Our bus slowly wound its way through the streets of Santa Clara and Ivins, two “suburbs” of St. George, Utah. We had awoken to a brilliant, beautiful spring day in “Dixie,” and the contrast of the azure sky as it met the red rock on the horizon was striking.
We were on our way to “the ranch” – the home of the parents of a member of the Salt Lake Men’s Choir, a couple who had hosted the chorus for the past 11 years when they made their trip to St. George for their annual spring concert.
We had been there the night before, after our concert. I had heard a lot about this place, but my friends usually ended up saying, “You have to see it to understand the place. It’s just hard to describe.”
They were right. In the first place, it definitely wasn’t a ranch. I think “compound” would have been a more apt word. Mind you, it probably used to be a ranch before urban sprawl surrounded the compound on three sides.
Within that compound, however, was a world of beauty, whimsy, humor and dozens of visual vignettes, each with their own charm.
Besides the main house, there were several detached outbuildings, including a couple of ranch (guest) houses, one of which had been christened the “Hog, Cock and Burro Inn,” which, as the sign points out, should not be confused with a bed and breakfast.
These guest houses continued the themes of whimsy and humor found throughout the compound, a place where laughter is obviously valued.
Then, there were the half-dozen or more different gathering places, again each with a unique charm of their own. This was obviously a place where both individuality and community are valued.
It was in the main gathering place, the night before, that I had met Linda Stay and her husband, Steve (pictured below). I was introduced to them by a friend of mine who had known them for several years. I recognized her from the concert: she was the exuberant blonde who had been bobbing and swaying in her seat through most of our upbeat numbers and had listened in rapt attention during the serious pieces.
Nothing was said about it that evening, but I later realized that Linda is the mother of Tyler Barrick, husband of Spencer Jones, the Mormon couple whose marriage was featured in the film “8:The Mormon Proposition.” (You can learn more about her and Steve here.) If you've seen that movie, you know that Linda and Steve became firm advocates of their son and for gay rights generally. Linda didn’t talk about any of that, however. She simply told me that she has a gay son and a lesbian daughter. That said, she wanted to hear my story.
As I started talking, I immediately felt genuine interest, empathy and love flowing from Linda to me. It was an amazing experience: I felt like I had known this woman for years instead of minutes. She was so in tune to what I was saying that, as I came to the part of my story where I described the effect on me of Boyd K. Packer’s talk at last October conference and said, “I felt like something had …”, she said “snapped” at the same time I did.
I couldn’t keep back the tears as Linda assured me that my children would someday thank me for the example I am setting for them of living truth; that good would come from all of this – not just for me but for them as well.
When I left the “ranch” that evening to go back to our hotel, even though a cold wind had been blowing that made it uncomfortable – even with our coats on - to be outside, I felt warmed. I felt validated, uplifted and renewed. I felt blessed.
The following morning, I thought about this experience as I walked around the “ranch,” taking pictures. I thought about what a special place it is and was for me as well as others. To me, there was a palpable presence in this place of tolerance, acceptance, appreciation of diversity and a zest for life. Some people call that presence “spirit.”
Around noon, we boarded the bus and left the ranch to head back to the freeway. As we drove back through Ivins and Santa Clara, we passed several LDS churches. At one, the meetings had apparently just ended and I looked out my window to see people leaving the building and crossing the parking lot – older women in their floral print dresses; a young couple with their two young children, one walking, one being pushed in a stroller; a middle-aged man walking purposefully, his scripture bag and notebook binder tucked under one arm.
I looked at this scene, ruminating about all I have experienced in the past seven months and in the past 24 hours, and the thought came unbidden to my mind how foreign all of that seemed to me now. “I am no longer a part of that world,” I said to myself. "I have left that behind."