1919 – A cabin in Millcreek Canyon, Salt Lake County
2020 – A single family home in a San Diego, California suburb
2121 – The hold of DCC-Okazaki, a generation ship in the fleet of the Deseret Cooperative Commune
Lord, help me to help them. I know there is little hope. But what hope there is, please give it to me. Please, Father. The two of them suffer. They are so sick. Tell me what to do. How to help them.
Father, please let this not be that. Let it be something else. Just the normal flu. A sinus infection. A secondary infection. Anything but that. Please. Please, give me a sign that I’m okay. Let me know that I’m overreacting. That it’s just all in my head. Tell me I’ll be fine. That I just need to ride this out.
Holy Parents, guide us. We do not know what is wrong. We do not know why some of our cousins have died. We suspect some contagion. But all of our diagnostics come back clean. Perhaps the sensors are wrong. Perhaps this is something our sensors can’t perceive. We do not know. We just don’t know. And we don’t know how to know. We weren’t trained for this. Father, mother, help us to know what to do next.
They are so hot. Their fever burns so high. I thank thee, Father, for the stream that runs past our front door. For the mountain snow that make it run so cold. For the fresh linen I have on hand to soak in the cold spring water. For the peace of this lonely cabin. For the dignity of a place away from the fearful crowds. For this mountain, and this stream, and this cabin, and these linens. For all this I thank thee.
I can’t sleep. I run hot. I sweat. I throw off the blanket. I grow cold. I sweat. I pull the blanket back over me. I toss and turn on the couch. I sit up. My chest feels tight. I can barely breathe. I can’t tell if it is or isn’t, but I’m afraid to find out. Because what if I don’t have it? What if I go to urgent care and get it there and bring it home and spread it to my family?
We are afraid of more loss. There are so few of us. Each and every cousin who sleeps is needed for this journey. All of us are barely enough to build a new Zion when we reach our journey’s end. We know this is what you want for us. For your people.
We are alone and afraid, but we have confidence—I have confidence—in the healing wings of thy Son. I know thou canst heal them if thou wilt. I ask that this be thy will.
I know I don’t deserve this. I know I’ve had doubts. I’ve sinned. I’ve been slothful and unkind. I know it’s not fair for me to ask for this when others are suffering. When others have died. I don’t know what plans you have for me, Father. But I would very much like for those plans to continue to be here in mortality.
We would ask the other ships for help. We are afraid that whatever this is will spread to them. We want to solve this. We must be the instruments in your hands. We know we are weak instruments. Clumsy, untutored. Lacking in faith and knowledge. We cannot wake those who would do better. We need them for the end of the journey.
Oh, Heavenly Father. They are worse. I don’t—I don’t what more to do. I can’t bear to see them like this. It is too much for one woman to bear, Lord. I know we must all be tested. But this—this is too much refiner’s fire. Must I lose both my eternal companion and our only child to the same illness? Must I be left alone in this lone and dreary world? If they go, I will not wish to follow them. But I will be tempted to. I don’t, I can’t, I won’t be left alone. Why must I be left alone?
Oh, God. Why can’t I breathe? Why does my chest feel so tight? What is happening to me? What am I going to do? Please, please, just let me be okay. I need to calm down. Please, Father, how can I calm down? I just need to get some sleep. I will be fine if I can just settle down and sleep. My immune system will fight this off. If I can just get to sleep, everything will be okay. I just—I just need your help. Help me to breathe. To calm down. Why can’t I calm down?
More of the cousins who sleep have died, oh, Holy Ones. Please let the mercy of Lord Jesus be upon us. We are at our wits end. We have checked the sensors over and over and over again and each time we find nothing wrong. We have cleaned everything there is to clean. We have run every diagnostic. We have cheated those who will come after us and released more nutrition to those who sleep. And yet still they die. Why do they die? Why can we not determine why they die?
How long must I watch them suffer?
How long must I suffer?
How long must we suffer?
Please, Father, spare them. Let the destroying angel pass by.
Please, Father, spare me. Let me live.
Please, Holy Parents, spare them. Let this holy vessel be purified.
If thou must call one home, please spare the other. If thou must call two home, take me, and spare my son. He has so much to live for. He is such a valiant spirit. He would serve thee well.
I have so much more I want to do—need to do. Here. In this life. I have so much more to give. Surely you see that, Father. Surely you see that there is more for me to do here in this life.
We must continue to live. To travel. To find our way to a new earth. One closer to Kolob. One we can prepare for celestial glory. This millennium must continue. Our journey must not fail.
I have seen miracles. My mother and grandmother have told me of the miracles thou didst perform for the early Saints. Are we not worthy of miracles in such a time of war, tumult, and disease? Are my husband and son not worthy of a miracle? Are they so much less than the pioneers? Are we not all still pioneers ourselves in this new, changing world? Are we not needed to help roll thy kingdom forth?
