By then it was time to get ready for our temple session. I can't even begin to describe what that visit was like; it was one of the single greatest temple experiences of my life so far. I could count on one hand how many times I had felt so very much love before as I did in that holy place with my dear friends, and it was the hardest thing to leave.
The above quote is from one of my last emails home as a missionary. And that song that hopefully you just played (or are listening to now as you read) is what we listened to in the car as we left the temple that day. I'll never forget what that was like: five young men, about to go home after two years away . . . and not a word came out of us as this song was playing. I cannot describe the supreme power of that moment, as we prepared to die.
On a mission, you learn a lot about the Plan of Salvation; the experience itself is a reflection of it, because it truly is like a miniature lifespan. You're born, you're schooled, you grow up, you work, you age . . . then you die. It was six months ago today that I experienced death--or at least a taste of what such a transition would be like.
Over the course of my life in Texas, I learned a lot and built countless meaningful, even eternal, relationships. I grew just as a child does into adulthood. I had a home, an identity, a life. It truly was an entire lifetime's worth of lessons and experiences. And eventually my hour came.
Those around me during my last days of that "earth life" part of the Plan did their best to prepare me for the next step, much like family and caretakers would help those who are approaching the real thing. Local members of the Church continued to make sure my companions and I had everything we needed, including food, transportation, and help with lessons. Thanks to them, my final days were comfortable (but not in a lazy sort of way--it was facilitating). Much spiritual preparation also came from my leaders and fellow missionaries. They talked with me and comforted me, all the way through my final interview with the mission president, and into that last early morning when I was taken to the airport.
And that's when the separation of death really took effect: waving goodbye to the elders who dropped me off; sitting alone in the terminal, waiting for my flight; passing through the gate and into the tunnel, which would finally put me on the plane. It was a separation that could be felt both physically and spiritually, and there's no way to adequately describe it. But I knew it as death.
Yet it wasn't a bad experience. Difficult, even painful at times. But not bad. I knew where I was going, and there were plenty of people "on the other side" to meet me there. At the home I knew before my probationary state in Texas, there were family and friends who rejoiced at my return. And I was able to rejoice with them.
Since then, I too have had opportunities to rejoice at the return of other friends from their mini mortality. We had a mission reunion back in October, and even though there were tables set up, most everyone stood near the doors for much of the evening, in order to greet those who were just arriving. It was a celebration as much as it was a reunion; once separated by death, friends were together once more!
And now we aren't limited by the bounds of our probation. I get together sometimes with old mission companions and other friends from that life, and we just hang out. We continue to reflect fondly on our experience as missionaries. But we also take advantage of our current state. We play music and video games, we watch movies, we hit the town, we talk about girls, school, employment, and girls. We call each other by our first names. One of us got married today, and tonight's the reception. We're talking eternal progression, here. That's what the Plan is.
One insight I've gained from these experiences is that, without being emo or anything, death is one of the most awesome things that will ever happen to any of us, in our own time. Just look at what and who is waiting on the other side! There's gonna be rejoicing. It's gonna be a celebration, with more friends than we can even keep track of on Facebook. There will naturally be some adjusting to do with the transition, and it will be hard to leave everyone here behind (every day I still miss everyone I left in Texas). But eventually, they'll join us, too!
So let's do everything we can here in order to make the party as epically awesome as possible there. It's like a mission: work hard and don't waste the time you've got, and not only will you have reason to rejoice, but so will those whom you touch. Use the mission well, and it will last forever.