The Shirt I Was Afraid to Wear

“The Shirt I Was Afraid to Wear,” New Era, Feb. 1993, 27

The Shirt I Was Afraid to Wear

If I wore it, everyone would know I was LDS. And everyone would judge the Church by me.

I own a T-shirt that, for a long time, I never wore. It was one of my favorite shirts, but it lay folded in my dresser drawer. The shirt fit all right, but it was what was written on it that scared me. Just three letters—BYU.

There’s absolutely no reason for me to fear those letters. They stand for Brigham Young University, and I love Brigham Young University. Few people in Florida where I lived had ever heard of BYU. But I felt that if I wore my BYU T-shirt, I’d bump into someone who happened to know what it stood for. “BYU. Oh, that’s a Mormon school. She must be Mormon.” And they’d watch me. “So that’s how Mormons behave.”

That’s when I would panic. I could imagine the thoughts that would arise if I were wearing that shirt and I cut in front of another car. What if I acted rude to a sales clerk or seemed snobby to someone I didn’t know? What would they think?

“Those Mormons. They think they own the world. They’re so stuck up.” Sure, it would be unfair. Just because I’m not on my best behavior doesn’t mean all members of my church are bad. The fact that one LDS person makes headlines for doing something bad doesn’t mean all LDS people are bad, but the people who read the paper don’t stop to think about that. If I’m the only Latter-day Saint the sales clerk ever meets, I’m the standard she’ll use to judge the rest.

The idea was entirely too scary. I didn’t want to be the one who kept another person from investigating the truth because I had provided a poor example. This fear kept my Cougar-blue BYU shirt unworn for a long time.

During that time I tried to muster my courage. I knew the impression I gave while wearing my BYU shirt didn’t have to be a bad one. I could help someone have a favorable impression just as easily as an unfavorable one. Why not try it?

One day I pulled the shirt with the blue and white insignia from my drawer. As I stretched it over my head, a transformation took place. I no longer felt like one more stranger at the mall. I felt like a missionary. I was a different person that day. I waited politely and let others pull in front of me. I smiled and acted friendly to everyone, whether I knew them or not.

I was paying for a dress when a sample of the blessings that come to missionaries came to me. “You went to BYU?” the cashier asked. Before I could answer, she continued, “Me too, but that was four years ago. I married out of the Church when I came home on Christmas break, and I haven’t been back to church since.” We exchanged phone numbers. I wrote down the address of the church and the meeting times, and she promised to look for me on Sunday.

At home that afternoon, I washed my shirt, dried and folded it, and placed it in my drawer on top of the stack. I knew I would wear it again soon.

Photography by Jay Drowns