I’d only been registered for about five minutes when I found out Lincoln High didn’t need a Jason Bennion. The school already had one. “Jason Bennion?” someone had quipped in first period. “You’re no Jason Bennion!” In other classes the students snickered or exchanged smirks.
So finally I asked, “Who is this other Jason Bennion?” Jed Pierce, who sits next to me in AP history, said, “He’s our junior class president.” Then he told me more. He was the only sophomore on the varsity basketball team last year. “You ought to see the range he has on his jump shot.”
“I’m impressed,” I said. In reality I was rather relieved. I wasn’t that great at sports, and it didn’t bother me that this guy was a good athlete. When it came to brain cells, however, mine seemed to absorb information pretty quickly. So, even though the other Jason Bennion was known as Jason Bennion, the Jock, and, okay, the Leader, I could still be known as Jason Bennion, the Mind, the Brains, the Thinker. Couldn’t I?
By sixth period, even those hopes were dashed. “Hmmm,” Mr. Atkins, my calculus teacher, said. “It looks like we have two Jason Bennions this period. I think our original Jason is on some NHS business, so we’ll deal with this when he comes back.” The inside of me felt like it was scraping the floor boards. NHS, I thought. National Honor Society? I was supposed to be the Jason Bennion with the brains.
“So this Jason Bennion is pretty bright,” I said to Phil, seated in front of me.
“More like brilliant,” he said.
That night as I sat at my desk, I just stared at the still-unloaded boxes around my bed. Finally, after three moves in two years, Dad’s company had said, “This is the place.” Finally, I thought, I’d be in one place long enough to make some friends. I envisioned Omaha as my permanent home, the place where I’d make a name for myself. Now it seemed my name had already been established—but by someone else.
I’d been told all my life that as a member of the Church, I was special. But as I looked in the mirror that was leaning against my closet door, I didn’t feel so special. I’d seen a picture and the write-up on this guy who shared my name on the school’s Wall of Fame. Compared to him, I was nothing but ordinary. I sighed and felt like packing the boxes right back in the truck we’d rented. I wanted out of here.
But I couldn’t do that. So I began consoling myself, thinking that being ordinary wasn’t so bad. Hey, there are a lot of ordinary people in the world, I thought. Suddenly I smiled. I’d seen how some of these athletes strutted around. My very down-to-earth attitude could be my trademark. I could be Jason Bennion, the All-Right, Everyday-Kinda Guy.
I gave up on that idea the following day when Jason Bennion appeared in person in calculus. He had already heard there was a new Jason Bennion at Lincoln High, and he had found out who I was. I was amazed when he walked into class, came up to me, introduced himself and said, “Look, I can go by my middle name. It’s Elliot.”
The class laughed until they realized the guy was serious. He really was willing to go by his middle name. We were in awe. I put out my hand and told him I could go by Jace, and that there was no need for him to change his name. A girl who sat two rows over wasn’t nearly as kind. “Jason goes by ‘Jace’ half the time,” she hissed, with a how-dare-you-hijack-someone’s-name tone to her voice.
Nothing was resolved, so for the next few days I learned to tune out my name. Everywhere I went it was Jason Bennion this and Jason Bennion that. By about my fourth day at Lincoln, I did something unusual for me. I smarted off. After Mr. Penn piled on about six hours of homework, he asked if there were any questions. “Yeah,” I said too loudly. “Where’s the bathroom? I’m getting sicker by the minute.”
Mr. Penn frowned, but those around me grinned. And one girl laughed aloud. This encouraged me to do more damage. Later I was mimicking Mrs. Dale’s way of shoving her glasses up on her nose. It disrupted her explanation on molecular energy, but hey, I was getting laughs. It didn’t matter much that after class I saw Mrs. Dale in her room with her head down rubbing her forehead. Even that didn’t stop me. Oh, I never did anything delinquent. I wasn’t the one who “accidentally” set off the fire alarm. I was only there. And I never sluffed or hung out after midnight with some of the people who had taken an interest in me. A slow death would be easier than dealing with my parents about issues like that. But I did pick up a few new words from these new friends which I used during lunch once in a while. I also began letting a few things slide—like homework.
