The Bus Ride

Yesterday when I got on the bus I happened to sit next to an old man, and this old man immediately started a conversation with me.

"What do you learn?"

What do I learn? I was confused by what he had asked so I clarified "Do you mean my course of study?" I always dread answering this question because it's so complicated, and so I told him that I'm studying Latin. It's the closest thing to a course of study that I have right now, and I am definitely learning in my classes.

"Latin?! What do they use Latin for? Who uses Latin?"

This is also a common response when people hear that I'm studying Latin. I'm regularly told that Latin is a dead language (which is absolutely not true), that it's a useless subject, etc. I disagree! Since beginning Latin my understanding of the English language has increased tenfold, and I'm inspired to learn other languages.

And so the old man and I both brainstormed as to who might use latin. "Teachers," I said, "Doctors," he said, and we went on and listed scientists of all sorts, as well as lawyers. I felt like I had proved myself, and my minor, as somewhat useful. He immediately introduced another awkward subject.

"Are you mormon?"

I was caught off guard. Tact wasn't an issue for this man, and he knew what he wanted to know. I don't usually worry over this question, but when I am dealing with older folks I do get a little nervous. They are usually the least open minded, and rarely accept that what I have to say holds any value. It's complicated; I was raised LDS and my name is still on the books, but I haven't attended since I was 16 (with the exception of family functions, such as missionary farewells and homecomings, or baby blessings). I no longer believe what the LDS church preaches, and some of it downright angers and sickens me. So, generally I have no problem saying, "No, I'm not Mormon," but in this case my stomach was boiling with butterflies in a matter of seconds. I chose to respond truthfully, without giving much detail.

"No, I'm not LDS."

The old man gasped, as if something horrible had happened. His hand flew to his mouth like he was going to be sick, and the look in his eyes confirmed his genuine surprise.

I wondered why he asked. Was he looking for a missionary opportunity? Did I appear as if I needed spiritual guidance? Could he smell the stench of cigarettes embedded in my clothing?

"But everyone here is Mormon!" he said. And again, I was reminded that this was an old man. His looks said he was no younger than 70, but the bounce in his body, the excitement in his spirit, and his curiosity reminded me of a child. It was a quick (and incorrect) assumption to say that everyone here is LDS, and I told him that. He twisted the subject a little further.

"You know, mormons are really nice."

I agreed.

"My granddad came here pulling a wagon, no, pulling two wagons. One for himself, and one for his friend. I've been a part of this valley for my whole life. One morning my granddad said to his wife, 'Can I go listen to the missionaries on the corner?' and the next thing you know they were packing up everything to find the gospel."

I told him I thought that was really neat, and that I think it would take serious dedication and strength to do that. I meant everything I told this man, but I was careful not to offend him. He reminded me so much of my own grandmother: eager to share his stories, eager to hear my stories, and I imagined he would be eager to reprimand me if he knew my background. I conveniently left out the fact that my entire family on my dad's side is LDS. I can count with one hand the number of people (out of what, 50?) that are not faithful LDS churchgoers. I get enough criticism about religion by way of dirty looks, whispered gossip, and harsh words, from my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.

My thoughts returned to our conversation, and I defended myself. I do not think that the LDS religion is bad, or that Mormons are all the same, and I didn't indicate that I thought the opposite. I told the man that I have plenty of Mormon friends and associates, and I agreed with him that they are good people.

We began talking about what brought me to the valley. I told the man that I'm originally from Tremonton, that I moved here to go to school, and I told him that I really love living in Logan. He reiterated that mormons are good people, and I said most people in the valley are kind. But, he didn't want to leave it at that.

"Even those, those people, from the Orient."

This time I'm sure he saw the shock on my face. I pulled the yellow cord, heard the ding, and announced it was my stop. I had forgotten that racism still exists, and the reminder bothered me. Before I stepped off the bus I turned back. "Sir, thank you for the conversation." I didn't wait to hear his response.


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