Today you will be titillated with another mission story. This is one of my personal favorites.
My trainer was Italian. We had pretty much the best companionship ever. It seemed that there were never enough hours in a day for us to say everything we needed to say. Every night, we'd lie in our beds, chatting endlessly. We had a hard time sharing an apartment with the two other sisters who lived with us, and a lot of our conversation centered on them: complaining, making fun, complaining, making fun. When we were trying to focus on the positive aspects of these sisters, we could only conclude that the one good thing they contributed was something to talk about. Without them, our conversations would be almost crippled. We'd be reduced to saying such things as, "I love you." "Well, I love you more." "No, no. I love you more. Because you are the best. I love you." And too much of that just isn't interesting.
One particular night, however, we were unusually quiet after our zone conference. It was late, but neither of us could sleep. We both lay awake in our beds, thinking and trying to fall asleep. Around midnight, Sorella timidly said to me, "Sorella Cicada? Can I ask you a question?"
Now for a bit of background. We had had a great zone conference that day. Our mission president was fantastic and his zone conferences were incredible. This zone conference took place in about February of 2003, and we were expecting war to break out with Iraq at any moment. Part of our zone conference was dedicated to reviewing what we needed to do if and when war broke out. But then our wise, kind mission president added some inspired and comforting words about how we as missionaries were protected. He said that, in fact, the mortality rate of missionaries was one sixteenth the mortality rate of young adults between nineteen and twenty-three. He added, "And think of it! You are constantly putting yourselves in danger. You are out in the streets every day. You are riding buses, you are riding bikes. You are knocking on strangers' doors. You are entering strangers' homes."
The complication came because the Elder translating our zone conference from English to Italian was French. Back to the bedroom scene:
Sorella timidly said to me, "Sorella Cicada? Can I ask you a question? Did President really say today that one in sixteen missionaries dies during the mission?"
There was silence for a moment. Then the room was filled with peals of my insensitive laughter.
S: Stop! I'm serious! Did President say that? Answer me!!
SC: No. He said... oh, I don't even know how to say this in Italian... he said that... it's a fraction. The... rate? Of dying? For us is one... how do you say this? A fraction. One over sixteen. How do you say that?
SC: Right. One... one that of normal people our age. Meaning that much, much fewer of us die.
S: Oh. Because the Elder said one in sixteen. I thought... I thought he meant one in sixteen... so I started looking around the room and I thought, "Four of us in this room are going to die."
SC: [Laughing hysterically again.]
S: It's not funny! What was the president saying then? He said that we die in the streets and we die on our bikes and on the buses and that we enter strangers' homes!
SC: [Still. Can't. Stop. Laughing.] He was talking about the fact that we're protected!! We're protected! So even though we are in all those situations, we still don't die!
S: Oh. Well that's not how the Elder translated it. Now all the Italians think that one in sixteen of us is going to die.
A month later, Sorella talked to the French elder. She said to him, "You said that one in sixteen of us is going to die!!" He responded solemnly, and a little scared, "I know, Sister. I know." I wrote the president and at the next zone conference, he made it clear to anglophones and italophones alike that we're protected, and our mortality rate is one sixteenth of the mortality rate of normal people our age.
(She'll kill me for posting this, but that means that she'd have to buy a ticket to come out here, and frankly, I'd like to see her again. She keeps sending me text messages complaining that I haven't been in touch... This picture was taken our last night together. We thought it was funny that the White Handbook states that companions must sleep in the same room but never in the same bed. We knew that rules like that were created because someone had done it when it wasn't a rule. We always said that it would be worth it to shower together one day so that they had to add to the White Handbook, "Missionaries must shower every day, but never at the same time, in the same shower." But then, of course, we realized that that would cause all sorts of problems for the trees of life in the MTC.)