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“Favourable Conditions”: New Year’s Eve Reflections

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 31, 2013

The morning of New Year’s Eve, 1981, was the morning I entered the MTC preparatory to serving in the now-defunct Switzerland Geneva Mission. A busy day. Just before 10:00 p.m., some of us gathered in the dormitory’s hallway, wished each other a Happy New Year, and dutifully went to bed on schedule, obedient to mission rules.

Eighteen months later, and feeling at least eighteen years older, I returned home. A week after that, a lawyer I had briefly worked for as a Kelly Girl temp called and asked me to come back to work for him. I still choke up a little, remembering that – I was despised and ill treated by my mission president, but this man, a devout Catholic, kept track of my mission schedule and called the very day he thought I might be back in town. That evidence of appreciation helped restore a sense of self-worth badly eroded in the mission. (Thank you, Mr. B.)

Six months after that, I had saved enough money to move to Provo and rent a dilapidated apartment, worse than any hole I had lived in as a missionary. But it was Provo. Even though I didn’t have the money yet to go back to school, at least I was in the shadow of BYU, in the neighborhood and ready to seize any chance to go back to school.

I’m still waiting. I never got back.

I worked and saved what I could for three years; then the man I was working for retired. I thought I had enough in the bank to be able to go to school for at least a semester before I had to find another job. (I still don’t understand how anyone manages to do both at the same time. I tried to work while I was going to school before the mission, and tried to go to school while working after the mission, and failed at both.)

So, I took my eager and hopeful self down to BYU to ask a counselor what I needed to do to get back into school. No more than 15 minutes later, I left the Smoot Building and stumbled back to my car, stunned and with all my hopes for the future a shambles.

That counselor advised me to save my application fee. I wouldn’t be readmitted, despite a rather stellar pre-mission academic record. “BYU is for those of marriageable age,” he told me. “LDS parents who have paid their tithing have a right to send their children to BYU to be married.” BYU wouldn’t waste a slot on my post-marriageable 27-year-old self. He wouldn’t advise me even to try.

Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. That is what he told me. Of course I know now the 213 or so things wrong with what he said, and with my believing him. You don’t need to list them for me. But you might remember what an emotional wreck I was after my mission, how utterly worthless I felt. And it might help to know how unsophisticated I was when it came to university matters: No high school counselor had ever spoken to me about going to college; I didn’t know until long after I was out of school that that was the very purpose of a high school guidance office. My entire college planning had taken place in the kitchen as I helped my mother dish up supper one evening in my senior year. “Mom, will I be able to go to college?” “We don’t have the money, sweetheart.” “Oh. That’s okay.”

So, I believed that BYU counselor. I didn’t know not to believe him, and I didn’t have anyone to tell me otherwise. I found another job in another law office, and went on working so that I could pay the rent so I would have a place to sleep so I could get up and go to work so I could pay the rent so I would have a place to sleep.

Somewhere in those years (I remember when and why, but that’s another story), I read C.S. Lewis’s essay “Learning in War-Time,” advice to young men not to prematurely abandon their studies in anticipation of being called into the military service. I read it again and again, and still can recite long swaths of it. The lines that most stood out for me – the lines that I literally embroidered on a pillow! – were these:

“The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.”

With that counsel constantly before me, I read. And read. And read. And eventually prepared myself to do something more than work to live to work to live. Nobody appreciates more than I do what I’ve missed by not having the guidance that can come from a formal education, and if I could, I would go back to school tomorrow … most definitely not at BYU, but somewhere. At least I didn’t wait for favourable conditions that never came.

New Year’s is the traditional time for thinking about self improvements. Even when you consciously choose not to make formal resolutions, it’s hard to avoid such reflections today. If there is something you want to change in your life, do it. Start now, while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.



13 Comments »

  1. That’s a story that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. So sorry that you ran into that particular counselor at BYU. A former seminary teacher that I knew went to work at BYU as an admissions counselor in about that time frame, and quit after a couple of years. He said that it became obvious to him that many of the people turned down for admission were exactly the folks who most needed the education that BYU could offer.

    And I’m glad you found C.S. Lewis. “Favourable conditions never come.” Well, you’ve made a mark by defying the odds and working through the unfavorable conditions, and have had a huge impact on a lot of people. Keep up the good work. You are an inspiration to us all.

    Comment by kevinf — December 31, 2013 @ 10:53 am

  2. Agree. 100 percent. Don’t delay. Do it now.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — December 31, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

  3. I know from personal observation how hard you worked as a student and how smart you are. I know that you have tromped through some other trials as well and overcome them. But I do feel sad about the garbage, and if I had the power, I would transform myself into a cat and sit in your lap and purr for a while, because you could use it.

