Monday, August 10, 2015

Nauvoo: An Epic Look Back on an Epic Summer of Epicness

I’ve been back in Utah for less than eight full days and Nauvoo already seems like something that happened ages ago. Such is life. I realized after returning home that there were plenty of little things about Nauvoo that I never made mention of. It’s easy to skip over the mundane—the normal, day-to-day things that were a part of Nauvoo living—and yet those are the details that will, someday in the future, help to evoke a more salient memory of how I spent my summer vacation in 2015. Don’t worry—I’m not going to mention every insignificant detail I can remember. And, since I’m writing anyway, I’m going to include things that weren’t a part of my everyday life in Nauvoo. In short, this is just a look back and a slight coloring in of what I’ve already shared. That sort of thing. (If you’re wondering about the abundance of epicness in the blog title, it was influenced by my kids—especially Beegy—who seem to regard the word “epic” as their adjective of choice when describing something cool.)

One thing I would be remiss never to mention about Nauvoo is the preponderance of bugs. Fortunately, it wasn’t something that affected our home life. We didn’t have an abundance of creepy crawlies inside of the house, although spiders weren’t uncommon (and I even once found one on my pillow). Outside of the house, however—whooey! I talked about mayflies in an earlier post (or two), but those were a rare sight, all things considered. The bigger problem was in fact the spiders. And the main location that we had problems was our car. Overnight, our car would inevitably be wrapped in a cocoon of spider web. That’s not much of an exaggeration—large sections of the car would be covered in spider webs, no matter how recently they’d been cleared away. They’d get inside, too. You might open your car door only to discover a wall of spider web between you and your seat. Melanie once took the car through a car wash, and by the next morning, several spiders had set up shop and covered many spots on the car with web. It was cuckoo. From what I could tell, the backside of our sideview mirrors was a booming spider metropolis. You’d see many spiders per day sneaking out from behind the mirrors, back where human eye and hand could not go. The photo below was taken within a day or two of having our car washed. You can see at least four spiders in the photo.

We enjoyed much animal life aside from spiders during our time in Nauvoo. I’ve never seen so many wild bunnies in my life. On a couple of occasions, I saw multiple bunnies hopping around together, but usually it was just a single bunny. This made me wonder if it was the same bunny I was seeing over and over again. It seems that during at least one tour per day, the bunny would be hanging out at one of the historic sites. Tourists often got more excited about the wildlife than the historic sites themselves. That was especially true when a turtle was hanging out by the Nauvoo House one day. (I saw turtles only twice that I can remember.) Geese were extremely common. Near the visitor’s center, there seemed always to be a flock of geese just hanging out.

An obvious matter to discuss is how my left foot held up with all the tour-guiding I did in Nauvoo. With my left foot being partially constructed of metal, I have a slight limp. Aside from that, I’m not the most active guy in the world. Going from a rather sedentary lifestyle to one wherein I would give walking tours multiple times a day was something that made me a tiny bit apprehensive before heading to Nauvoo, although I realized it was probably in my best interest, health-wise. Still, I didn’t know how well I’d hold up. Fortunately, I did quite well. Per usual, there were days when I’d get up with a stiffer ankle than other days, and it would take me a little bit of walking around before the pain and the more extreme hobbling would subside. But overall, I think giving tours and walking around a lot helped my foot to adjust. I started to get better in the mornings than I was before I went to Nauvoo. That is, I think my limping and need for a morning-time adjustment period decreased during my time in Nauvoo. On the flipside, my restless legs syndrome got worse. Like gout, my restless leg syndrome (RLS) is self-diagnosed and (thankfully) not very extreme. I hadn’t even heard of RLS when years ago I first started noticing that, at times when I was watching TV, my left foot would start to “tickle” inside and feel like it needed to spaz out. I don’t think it’s ever been anything other than my left foot, and the sensation is always concentrated up near the big toe. (Could it be a side effect of the injury that led to my metal foot? I don’t know.) It can be really annoying, and I fear that if it ever gets worse, it will be the kind of the thing that would make you want to cut your damn foot off. Anyway, I don’t have these sensations every day. I might go weeks without feeling them, and I might only feel them a little bit for one night and then not feel them again for another few weeks. There’s no rhyme or reason to it that I can tell. And yet, giving walking tours every day, it was extremely common for me to feel some restlessness in my left foot at night. Extremely common. So, that’s discouraging, to think that being a more active person might exacerbate the antsy sensations in my foot. That would suck. I hope to be more active now that I’m back in Utah, so we’ll see what happens.

If it wasn’t clear from my blog entries, I was extremely happy in Nauvoo. I was sad to leave. I really loved the life I was living there. I was hanging around people every day who were interested in discussing the same things I’m interested in, including a brilliant man who was always willing to let me pick his brain. It was highly educational, but without the pressures of academia. I was also able to teach tourists about things I care about, and sometimes you’d even get a tourist who seemed to be on a spiritual journey of his/her own, and then answering questions felt ministerial. It was awesome. And yes, life was simple. Even the dearth of options in Nauvoo had a certain appeal to it, making life feel really easygoing. (I fully recognize that being in Nauvoo long-term would likely drive me insane, especially during the winter. I’m just saying it was a nice, laidback escape while I was there.) The kids loved it, too, which is awesome and amazing. They were all sad to leave Nauvoo, and Eddie several times mentioned his desire to return to Nauvoo next year. I really like that idea myself. Depending on what life is like seven or eight months from now, I would definitely consider going back. While in Nauvoo, I loved the idea of Nauvoo being something we do every summer for the next several years. I don’t even know if that’s an option, but I like the idea. In fact, my happiness was eye-opening. It solidified some things about what I want to do with my future. You see, I was honestly happier as a tour guide than I can remember being during my entire PhD program. I felt much more in my element, much more interested, and much more at peace. I am done living in the past and not embracing what I know and love about and within myself. I’m done spending time on crap I have almost zero interest in. I reject the notion that I’m cosmically indebted to finish walking a path simply because I once started down it. I am done. I am officially abandoning my dissertation and relinquishing any speck of intention I once had to complete my philosophy PhD. My only regret is that I didn’t have the courage to do this sooner, that I second- (and third- and fourth- and fifth, ad nauseum) guessed what has been clear to me for a long time now and, as a result, tried to fit myself into a mold that didn’t feel authentic or rewarding or appealing. I’m happy to be someone else now. I’m happy to be yet another step closer to me.

