This is the brief version of the personal statement I sent out to law schools. The longer one isn't any better.
It wasn’t so much the stench that bothered me. It was the cockroaches. We’d met Mr. Francis Perry Myers while knocking on doors in his trailer park, looking for people who were interested in learning more about our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His trailer was ancient and collapsing; its once white walls were crusted in grime and yellowed from cigarette smoke except for the dark splotches where Francis had crushed a roach. He complained about them once, saying that they would bite him in his sleep. I don’t know if cockroaches really bite people, but sitting in that filthy trailer watching them scurry freely about, I believed it.
Visiting Francis presented a difficult problem to me. As missionaries, our primary responsibility was to invite people to make specific and positive changes in their lives. Francis had been invited but was not responding. Our duty to him had been fulfilled and our mission rules instructed us to move on to other people who might be more willing. And though that was my primary duty, I didn’t feel like I could just leave Francis and not return. He was alone and I think he was dying—he’d often complain about painful lumps on his stomach and neck. In my situation, I was severely limited as to my ability to help him physically but I could give him my time and my attention. He enjoyed our company well enough, though I struggled to enjoy his.
For, frankly, I did not like visiting Francis. I wish I could say that I had become saintly enough as a missionary to love everyone I saw no matter how they acted or lived. But I didn’t. I hadn’t come to love Francis—it was hard to get past his coarse manner and his gruff and dirty appearance. And this complicated my inner conflict. I saw my distaste as a weakness that should be overcome. I saw leaving Francis as giving into my weaker nature, as taking the easy way out. And thus I was torn between what I knew was my duty, what I felt was my responsibility, and what I saw as my weakness.
I sought a solution through cleaning Francis’ trailer. I had been taught that, if I wished to love someone, I only needed to serve them. And I thought that cleaning Francis’s barely livable home must certainly be the type of sacrificing service that would help me love the man. If I learned to love Francis, my weakness would be overcome, the house cleaning would have make his life a little easier to live, and I could then move on from Francis to missionary duty. The cleaning was indeed a trying ordeal, memorable mostly for the incredible number of roaches and the mounds of shed dog hair. But when I left his trailer that day, I had no more love for Francis than when I arrived. My dilemma persisted.
I never came upon an easy solution to my problem with Francis. I continued to visit him, though less frequently, struggling to find a solution that wouldn’t leave me feeling guilty. The immediate problem was taken away from me two months later when my mission ended and I returned to my home and my life. But the deeper problem remains with me: what’s the answer when there’s no right answer, when what feels right and what the rules say is right are in disagreement?
I’ve since decided my unanswered question is in some ways a solution. The realization that some, if not most, problems have no easy solutions makes me feel like what I was able to do for Francis may have been the best I could have done. Though I’m not satisfied with the way things turned out with Francis, I’m not sure they could have gone any other way. As I’ve thought about learning and practicing the law, my experience with Francis has seemed all the more important—I think the lesson that even the plainest laws may be rendered unsatisfactory by uncommon circumstances is something that I will need to remember as I learn to think about and interpret laws. I’ll admit that my present experience with law is small; I don’t know what type of law I hope to practice or where I expect it to take me. But I know that I will be able to do my best as I let these lessons serve me as I try to serve others.
I think it's kind of weak there at the end when I start moralizing and applying it to the law. But I needed to do something like that.