I don’t understand why bad things sometimes happen to good people when good things sometimes happen to bad people. Why one person dies of cancer when another is miraculously cured. I know it’s all part of your plan, and I’m a mere mortal, unable to understand, to see the entire picture. And look—I’m not a good person. Or at least not as good as so many of my fellow saints. But I’m also not a bad person. And if you have miracles to give at this time, give one of them to me. Please, give it to me.
Our parents built this system so it wouldn’t require miracles. But now we find ourselves in need of one. We know—or at least hope and pray—the other ships will remain untouched by loss. But is this ship not also part of your flock? Do not these cousins merit a place in a new kingdom? Won’t that kingdom be so much lesser without them?
Hide not in thy pavilion, Lord. Many say thou art missing. That all that has happened and is happening is proof of that. I know that isn’t true. I know that thou hast wept for all of the violence and loss. I know that thou hast mourned just as we mourn. And I have felt thy compassion many times in my life. I want to feel of it again, now. My heart quakes for them, Father. If thou wilt not spare them, please make it easy for them. And then tend to my broken heart. Fill it with thy love and comfort. Fill my heart and strengthen my hand.
You’ve spoken to me before—why won’t you speak to me now? Or is that you can’t speak to me now because I’m not listening? I’m sorry. I’m sorry I haven’t been as diligent as I should. The world is so very distracting. I know I love it too much too much of the time. But isn’t that what you’ve told me before? That I have a talent for bridging the things of the world and of Zion. How can I do that if I’m no longer here? I know I haven’t done it as well as I should. But I will do better. I just need your help right now.
We ask not for ourselves. We know we are called to be Moseses (please forgive our impudence) and will not live to see the promised land. We ask for all our cousins who sleep. They have unique talents. Talents not found on the other ships. They need the miracle of a time and place in which to magnify them. They need a miracle. We need a miracle.
Please, Father. If it be thy will.
Please let it be thy will.
Always we submit to thy will.
Oh, Lord. I thank thee for the blessing of my son. Guide my hand now as I sew this robe for my sweet husband. I don’t understand why thou hast chosen to take him home. Or why my son has been spared. Or why I have been spared. But I thank thee for all that thou hast done. For the angels who attended me these many weeks. And for the healing power of thy Son and the comfort of thy Spirit. I am blessed beyond measure. I have lost much. But others have lost so much more. Please bless this thing to stop. To run its course without too much more loss. We have lost so much already. But I am grateful for what I still have. For my life. For my son’s life. For life.
Sorry about that, Father. I am so relieved that everything is fine. Well, not fine, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have it. I’m glad I was able to sleep. I’m sorry I bothered you like that. Freaked out like that. I’m not sure what came over me. But I’m thankful I feel a little better. I’m still scared for me. And for my family. For all those I love. For everyone. I will still pray for miracles. I will still ask you to protect us and our home. These are scary times, Father. We need you. Need you always.
We don’t know what happened, Holy Parents. Somehow the system recalibrated. We have stopped losing the cousins who sleep. We thank you. We thank those who created the systems. We feel much sorrow for those we have lost. We are grateful for those who are still with us. Please continue to preserve us and them. We know not how long our journey will be. Guide us there. Guide us to our new home.
“Honey, do we have any bread?” Kyle Reynolds asked his wife one Sunday evening almost two months into quarantine. Dana was giving their two youngest a bath, and Kyle had just remembered he had not yet administered the sacrament to his family.
“There should be a couple of slices left in the bag in the pantry,” Dana replied, a hint of exasperation in her voice. Not, Kyle knew, because she didn’t want him to administer the sacrament to her and the children, but because it had slipped both their minds and now had to be slotted into a bedtime routine that, while more routine than it had ever been, seemed to grow less and less effective with each week that passed.
He hesitated, all too aware that her exasperation was about to rise, then confessed, “There were two slices left after you made French toast, and I had them as cinnamon toast last night.”
“Check the garage, then,” Dana said, reaching into the tub to separate Colin and Liam, who had been about to blow bubble bath into each other’s faces.
Happy to receive marching orders, Kyle went to rummage around in the chest freezer that sat in the garage half empty because the Reynoldses had never fully committed to buying meat on sale in bulk and then freezing and rotating. Not to mention Kyle’s often stated goal of going in with a group of friends on a side of beef. It mainly served as overflow from the kitchen, useful but not central to the management of the household. Kyle had thought it’d see more use in quarantine, but somehow their grocery trips had ended up with more pantry items than freezer ones—boxes and boxes of cold cereal, pasta, and various types of crackers stacked in their front closet. By mid-April, both he and Dana had become alarmed enough to make a pact to dial back on the carbs.
There was no bread in the chest freezer, although Kyle did find a forgotten box of taquitos, which he mentally added to his just for daddy late night snacks list.