Speaking of authenticity, my time in Nauvoo also reminded me of some truths I have learned over the last several years. I think it is wholly compatible with my membership in Community of Christ to say that love is the true religion. I really believe that. There is enough crap in the world, and enough crazy shit in church history that it’s just crystal clear to me God could not possibly have been okay with. The whole notion of God welcoming us into Heaven only if we subscribe to the correct religious institution makes zero sense to me. How could you really deduce what the correct path is? And if you can’t, what kind of a jerk would God be to condemn you for that? I think many religions teach that God is an all-loving, all-powerful being, only to turn around and negate these ideas with their creeds and claims of exclusivity. I thank God (literally) for the experiences I’ve had with love, which have been abundant over the last few years. If God is love, as is proclaimed in scripture, then I do know God better than I ever have. And perhaps for this reason, it is clearer than ever to me what is and is not an abomination, religiously speaking. No religion is perfect, I know. But I rejoice in where I am at now. It is so good. Sooooo good. I’m not even talking about religious institutions, per se. I mean religion in a broader sense. Let’s be honest. Each of us practices his/her own religion, it’s just that given enough similarities and overlap, several of us can attend the same buildings on Sunday, read from the same sacred texts, use the same vocabulary, and speak in ways that make sense to each other. We put a label on those similarities and presume everyone who embraces the label is the same, but they’re not. We’re not. None of us are. If God is handing out salvation based purely on those labels, then God is capricious. If the labels matter at all, then God is a respecter of persons. If God is love, then love is what matters. Where love is, there God is also. I really believe this, and I believe I have experienced it. I’m experiencing it with greater regularity than ever, and it’s beautiful. I will mention here that Melanie and I officially submitted our letter of resignation to the LDS Church while in Nauvoo, an irony (in the popular but inaccurate sense of the word) in which I probably took a little too much pleasure. I expect that some will be saddened by this news, even though it really doesn’t change anything about my life. Please note that I’m not trying to say that leaving the LDS Church is necessary for one to experience love more fully and completely. Perhaps it was in my life, but I’m not trying to universalize my experience. My only point is that my time in Nauvoo reaffirmed to me that God transcends religious institutions. And how couldn’t that be the case, if God is love? Surely love transcends religious institutions. Why do we refuse to accept it?

Since I’m tooting what some would consider my apostate horn, I’ll mention that I tried coffee again while on my way back to Utah from Nauvoo. In Laramie, I poured myself a cup in the morning, feeling inclined to give it another go. I wouldn’t say I was optimistic, but I felt open to trying it. With three packets of Splenda and two creamers, I thought it wasn’t too bad. Of course, I had taken several sips before then, so I think my perspective was skewed. I didn’t think it tasted very coffee-ish at all by the time I had added those things, but Melanie tried it and thought it was awful. I think the crappy coffee flavor had infiltrated my mouth enough by that point that I was only noticing what wasn’t coffee-flavored. Anyway, despite thinking it was okay, I had very little of it before throwing it away. I’d say being a coffee drinker is a still a long time away, and not something I’m all that inclined to pursue. I don’t really foresee it in my future, but who knows.

Let’s talk about souvenirs. I mentioned in a previous entry that Peter bought a fox and that Eddie, Beegy, and Melanie and I bought birds. On the last day of work, I bought a few new stuffed animals for the ride home: a skunk, a beaver, and a bat. I purposely avoided assigning a particular animal to a particular child, but the skunk ended up being Peter’s (he named it Sneaky), the beaver became Eddie’s (he named it Beavy), and the bat went to Beegy (who never named it). The day before my last day at work, I loaded up on books and a (coffee?) mug. I bought only books that I felt were significant and important reads and that I could purchase more cheaply with my employee discount than I could obtain used. In total, I purchased five books (not including a Community of Christ hymnal that Melanie wanted). I had also purchased two books earlier in the summer, meaning I averaged one new book for each week I was in Nauvoo. Not too shabby! I’m very excited to read them.

Alright, I guess I should wrap this up. Believe it or not, as small as Nauvoo was, there were things I didn’t get around to doing. There are a handful of LDS historic sites I would’ve liked to visit, just for the heck of it. I also thought I’d see one or both of the LDS pageants during my time in Nauvoo, which I didn’t. There are also some little scenic things I didn’t ever stop and appreciate, such as the Stone Arch Bridge. If I ever return to Nauvoo, I’ll have to check these off of my list. On the non-religious side of things, I would like to tour the winery. Melanie and I had tentative plans to do that with some of our friends who came to Nauvoo, but it didn’t happen. Maybe next time. Outside of Nauvoo, if I’m ever again in the neighborhood, I hope to see Winter Quarters, Nebraska; Adam-ondi-Ahman; and Lamoni, Iowa, which was once the headquarters of the RLDS Church and where Graceland University resides today.

There you have it. Another dose of Nauvoo. Is that the end? Probably. Maybe. Probably. For now.

My last night in Nauvoo, with my fellow summer interns.  As you can see, I'm not eating warm apple crisp.

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading this. I'm glad you are happy and feel like you are becoming more you.