|Delicias, Chihuahua, Mexico 2005|
This is one of the few framed pictures I have and it sits on my desk
Ten years ago today I woke up feeling nervous and excited at the mission offices of the Mexico Chihuahua Mission. The previous day I had taken a bus from where I had been serving in Delicias to the city of Chihuahua. I hadn't told a lot of people I was going home, but a number of people figured it out and came to the bus station to say goodbye. One of them was a man I had baptized named Gabriel. He gave me a decorative plate that says "DELICIAS" on it that I carried all the way home fearing it would break in my bag. It's still on the wall at my parents' house.
Saying goodbye to everyone at the bus station was one of the oddest experiences of my life. I had lived in Mexico for two years and these people had become like family to me. Mexico was my home and everything there felt familiar to me. I didn't know if I'd ever see them again and saying goodbye to them broke my heart. And yet, I was so excited to be going back to Washington because that was actually my home and I had a real family there that I hadn't seen in two years. I felt like I was dying -- leaving a place and people I loved to return home to be with other people that I loved.
President and Sister Torres drove me and the only other American going home that day to the airport. I hugged them goodbye and got on the plane. My first layover was in Monterrey, Mexico. We had a four hour layover there and I had brought a bunch of old issues of the Ensign to read. After sitting in an empty terminal for over an hour an airline employee came over and asked, "Are you Benjamín?" No one had referred to me as Ben for two years, but I said that I was. She informed me and the other missionary that our flight had been cancelled and that she would help us book another flight.
After a few minutes of typing on her computer this lady was able to find a way to get me home about four hours later than planned. As politely and firmly as I could I said, "Look, I haven't been home for two years and I just want to go home. Is there anything you can do to get me home sooner?" A few more minutes of typing and she was able to get me back to Seattle 30 minutes earlier than my original flight. I immediately called the mission offices to tell them about my new itinerary. Sister Berry, one of the senior missionaries, answered the phone. She told me she'd call my parents to inform them of the change and in her grandmotherly way told me how much she loved me and would miss me.
We then flew to Dallas (or was it Houston?) where the other missionary and I parted ways. We hadn't know each other very well, but he insisted that we exchange contact information. So to be polite I gave him my phone number and address knowing he'd never call (he never did). We hugged and then for the first time in two years I was without a missionary companion. About an hour later I was walking around the airport and I saw the other missionary off in the distance. I didn't want to have another awkward goodbye with him so I hid behind a pillar so he wouldn't see me.
During my mission almost all the Americans I saw were Mormon so I had gotten used to equating being white with being Mormon. As I walked around the airport I was stunned by how many Mormons there were everywhere and I had to remind myself that not everyone there was Mormon. Being in the US felt very uncomfortable.
I got to my gate, sat down by myself, and promptly started to internally freak out. I had just left behind what I'd dedicated the last two years of my life to and my life was suddenly incredibly different. And I was alone and that felt so weird. I just sat in my chair worrying for a few minutes until a middle aged Mormon business man walked up to me and asked, "Are you on your way home from your mission?" I told him that I was and he, probably sensing my concern, then asked, "Would you like me to sit with you? I can be your companion until we get on the flight." I gratefully accepted his offer and we chatted for a while which really helped me to relax.
When I got on the plane I started fretting again. I was feeling so stressed and I was so exhausted that I fell asleep before the plane took off and I slept through take off. I woke up to the flight attendant handing the guy sitting next to me his drink. As he grabbed the drink I heard him say, "Gracias." I looked at him and asked if he spoke English. He didn't. He was from Mexico and was going to visit his daughter in Seattle. He asked how I knew Spanish and I told him all about my mission. Just being able to speak Spanish, to do something familiar, really calmed me down. During that conversation all my worries left and I didn't feel nervous again. A tender mercy.
When I got off the plane my sister was standing at the gate waiting for me. She had flown in from Utah just a few minutes before me. I wasn't expecting to see her at the gate and we both hugged and jumped up and down like a pair of thrilled idiots. It was awesome. We hurried out to the main part of the airport to meet up with the rest of my family. I think we walked, but I was so excited we may have run. When we left the security area I saw my parents standing there cheering with excitement. They were wearing the bright yellow jackets they always wore so that they'd be easy to spot in a crowd (my parents' fashion sense could be defined as "practical"). We all hugged and it was marvelous. Any sense of fear or trepidation I'd felt about returning home was gone forever. My brother and sister-in-law were there, too, with my 21 month old nephew whom I'd never met. My brother said, "Where's Ben?" and my nephew pointed right at me. After two years of being Elder Schilaty I was Ben again.
As we all walked to the baggage claim I exclaimed, "This is so awesome!" and I hugged my parents again. That is what I was doing ten years ago today.
While my whole life has been pretty great, the last ten years have probably been the best. I've grown and learned and experienced so much. And a great deal of what has happened has been unexpected. By now I thought I'd be married with a few kids, have a stable career, and a house, but that's not what has happened. If you had told 21 year old Ben that in ten years he's be getting a PhD, would be openly gay, but active in church, still single, and incredibly happy I know he wouldn't have believed you. But my life is great. I feel just has happy and content as ever. I'm so grateful for my mission and so grateful for the last ten years and all the marvelous people who have made them so wonderful. I'm confident the next ten years will be equally spectacular.