I’m in Tacoma, Washington as an EFY counselor and just writing down some thoughts at the end of another day.
I think about this afternoon when the entire group of youths and adults sit in the middle of a grassy field while the sun sets over the pine trees. A hush sweeps over the group and the sky begins to roar; 420 teenagers (ages 14-18) and 30 adults stop laughing and talking and shouting to silently watch a fighter jet fill the sky with rumbling noise. The silence is profound.
I think about last night when, at 11:00, I walk in on my boys playing cards, and then I take a moment to talk with them about how they avoid living pornography like those underdeveloped cheerleaders who ran through the sprinklers in their underwear right as the boys walked home from the dance. Our discussion is interrupted by my building counselor who opens the door to tell us we need to be in bed. The next day in our counselor meeting, that building counselor says, “Sometimes we think it’s a good idea to be popular with our youth and stay up with them to play cards past lights out, but we need to have integrity and keep our word of obedience instead.” He never looks in my direction as he says this.
I think about another one of the building counselors, a girl whose eyes seem to indicate a depth and understanding about life she isn’t showing, the kind of depth I need in my friends. She’s a BYU graduate who probably got a 3.7 GPA and is the most popular counselor here. When I talk to her, I don’t know what to say to show myself, so I make puns and laugh too much. Tonight, I found out that, again, I didn’t qualify for the good student driving insurance discount.
I think about yesterday. It is 1:30, and I sit in a fixed, wooden chair in a lecture hall. I squeeze out of my seat to introduce the speaker, then sit back down. On my desk rests a green photocopy. I pick it up; it reads, “Your feedback as a counselor is invaluable. Sometimes you will note things participants won’t acknowledge. Each EFY teacher is interested in improving. The ratings you give are important. Thank you for your honest feedback.” I place the paper down and remember when I taught seminary for a week last year. I spent four hours a day on my lessons, carefully reading and learning the material, and then I organized it in order to teach the content as effectively as possible. I thought I’d do well because I seem to interact with teenagers so easily, and teaching is one of the few things I think I’m actually great at (not just good.) Every day after teaching when I read my evaluation, my scores averaged a six out of ten, five being average. In that hard, wooden seat, I remember how I gave up the idea of teaching seminary as a career, then fear squeezes my heart as I wonder if I’ll be evaluated as a counselor at the end of the week.
And I finally think about Fred Rogers and how, out of all the dead people that have come in and out of my life, I miss him the most right now. Every day, Mr. Rogers changed his cardigan sweater and sneakers, and then invited us to be part of his neighborhood. In a slow, comforting pace, he told us he liked us just the way we are. A few weeks ago, I decided that they need a show like his for twentysomethings, where a nice man just comes on the TV and says that we’re good people, and that we’re alright how we are, and we don’t have to be evaluated for efficiency or proficiency or other areas of improvement. I want someone to just look at me and smile and genuinely say, “You’re a good guy and try really hard and I like you just the way you are,” and mean it without adding some way I need to change, or telling how I offend them, or trying to save me because they misinterpret my desire as a cry for help, or saying it just because we're supposed to say good things about people when they aren't feeling good.
But right now, in Tacoma, Washington at EFY, I feel like there’s no one but God and Fred Rogers, and that's painfully lonely.