    Comment by LauraN — December 31, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

  4. This was powerful. It makes me sad for those, like Ardis, who wanted formal education and were discouraged. I like to think that I want knowledge and am still learning, but I don’t read and read and read, and often find myself just working to live. You’re right — self reflection is sort of in the air today.

    Comment by David Y. — December 31, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

  5. Just what I needed. Thank you for this. Happy New Year!

    Comment by Rachel Hamrick — December 31, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

  6. :( :) You show so well how a frown-y face can turn to a smile. Thank you. :( ;)

    Comment by wreddyornot — December 31, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

  7. Ardis,

    This is heartbreaking, and brave, and very surprising. Having read your work for a couple of years, heard you speak once, and marveled at your testimony, clarity, breadth of knowledge, and articulateness, I was under the impression that you were well schooled and had the paperwork to prove it. This is evidence not only of incompetence (on the counselor’s part) but outright maliciousness. I guess it’s clear now (though still incomprehensible) why the church fought ERA at that time.

    I have always been grateful that my parents placed such a high value on education, though neither had the opportunity for a college degree. I and my 7 siblings grew up with the mantra, “yes, you’re going to college and, by the way, you have to get a scholarship because we can’t afford it.” Didn’t anyone in your acquaintance know about scholarships?

    Rest assured, you have done much good in the world. Bless you!

    Comment by charlene — December 31, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

  8. charlene, in my parents’ defense, they were old enough to be my grandparents. Both had had to help support their families during the Depression, and even though my mother had had a single quarter of college before World War II, everything was so different in the late ’70s that I can’t blame them for being unaware of the possibilities. I went to high school in three different states; no counselor in any one of those schools advised me about college, except that in my junior year they gave us all an aptitude test; mine came back with the notation that I was best suited for auto mechanics, not college. I took the ACT in my senior year (I didn’t happen to hear about the SAT) because I saw a poster in the hallway with a headline that said something about needing to take it to go to college. I didn’t know what it was until I showed up and was handed an answer sheet and a No. 2 pencil.

    I’m past trying to figure out who should have done what; I only know that I didn’t know what to do or who to ask when I left school at 16. I went to work for three years until I had saved enough to pay for two years at BYU, then I went to work to pay for a mission, then I went to work because I didn’t know there was anything else to do, especially when none of the fairy tales I had been fed in MIA came true.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 31, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

  9. You also took 25% more classes than I did each year we were in school together, so over 4 semesters, that equals an extra year.

    My maternal grandfather dropped out of school after 8th grade to support his mother since his father had largely disappeared. He was a cowboy and a forest firefighter and a farmer. For the last 2-3 decades of his working career, he managed a bean growers’ warehouse. When he decided to retire to better keep an eye on grandma with her health problems, they hired a guy with a bachelor’s degree and asked Grandpa to stick around for a couple of weeks to train him. When the college guy went in and explained that he needed about a year to learn everything Grandpa knew, they were forced to beg him to stay, and they had to significantly raise his salary to match the guy he was training. Awkward for them. Grandma was SO proud. So there are moments when knowledge matters more than credentials.

    Comment by LauraN — December 31, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

  10. The CS Lewis advise is great. It applies to so many areas of life whether it is formal education or otherwise.

    Comment by Steve C. — January 1, 2014 @ 10:11 am

  11. Ardis,

    You are so eloquent and erudite that this shocks me that you did not finish your college education. One could not tell if you did not disclose this fact!

    It seems you have paid a “higher” price to educate yourself! Well done thou faithful one. All of us “Keepaninnies” owe you a large debt. (I try to contribute to your blog via PayPal and wish I could buy you a semester at the college of your choice.)

    Comment by Allison in Atlanta — January 2, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

  12. “So, I believed that BYU counselor. I didn’t know not to believe him, and I didn’t have anyone to tell me otherwise.”

    That’s a powerful statement. Some in your situation might forever hate the counselor, and BYU, and the church as a whole, and men in general. If there is a message I could preach to the entire church, it would be to forgive, to let it go, to hold true to what we see in John 6:66-68. Now, I want to add to that a little, based on your powerful statement.

    Comment by ji — January 3, 2014 @ 9:49 am

  13. Wow. I wish I could go back to 1983 and befriend you. And/or smack some sense into that BYU counselor.

    Thank you for sharing your story, and the wisdom you’re gained through your experiences. You’re amazing, Ardis.

    Comment by lindberg — January 16, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

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