Everyone but me has finished exams so my only friends left are the Mormons
Don’t judge The Book by its cover
I remember clearly the first time I thought love at first sight may exist. It was at the beginning of first year when I, a vulnerable fresher, was trailing down Teviot Row with my only friend.
Suddenly I clapped eyes upon a deeply handsome man. He had flaxen hair and cut-glass cheekbones, and to my surprise, he stopped. His face broke into a wide smile. I was blinded by the sunlight bouncing off his white teeth. "Hello there, I’m Elder Jones", he said in dulcet tones. "I was just wondering if you might like to get a coffee sometime and talk about life?"
I couldn’t believe my luck. It was one of those moments where time moves slowly – I envisioned the love that would blossom between us. What a couple we would make. We sounded so mature: Claudia and Elder. Such an interesting name, I thought. Unconventional and yet so grown up.
Just as I was readying to give my name, address and pin number to Elder, my friend made hasty excuses for the pair of us and plucked me away. I couldn’t believe it.
I had made one friend and she was a jealous wench, but as we rounded the corner she turned on me and hissed "Elder Jones as in Elder MORMON Jones!"
That was when I realised that Elder had not, like me, felt that there had been an undeniable spark of chemistry between us. No. Elder, if that was even his real name, wanted to take me for a giant venti Mormon flavoured conversion cappuccino.
It’s been a year and a half since that fateful day. Needless to say, I’m now fully aware that the Mormons spend more time around George Square than every other Edinburgh student, past and present, put together. If you sat outside the library over the exam period you would have witnessed how hundreds of students have finessed their crab walk-sidestep to avoid any Mormon or Snapfax Man shaped obstruction to the entrance of the library.
But gradually, everyone finished their exams. The Fourth floor became less and less of a social jungle. Now, tumbleweed rolls through George Square. It is a barren wasteland with only the vestiges of egg and flour on its cobblestones as a marker of previous human life.
"Why do I know all this?", I hear you cry. Because I still haven't finished. My exam is the very last and my recent days have been spent in profound solitude. When I buy my meal deal I go to the till rather than self-checkout just to have some human interaction.
However, as I was walking alone through George Square yesterday, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said in a reedy American accent, "excuse me, can I just ask, what makes you happy?" I turned, and realised that facing me was the only person North of the Wall left to speak to. And unlike the man in Sainsbury’s politely nodding along to my small talk on the wonders of contactless card payment, this person actively wanted to talk to me. This was exciting. No prizes for guessing who – it was a Mormon, and talk we did. So without further ado, meet Elder Butler.
Elder Butler is from California. He moved to Edinburgh in 2016 to do two years of required missionary work. In that time, he’s brought 17 people into the Mormon Church. With him, is his friend Elder Smith who has come down for the day from Aberdeen. He is from Melbourne.
They both have the kind of sunny accents you would associate with dudes who play beach volleyball and have shark tooth necklaces. But instead here they are, in their short sleeved shirts and shiny badges, explaining to me how the Book of Mormon was discovered buried in a hill in the 19th century.
Elder Butler and Elder Smith tell me what’s off limits to Mormons: they can’t smoke, they can’t do drugs, they can’t drink coffee – wait a second. I interrupt. "But a Mormon asked me for coffee last year!" Yet another layer to the onion of lies Elder fed me. Elder Butler grins sheepishly. "Yeah, we say coffee but we actually order hot chocolate." They also can’t drink alcohol, can’t have sex before marriage, and they can’t drink tea, because it’s also a stimulant. I’m floored. TEA! At my expression of horror, Elder Butler chimes in. "We can drink some herbal teas though!" Greeeeat mate.
I ask if they get paid to do missionary service. "Well no.. we actually have to pay for everything ourselves". Worth 40 billion dollars, the Mormon Church is one of the richest in the world – compare that figure to the Church of England which is worth just 7.8 billion. At this point I am well and truly baffled.
These two, despite being members of a relative tycoon of a church, have had to pay their own way from the sun-kissed lands of Australia and California, to come and live a life of tealess celibacy in pissing Scotland where everyone ignores them. And yet, stimulant free, it is they who are smiling amongst a bunch of grumpy, pale as sin, caffeine and nicotine addled students.
Many of the Church’s institutional policies are problematic to say the least, but as with almost all religions, the doctrine doesn’t necessarily define the individual. You only have to speak to Elder Butler and Elder Smith for a couple of minutes to know that they are open hearted, and genuinely kind people.
But the fundamental difference between myself and my new friends becomes clear in our parting exchange. "I just don’t understand why you bother trying to convert people when you face so much rejection. As long as you believe it, why does it matter if other people do?" I ask. Elder Butler's eyes mist over. "Because when you find something that makes you truly happy, don’t you want to share it?" He says, smiling imploringly.
I smile back, thinking in my head about how much I despise sharing. I realise I now have a clear answer to Elder Butler’s original question, "what makes you happy?" I really really love games. What makes me happy is winning at games. But why would I ever want to share my win when so much of the happiness I take is in seeing the people I’m playing against lose? Now where would be the fun in that? After consideration, I decide to keep this nugget of information to myself. We exchange emails, promising to keep in touch like French exchanges parting ways.
I head back into the library café, thinking maybe I should change my tune and have some of what they’re having. But by the time I’ve reached the counter the thought has passed and I ordered a hot, strong cup of tea. Non herbal.