Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas Story About The End of The World

Me as a missionary in Canada--Christmas 1998

I once met a lady in Quebec who had been promised in a blessing that a year after her death the end of the world would come. The Lord would return and usher in the great and terrible day prophesied by biblical prophets. She even showed us the blessing, which had been written and recorded, as we sat eating tofu stew in her half-finished home.

It was Christmas time, eleven years ago.

The snow in northern Quebec was only as remarkable as the sub-freezing temperatures. As a missionary who spent many hours a day knocking on doors with frozen knuckles, I was terribly unprepared for this winter. I traded in my half-hearted trench coat for a double down black survival coat, and relented to adult-sized moon boots. No matter, I could not shake the feeling of being iced-over most of the time. Even with the warm gospel message in my heart.

"When I tell the missionaries about this blessing," said Soeur Tremblay speaking excitedly in English with her French-Canadian accent, "they say 'Oh Soeur Tremblay you must send us a Christmas card every year from now until you die.' Because then they will know when the Lord is going to return. You see."

So my companion and I added ourselves to page 5 of her Missionaries Who Want Christmas Cards list. As far as church doctrine indicated, no one knew the time of the second coming, but who would turn down a hint? Besides, I would love to find out how little Guy was doing or if his younger sister Giselle ever accomplished growing out her inevitable mullet. Keeping up with the Tremblays year-after-year in hopes of knowing when the world ended sounded like an adventurous some-day ending guessing game. Or at least an intriguing story to tell at missionary reunions.

"Only rule" she cheerfully sang in our ears, "is that I must hear back from you, or else no Christmas card the next year."


Then when she went in the next room to answer her telephone I dumped my bowl of tofu soup back in the pot.

"What are you doing?" My companion looked at me with disgusted features on her face.

"I can't eat this soup." I said confidently back.

Soeur Tremblay was somewhere in her fifties, so barring an early death, I was trusting I'd have a lifetime to repent anyway.

My mission ended in October.
I was grateful to have escaped before feeling the wrath of another northern winter. Quebec was other-worldly, not like the rest of Canada, not quite Europe either. It was haunting and beautiful and curious. I would miss it.

That Christmas I received my first card from Soeur Tremblay. She was still alive, bouncing around her unfinished house--wooded walls bare to the studs--passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ and doting on her two children.

She is alive! We've got at least another year before the end. I thought to myself, cleverly.

And I thought the same the next year when Soeur Tremblay's card arrived.

But that was the year I found myself divorcing after a nine month marriage. In the whirlwind of "what to do?" I sadly forgot to prove loyal on my side of the deal. I did not write the Tremblays back--a mistake I didn't realize until no card came the third year.

With no return address to write to,
I decided I'd join the ranks of the other oblivious saints who had nothing but scriptural signs and wonders to look towards. The end will come when it comes, there's no rushing it.

But every year at Christmas time I wonder about Soeur Tremblay. How she's holding up.