Just a Thought… If you ever go to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, if you stay there long enough you’ll see a homeless person standing in the middle of their nice, beautiful square, holding out a cup for change. And the Mormons don’t ever ask him to leave. [Trey Parker]
After making our way out of Nevada, we stayed a night in Provo, Utah and got up the next morning for the hour-long drive into Salt Lake City. The largest city in the state, SLC is a study in dichotomies: founded by religious leader Brigham Young, in the past decade it has been named one of America’s 51 most gay-friendly cities. Also, based on the number of plastic surgeons in practice and cosmetics sold, it’s been given the nickname “vainest city in the USA.” (Really? Not LA or Miami or NYC?)
And yet, this place of some 200,000 residents, which makes up part of a larger 2 million person metropolitan area, gives one the impression of humility. Of cleanliness (despite its “worst air quality in the nation” rating in 2017). Of spaciousness. Of peace. Of a cosmopolitan feel borne not so much out of the outward signs of many cultures, but out of young men and women leaving the US to fulfill their missionary obligations and coming home learning myriad different languages.
We found parking easily (and for free) on a tree-lined street a few city blocks from the Mormon Tabernacle and the massive Temple Square, around which the city’s grid was designed and built. Granted, seeing this one place during our quick stop in SLC is akin to the blind man meeting the elephant; what we touched on was surely not the entire picture of this state capital. And we recognize that.
But there’s something that feels so different in this place, a sense that one has gone back to the era of Pleasantville. Shiny, happy people, as the song goes. As we approached the square on foot, we found ourselves behind a small group of well dressed, cleanly coiffed young men, carrying attaché cases. Undoubtedly students of LDS, it was our first introduction to something we noticed more and more, the closer we got to Temple Square: everyone looked dressed for a wedding. Not just to go to church, but to go to a wedding. To the nines.
We strolled the pristine, well-manicured grounds of the square, having missed any opportunity to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in their home church, had we chosen to enter it.
As you see, a sign said they were on the road, but we read online that on Thursday nights you’re welcome to come in and listen to recordings in the temple itself, which took 40 years to build and was completed in 1893. Undoubtedly the acoustics matched the exterior, which sparkled in the late morning sunshine.
We were wary of being approached by people on their mission to proselytize the LDS word, so we didn’t make eye contact with the smiling, well-dressed man who greeted people out in the square. (Sometimes retirees are encouraged to become missionaries as well.) It was for that reason, too, that we didn’t enter the Tabernacle. We simply didn’t belong.
Unlike when we chose to explore the inside of a mosque in Turkey, we felt that here there might be attempts to engage us in conversation about our beliefs and we weren’t there for that. But I still felt just about as out of place. And don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t them, it was us.
I sometimes reminisce about the Saturday mornings I spent as a youth in a Trenton convent, both for piano lessons and as a fairly frequent guest of a nun there. Occasionally, I’ll miss the ceremony and ritual of a mass and the shivering, tear-inducing joy I felt in hearing voices raised as one to express their beliefs and to sing praise.
I confess, while I walked those grounds in Salt Lake City, to feeling somewhat envious of those who feel so committed to their beliefs and are part of a much bigger, tight community, an extended family. I don’t understand it exactly, but it’s something tribal that makes me long for it, somehow. One day I may find it.
Tomorrow, we’ll take you back on the road. Idaho is so much more than what you might expect, while Montana lived up to my hopes.