom had waited anxiously for word that I was OK. And when a letter finally made its way home to Utah, all she got for her trouble was news about some other missionary’s rat bite.
I wasn’t insensitive. I was clueless. Not only was I largely unaware of the danger around me, but I also was oblivious to what it was doing to those who loved me.
The year 1973 was hard on my mother. She probably had it worse than the mothers of my companions. Her missionary son was in a violent part of South America while at the same time her military husband was in an even more violent part of Southeast Asia. She probably flinched every time the doorbell rang that year.
If I had to do it over again, I’d be more considerate of the feelings of those who waited for word of my well-being. I know now that my life doesn’t belong to just me.
I understand her worry now that I’m the one worrying. Our oldest daughter works for a humanitarian organization that delivers aid to poor (and highly unsafe) countries such as Haiti and Guatemala.
Periodically, and entirely against our will, my wife and I have to stand by helplessly while our daughter travels off to places I wouldn’t visit without a lot of armed help. She does it because it’s something she believes is necessary.
I don’t know about the necessary part. What I do know is that all the reassurances in the world don’t matter when you send those you love off to places where they aren’t loved. It’s a waiting game then.
If the worst happens, you console yourself that those you loved were taken doing what they loved.
Robert Kirby can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.