I’m not sure how long I would have continued being this Jason Bennion whom I didn’t recognize and didn’t feel comfortable being. I suspect about the time midterm grades came out I would have had a change of personality. As things turned out, some words I heard one Friday right after school sped up the process.
I was scanning the list of scores for the last English quiz I hadn’t studied for, half hidden behind Mr. Penn’s door, when I heard someone talking about Jason Bennion again. I was about to tune out when I heard, “No, not the Jason Bennion. The new guy. You know, the Mormon.”
I was stunned. I’d lived in two different Utah cities as well as Boise, Idaho, and never once had I ever been called “the Mormon.” Was that what I was known by here? If these people judged Church members by my actions, I had some shaping up to do—fast.
The next Monday I was back to being the Jason Bennion I was more familiar with, one I liked a lot better. No more acting. No more being somebody I wasn’t. My homework was done, my hair was combed, and my mouth stayed shut—even when I could have said something clever at somebody’s expense.
Some of my new friends gave me puzzled looks at first. Then they began to steer clear of me. I didn’t care. I had an identity now and an image to project. I was Jason Bennion, the Mormon.
As first semester drew to a close I was feeling better about the direction my life was going. Even though basketball season had started and the other Jason Bennion was leading the team in scoring and rebounding, I worked like crazy to make up past assignments and incomplete grades. Once in a while someone would whisper, “He’s a Mormon.” And though the title brought mixed reactions, I’d hold my head a little higher. By second semester, I didn’t see much of the other Jason Bennion. He’d qualified for some kind of university math program and he wasn’t in calculus anymore. Then one day he stopped me in the hall. “Hey, Same Name.” It was a term we’d begun using with each other whenever we spoke.
“I heard something about you.”
“I heard you’re a Mormon.”
“I am,” I said.
“We visited Salt Lake when I was a kid,” he continued, “and I was impressed. I like your health code. What is it, the word of what?”
“I think I’ve been living it.”
Figures, I thought.
And then I knew it was my turn. There couldn’t have been a more opportune time to do a little missionary work. I needed to say something about how he could find out more. I needed to invite him to church. I knew I had to do something. The other Jason Bennion stood there for a second or two like there was something else he wanted to say, and then he was off.
“Well, see you, Same Name.”
“Yeah, you too.”
Sleep comes to the peaceful. It didn’t come to me that night. I knew why I hadn’t wanted to say more to the other Jason Bennion. I didn’t want him to know more about the Church. Being a Latter-day Saint was the one thing that kept me out of the pit of anonymity. I had the rest of this year and my senior year to go, and it would be a miserable, lousy year without something to cling to and be known for. It was my identity we were talking about. Yet I knew very well that the Church was more than a title or name. It wasn’t simply someone’s claim to fame. What kind of low-life creature was I? This was Christ’s restored church I was thinking of not sharing. It was obviously time to get some help.
I found my knees and prayed hard and long about my feelings. Then I thought of the words I always say at the end of prayers, “In the name of Jesus Christ.” Those words had more impact than usual as it came to me that this wasn’t just a way to close a prayer. How concerned I’d been about my own name and being important and being somebody. Now the Spirit was letting me know what really makes us of worth isn’t what we do for our own names. It’s what we do for the Savior’s.
I can’t say it came as a surprise to me that a high-quality human being like Jason Bennion would not only show up for the activities I invited him to, but would eagerly absorb the truth. It was a Saturday night, a few months after he first began investigating the Church, when this leader, star athlete, super brain, and one of the most humble and spiritual individuals I’ve ever known took upon himself the same name that I’d taken upon myself. There was a lump in my throat the size of Nebraska when I helped him out of the font after I’d baptized him. And as I listened to his confirmation, as the gift of the Holy Ghost was bestowed on him, I felt a power and a peace like I’d never felt before.
We’re seniors this year. Even though he’s made no secret of the fact he’s planning on a mission, some big-name schools are after Jason. Once in a while these college recruiters call me by mistake, and I let them know I’m the other Jason Bennion. In fact, I guess that’s my title at Lincoln High now—the Other Jason Bennion.
But it’s okay. It really doesn’t matter anymore. The Lord knows who I am, and so do I.