“Hey, hon, there’s no bread in the garage,” he reported back to Dana. “Did the Instacart not come?”
Kyle knew very well that it hadn’t, but said it anyway. Partly to extend the responsibility for their current predicament to his wife. Partly because he was so tired he had no idea what else to say.
He hadn’t been sleeping well lately. None of them had. Other people were always making jokes about not knowing what day it was, but Kyle had found himself keenly aware of not only the day of the week, but the date, the week of the year, and the number of days he’d been working at home. Every hour seemed to slip away quietly but noticeably like silvery fish escaping a large, slowly closing net. He lay anxiously awake most nights knowing he desperately needed to use those hours for rest, but fretting them away instead. All too keenly aware of the negative impact his lack of sleep will have on his work, on his family time and duties, and even on his church service. Kyle was first counselor in the elders quorum presidency and—morbid as it was—was terrified President Leavitt, who was an anesthesiologist, would come down with COVID and leave him in charge. And yet, the alarm would go off each morning, and Kyle would wake up bone tired and welcome the way the fatigue fogged up his feelings. He wondered if other Mormon men used lack of sleep instead of alcohol and other substances as a way to take the edge off of life. He suspected many of them did.
“I told you already,” Dana said, her back to him, one hand shielding Colin’s eyes from the baby shampoo, the other scrubbing his thick mass of curls. “There weren’t any open slots until Monday.”
Kyle nodded. “What about Goldfish?” he asked.
“I gave our back-up box to Sister Martinez last week, and I let the kids finish what we had on hand on Thursday because I thought I’d be able to get a Saturday time slot.”
“Oh, right. That’s good. I’m glad you did that. Sister Martinez needs the help.”
Dana let out an um-huh in a way that both agreed with Kyle and reminded him that his observation was not only obvious, but also he really had no idea. Which was true. He really didn’t.
“I guess I could make a pancake.”
“Pancakes!” shouted the two boys.
Dana shot Kyle a look that was somewhere between daggers, look what you’ve done, and I’m so very tired.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that, boys,” Kyle said. “It’s a little late to make pancakes. But I promise I will make some for us in the next few days.” He emphasized the ‘I will’ so Dana knew he truly intended to make the pancakes rather than fob the task off on her. And he would. He’d recruit Sophie to help. He probably couldn’t make the boys wait until Saturday. But his Wednesday was looking pretty light on meetings so if he blocked off an hour-long lunch now and took it at 10:30 a.m. that would make for an acceptable brunch.
“Do we have anything else that might work?” Kyle asked, trying to keep his voice even to let Dana know he wasn’t expecting her to solve the problem, but if she had any ideas he was all ears…
“I don’t know,” she said. “Since we agreed to dial things back a bit, I really was counting on being able to get an earlier Instacart order.”
“Understood,” Kyle said. “I’ll go check the pantry again. There has to be something.”
The pantry wasn’t bare. It just was filled with lots of raw ingredients. Even Dana hadn’t been immune to the baking sprees committed by the women (and some of the men) she followed or was friends with on Instagram and Facebook. Although it had been a week or so since she’d baked, which was why they didn’t have anything on hand. Not even cookies.
They were also out of pasta. He’d gotten in the habit of making it for his lunches, having soon grown tired of ham or peanut butter sandwiches. And the kids had torn through the microwavable mac and cheese bowls. He and Dana had debated whether to put two cases or none in their next grocery order. In the end, their choice had been made for them. Every single form of microwavable pasta had been out of stock at Target. They did have a box of instant mashed potatoes. Technically a starch. He could form them in little balls or patties or something. He supposed that would do in a pinch, but it just—it just didn’t feel right. The handbook said a bread-like substitute was okay for people with a gluten intolerance. But a dollop of mashed potatoes didn’t seem very bread-like. And none of the Reynolds had a gluten intolerance. Kyle sighed and returned to the bathroom.
“Hey, hon,” he said. “Our ox really is in the mire. So sorry about that. I’ll mask up and run to the store real quick.”
“It’s after 8.”
“The stores close at 8 p.m. right now.”
“Oh.” Kyle knew that but had forgotten. “I guess I could swing by the Conoco?”
“A lot of the gas stations also close at 8.” Dana looked at him. “Is this really necessary?” she asked.
Kyle knew what she meant. Was rushing the sacrament right before bed worth taking the risk of exposure? How much did he trust gas station employees to properly sanitize their space? What was the point of doing delivery for everything if he was going to go out into the world just for a loaf of bread? Besides, they hadn’t been complete heathens. They had participated in the Reynolds family Come, Follow Me Zoom earlier in the day. Granted, their participation had been with their microphone muted and had consisted mainly of the twins popping in and out of view of the webcam, and Sophie trying to follow along in a print version of the manual, complaining that the boys were being too loud and hinting that this was why she needed her own iPad. Not the most successful gospel study session. But it wasn’t nothing.
