The Last Dinner AppointmentBy: Stephen Carter
Dear Sister Carter,
For some reason, the people I remember best are the ones I met in my second area, Belleville–a town of about 40,000 people on the north bank of Lake Ontario. A long, arcing bridge connected it to a small island called Prince Edward County (not to be confused with Anne of Green Gable’s province).
One of the people I remember most vividly is a recently baptized man I’ll call Leo. He had a beard Jerry Garcia would envy, and long wavy gray hair that he wore in a full-bodied ponytail. Denim was his fabric of choice and he seemed to be a single father of two boys in their early teens. He would invite us over for dinner from time to time where he would serve us “Mormon punch” (a cheap orange drink mix that seems to have been inflicted only on Canada), “Mormon meat” (spam), and “Mormon dessert” (Jell-O).
We had long, free-wheeling conversations that I relished–a little too much. It was a hard and fast mission rule that we never stay at a dinner appointment for more than an hour, and I often broke that rule while at Leo’s house.
I enjoyed Leo’s company so much that I actually spent $25 of my pitiful missionary allowance to buy him a birthday present of a photography book about a fascinating rock beach in California. I still remember the introduction where the photographer wrote that while on his first visit to this beach, he had seen many manifestations of life, on his second visit–coming on the heels of a friend’s death–the beach took on a more macabre aspect.
Soon after I gave Leo the book, my conscience caught up with me and I decided we were going to cut down on our visits to his house. I considered this a great sacrifice and hoped I would receive some blessings for it.
The month that followed was a colorless one. I keenly missed visiting Leo, dutifully engaging in tracting, street contacting, or other unimaginative missionary activities. It wasn’t fun, but I felt like I was doing the right thing.
After a month of my Leo fast, I was at a dinner appointment at a bishopric member’s house. The bishop came into the house and told us he was preparing to disfellowship Leo. He believed that Leo had gotten involved sexually with one of the single women in the ward. (And it was a possibility since Leo and the woman in question were pretty good friends.)
My stomach knotted up as I listened, and as soon as we got out the door, I drove us straight over to Leo’s house.
The person who met us at the door was not the funny, jovial man I had bantered with the month before. He let us in and sat us down without offering us any Mormon punch, and then he asked a question that still haunts me: “Where *were* you guys?”
It turned out that I’d unknowingly timed my sacrifice for a month when Leo especially needed us. He felt like we had abandoned him and couldn’t understand why. I certainly tried to explain myself, but the damage had already been done.
After that, Leo just dropped off the map. I rarely saw him, and when I did, the encounters were awkward and strained. As far as I know, he never reintegrated with the ward
I’ve never succeeded in assigning a satisfying moral to this experience. It just remains a time when, while trying to do right, I unknowingly let a friend down. I hope this never happens to you.