I grew up knowing Utah was kind of a different place, but I never realized just how different until my mission to Texas. It was always interesting to hear what people had to say about my home. There were typically a few members of the Church who talked about Utah like it was Disneyland, or some other beautiful resort to be visited on vacation. When asked where I was from, I would always say "Salt Lake," and everyone just knew. Oddly enough, in some situations it felt like I was saying "Mecca." Thankfully that was all balanced out by those who would extend condolences over my origin; and even I would jokingly add to my introduction, "I'm from the factory." I definitely learned to see both sides of the coin, but I love Utah. For me it's a great place to live, but I also recognize its faults, and that's okay. We won't get onto that subject here, though.
In two years as a missionary I forgot just how many members of the Church there were here; and my first weekend home it blew my mind to count how many chapels could be seen from one place! It was so exciting, coming back from a city like San Antonio where you could just name a random stake center and most the members within twenty miles would know exactly which building you were talking about. Granted, the LDS percentage of the population here has decreased a bit (one thing for which I'm actually grateful, for my own reasons which we also won't get into here), but still--Utah's got a lot of Mormons.
It finally hit me today. At my appointment the people at the dentist's office welcomed me home from my mission. The nice lady cleaning my teeth told me about her son's mission, and how they had gone back there after he'd gotten home, and how he was doing work in temples now. It turns out their bishop knows my mission president! The dentist shortly came in, and while he worked he talked about his mission, and how one of his companions was doing these days. It was all very natural--just common stuff to talk about in an office. (And by the way, my dentist was very pleased with my teeth. Not bad for going two years without a checkup! Just thought you all should know that.)
Conveniently, I had another appointment with my rheumatologist almost right after the dentist this afternoon. We talked about my mission (of course for that kind of doctor visit it was pretty much necessary, so I don't count this one), but then he mentioned his returned-missionary son who had started at BYU. And I could have sworn he slipped a little bit of testimony in there.
The optometrist has the scriptures on the magazine table in his waiting room. On the phone with the veterinarian's receptionist yesterday, Dad had a nice chat about the Plan of Salvation. The men's clothing store gives missionary discounts, and I'm pretty sure that if a cop pulled me over for speeding I'd be let go if I told him I was doing my home teaching. (Please, nobody try that.)
I can deny it no longer: I'm far away from my mission. But I'm not gonna lie; it felt really cool to have all those conversations about Church stuff so naturally today without being the stranger in a shirt and tie. It's a nice change for me now to go out in public and not feel like I have a huge target on my back. And it's not just the fact that we share the same culture; it truly makes a difference when you can walk into a business and feel the Spirit there. I was talking to my dentist, but I knew he was also my brother, and I knew that he knew it, too. One thing the Lord has given me through the Church is that strong sense of family with everyone around me--and especially the knowledge and ability to act on and validate that relationship. That's one reason I loved being a full-time missionary so much; there was nothing better than seeing others begin to understand their own place in our Heavenly Father's family.
Conclusion: it's cool to live in Utah. Now I only ask that we don't take it for granted, because that's when Utah starts being... well, not cool. I think we're on to something!