So maybe Dana was right: skipping a week was okay.
Kyle was just about to say so, but found he wasn’t quite ready to let go of the idea of taking the sacrament that evening. It wasn’t just that he wanted Dana and Sophie and him to renew their covenants. It wasn’t just that it was always good to remind the boys to look forward to their baptisms. It wasn’t just that he thought it important to preserve a sense of routine. There was nothing routine about their lives right now even if the days all did seem the same. It wasn’t just that he quite enjoyed blessing and passing the sacrament in his home, an act that tied him more closely to the ordinance than all of the years that had passed since his mission.
It was that every time they did it he felt like they were getting away with something. Felt a burst of gratitude they’d staved off infection. The sense their home was still a refuge, a fortress. And that he and Dana actually did preside in their home. That it was a unit of the Church rather than something adjacent to it. That even if the world went to hell and the institutional Church fell into apostasy, they were their own thing. Not that he expected either to happen. But he enjoyed the feeling that what they had was not a berth on the Good Ship Zion, but their own sloop in the fleet.
“No, you’re right—it’s not,” he said. “I’ll come up with something.”
“Make it quick,” Dana said, pulling the stopper out of the bathtub. “The boys really need to get to bed.”
“Will do,” he said, lightly. Too lightly. Dana gave him another look.
“I can make it work,” he said. I’ll have everything set up by the time the boys are dried off and in their pajamas. We’ll make it quick. I promise.”
On his way back to the pantry, Kyle poked his head into Sophie’s bedroom and said, “Sacrament in five minutes.”
Sophie smiled, and said, “Oh, good. I thought you had forgotten.”
Kyle grimaced inwardly, but returned his daughter’s smile, and said, “Nope. Just have to figure some things out.”
He wanted to stay and talk. Tell Sophie what had happened. Not as a justification, but as a teaching moment. Tell her about how sometimes plans and even back-up plans fail and so you need to be adaptable. But the clock was ticking, and he still wasn’t sure about the instant mashed potatoes.
Kyle returned to the pantry, opened the doors, and stared blankly at the shelves. There had to be something. They still had all this food in the house. He said a quick prayer in his mind, but was too ashamed to end in the name of Christ. He sighed, closed the pantry doors, opened the fridge even though he knew there was nothing in there that would work, saw the mostly empty jug of milk, and suddenly had a thought. He couldn’t, right? It kind of made a lot of sense, but it was weird.
He got everything else ready first. Put a splash of water in five small plastic cups from Ikea. Set the right color of cup at the right place. Arrayed the tiny soy sauce dishes from the sushi set he and Dana had received as a wedding present from her older brother and his wife. Grabbed his quad from his bedside table, plopped it on the dining room table, and opened it to D&C 20. Then Kyle went to his home office—said a quick prayer of thanks for the fact he had a home office—opened the top drawer of the metal filing cabinet that stood in the corner, and retrieved from it the single-serve box of Lucky Charms he’d reserved out of the variety pack they’d bought the first week of quarantine. He returned to the dining room, opened the box, and dropped one of the cereal pieces in each dish.
Kyle’s family had been one of those households when he was growing up. The kind where Kix, Cheerios, hot cereal, and toast were the only weekday breakfast options. Which meant Kyle didn’t try Lucky Charms until his second day in the MTC. He was an instant convert. Ate a bowl alongside whatever the hot meal option was for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week.
One day at breakfast, he’d tried to explain how a bowl of Lucky Charms reminded him of the Book of Mormon. The Lamanites were the cereal pieces. The marshmallows were Nephite dissenters. The Lamanites may have a had a frosting of unrighteous traditions, but the dissenters were unrighteous all the way through—chalky, fragile, growing slimy when splashed with the milk of the gospel. The rest of his district hadn’t really got it. He wasn’t so sure he did either, but somehow the memory of it made his plan acceptable.
Kyle walked down the hall, said, “Sacrament is ready,” to Sophie, then joined Dana and helped the boys into their pajamas.
“What’s this?” Dana said when they sat down to the table.
“Lucky Charms,” Sophie said.
“Yes, I know,” Dana said. “Where’d they come from?”
“A secret stash,” Kyle said. “And yes, there are more. Everybody can have a handful with extra marshmallow bits when we’re done with the sacrament.”
The boys cheered. Sophie smiled. Liam reached out, but Dana intercepted him in time and helped him fold his arms. “Let’s go,” she said.
Kyle dispensed with the opening prayer and ward and family updates. He found verse 77 and started the prayer. When he got to “bless and sanctify” he paused for half a second, said, “bread,” finished the prayer, and passed the soy sauce dishes with a single Lucky Charm in them out to each member of his family.
And then they partook.