“Leap and the net will appear.” — John Burroughs
“She left the church.”
In the vernacular of her upbringing, the words imply far more than skipping Sunday school — any good Mormon knows this. Someone like her, who pulls up stakes and walks away from their own assumes consequences: anger, estrangement, pity, even bereavement. She sinned against the light. She took off her garments and forsook her temple vows. She became an apostate.
The impetus was simple; she no longer believed, and with every step, cracks appeared in the foundation beneath her feet. The ground, once solid, shifted, leaving her nowhere to go when the earth, in violent throes, split open wide. Aware that she set in motion a cascade of events leading to the devastation of life as she knew it, she could only watch as the avalanche descended.
Once begun, the fallout could not be stopped. Compelled, she stood in the face of its force. When it was done, and her life lay crumbled around her, she sifted through the remains and found hope, faint, but pulsing. She carried it with her as she climbed up out of the ruins into a stark new world.
Caterpillars disintegrate into amorphous soup before they transmute. And yet, from the same stuff the resplendent butterfly miraculously forms. Picasso said, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”
Leaving the church destroyed her, but in her rebirth she learned to fly.
She was born and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A consummate good girl, at five, she ran home from the neighbor’s house in tears to confess she’d broken the Word of Wisdom, mistaking iced tea for Kool-Aid. Mormons don’t drink tea. Or coffee. Or alcohol.
She was 35 before she had the courage to drink coffee in front of her father. Now, at 52, she smuggles wine in a paper bag when she visits, drinking with her sister late at night in covert defiance of their austere childhood.
As LDS children, they were taught to please their parents and their Heavenly Father, a temperamental old grandfather with flowing white hair, benevolent if they were virtuous, cantankerous and disapproving if they were not.
At eight, she stood with her father, dressed in white, waist deep in the baptismal font. A priesthood-holder with the authority to baptize, he plunged her backward into the water. Swimming up through liquid weight, breaking the surface into clean air, she felt her transgressions washed away. She spent three perfect days, pure as the driven snow, but inevitably, she sinned.
Shame claimed her.
When she was 27, a university student, she sat alone in a concert hall, one in a sea of thousands. Sonorous timbres and lush harmonies resonated and swirled around her, washing her clean: a holy sacrament. Through music, she felt for the first time in her life, worthy and precious.
Notwithstanding her flaws, she was a child of the universe.
Growing up she valiantly followed the path Mormon doctrine prescribes for its daughters: chastity, courtship, marriage and then children. At 21, she went to the temple to be wed. A radiant child-bride, she knelt across the altar from a golden boy, and in the presence of God, angels and witnesses, she was sealed to him for time and all eternity in sacred ceremony. Ten months later, a beautiful baby girl was born under the covenant. Less then two years after, a sweet boy.
Upon fulfilling her destiny, she expected to live happily ever after. But emptiness consumed her, hollowing her out from the inside.
She lost her joie de vivre and this frightened her. Something wasn’t right; she was doing it wrong; she had failed. There was no other explanation for why her life wasn’t as she’d anticipated. Disillusionment surreptitiously crept in among the shadows of her psyche and made itself at home.
By 25, she was in crisis. The more she sacrificed for her family, the more she became a shell of her former self. She spiraled into depression, paralyzed and disempowered. The church and its leaders told her to submit to the will of the Lord, that a woman’s role is to support, comfort and care for her family; her worth is to be found in service. Any doubts she had would unequivocally be answered in prayer and fasting. But she took no solace from this and portentous unrest rumbled deep within, threatening to break the surface.
Her angst led her back to college. She had quit school to work in deference of her husband’s degree, and as an older, returning, student, she was starved for knowledge and connection. It was there that the world turned color and her spirit awoke. Like coming out of a deep sleep, sensation flooded her experience.
Newly opened eyes took in everything: paradigms beyond patriarchy, social justice, cultural diversity, feminism, career fulfillment. She was empowered. In this personal renaissance, opportunity bloomed before her, unlocking the shackles of a confinement previously invisible. The Church’s rigid dogma became untenable, intolerable to her burgeoning sensibilities.
Her soul cried out to be free.
But the traditional life she’d built, block by block, like a game of Jenga, swayed precariously as she carefully attempted to extract one piece after the next. She could not have both: her old life and the one waiting to be born, nor could she choose. She held her breath and tried not to move.
When she was 28, clinging to the illusion of domestic tranquility, she wallpapered, and carpooled and hung Christmas lights. But there was no escaping Sundays, heavy days laden with sadness and conflict. She stopped going to church. She couldn’t hold on. She was slipping.
The chasm gaped and she couldn’t straddle the divide. It soon became undeniable. The crucial block, at the very foundation of the game, her identity as a Mormon housewife, had to go. When she removed it, the whole structure collapsed.
At 30, she mourned the casualties. Her marriage did not survive. She wept for the tragic demise of young love. She wept for her children, torn between their parents in a custody battle. For her father’s broken heart. For her friends who turned away in confusion. For the culture she lost, the community. Her people. She wept for herself.
But, when she was 32, she started over; a different woman, yes, but made from the same stuff. She found her best friend, and married him. She had two more children. The life she created brought her the resplendent joy and intimacy that eluded her in the past. Choosing to undergo such a radical metamorphosis, in hindsight is astounding, but she knows however painful, it was the only choice.
In destroying her life, she saved it.
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