Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A story of faith, or waiting to fly.

I thought they were fucking nuts. Let me back up abit....autobiographies are tedious, especially the sort filled withkind, well-meaning, but essentially batshit folk.

This may be a bit harsh; perhaps batshit is the norm, and who am I to look down on our chiropteran friends? I'm 6, swinging on a swing; I've been told at church that if you have faith that you can do anything. So, I think, if I launch myself outof this swing when I'm at the highest point and I really really believe, can I fly? I start to launch, the seat buckles as I begin toeject....But the ground looks a long way down. I lack faith and do not become airborne.

I'm at sunday school in church, 9. My teacher tells me (and all ofthe other squirmy children, who, much cleverer than I, are not listening) that to determine what action to take, just ask yourself"what would Jesus do?" I try this, experimentally. For the life of me, I can never figure out what Jesus would do.

Again at church, 10, a recurring theme. My father is a navigator inthe Air Force and has been sent to Viet Nam to fly planes and help us win our patriotic war. Mormons are into the war. We're fighting the Communist menace. Those Communists play dirty, the church elders tell us over the podium. They even use language improperly. When they say"Peace" they mean that Communists rule. When they say "Love" they mean something else, though I am unclear on exactly what.

My father does something very dangerous, flying jets. All through my childhood, father's of friends have been killed--not often, but difficult to not notice. I am invited into the Bishop's office for a meeting. All mormon children must have interviews with their Bishop to prove their worthiness. He tells me that I hold the key to my father's return. If I have faith that he will come back, God will be sure that he returns. The obvious corrolary is If my faith is insufficiently
strong, he won't. Thinking the wrong thing will kill my father. I leave terrified.

10 still. I'm at church, alone for some reason. Mom had to take care of a sick child, I believe. Mormons assign a person a church by location; everyone within a certain area goes to the same Ward. In Provo, where we live close by my mother's family, where everyone is Mormon, you attend with your neighbors. There are three meetings a day; Priesthood meeting which only men attend, Sunday School in the morning, and Sacrament meeting in the afternoon. This is not a problem in Provo, where the church is inwalking distance; but in California where we moved from, we had to drive about 25 miles to church; as I get carsick, Sundays with their 100 total miles of driving, were not greeted with joy.

The first Sunday of every month is Testimony meeting. Rather than having speakers like the other three weeks, ward members are expectedto walk up to the podium and bear their testimonies. "I know the church is true, Joseph Smith is a prophet of god, Amen."

Many people cry; mothers take tiny children up, murmur thewords in their ears, they lisp back. I, 10, and short, get up, walkup to the podium, and give a short testimony. "I know the church istrue, Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, amen." A famous man in the ward (he had high calling in the Church? Taught at BYU?) gets up directly after and riffs on my testimony--calling out how a small child, alone at church, whose father is gone, can give her testimony. It is a semi-rebuke to the un-testimony-bourne-audience members with abit of sideways personal validation thrown in. I am pissed. Furious. I never bear my testimony again.

Still 10, in a tree. We had a large climbing tree in our yard in Provo, Utah. When my dad got his orders to go to 'nam, Mom moved all four of us kids to Provo, about 45 miles south of Salt Lake, where her family was from. The tree is comfortable, I can read, watch clouds, try not to think of my father dying. I am still terrified.

10 and a few more months, in my bedroom. The family owns a set ofworld book encyclopedias. They are very big and full of words; articles on Chile, marmosets, waterfalls. I spend hours reading them, take them to bed with me. With a book the terror diminishes; less chance of thinking murderous thoughts.

Christmas. My mother, normally startllingly healthy, has been getting migraines since dad left, and has stopped eating. She's getting scarily thin. I try, in between reading bouts, to keep an eye onthings. Dad told my little brother Jon that he's the man of thehouse, but this is just clearly wrong. I'm the oldest, and theresponsibility lies with me. I have four brothers, Jon, 8; Jeff, 6;Jamie, 4; and Mikey, 2. It's Chrismas eve, and I hear a noise in theliving room. Even though I'm 10, I still believe in Santa Claus. I tiptoe to the living room, peer in, and see my Uncle Kent helping my mom lay out Christmas presents. I draw the obvious conclusion--"there is no Santa Claus." Then...a heartbeat later -- "God is Santa Claus for grownups." This doesn't provide the relief you'd expect.

(amusing intermission, which might be added later)

The adults around me, Mormons all, believed resolutely in God, and seemed to talk of little else. They were big. I was small. They had all the food. And the warm houses. Did I mention access to books? Best not to anger them. Plus, why should I be right, and all of them thunderously, tremendously, wrong? Could all these people's lives be based on a non-existent entity? Seemed unlikely; more likely I was wrong. I decided to give God the benefit of the doubt. But, man, his definition of good was vastly different from my own. Living in a religious house, there were bibles strewn about. I started reading.Carefully. OK, what struck me way back then? Perfectly reasonable questions: who did Cain and Able marry? Their sisters? Ewwwww. Did God really have a full-scale tissy fit and drown everyone but Noah and his family? God? A mass murderer? Apparently so.

Why did God harden Pharaoh's heart when the israelites wished to leave Egypt? So God was responsible? Then what's with killing all the firstborn babes? Itried to ask adults, tentatively, shyly, some of these questions; they essentially patted me on the head and said something along the lines of "we haven't a clue"--though it was generally phrased as "God works in mysterious ways." OK then.

Here's my major mistake (number 1, truth be told, in a continuing series.) I told not a person about my disbelief, for several reasons.The first I have already alluded to. At 10, I clearly could not liveon my own and wished to not be booted on the street. In retrospect itseems an unlikely prospect, but at the time it terrified me. I heard my mormon relatives saying the most godawful things about unbelivers; such, as it appeared, barring a miracle (unlikely in the circumstances), myself. So, I kept quiet and spent more and more time in my room. I started to get very sad; my poor mother didn't have a clue.

Second, not believing in God sucked. My parents believed that theywould live forever, that the universe cheated for them (those miracles! Miraculous healing, unexpected gifts of money, finding your purse (always a problem for me)). I faced a life miracleless -- my purse lost, seemed guaranteed to stay lost. Plus, we moved quite abit -- Mormonism provided an instant social milieu. We'd move into aWard, and there was a social life! Go to church, see your friends,church parties, divers people to scold your kids for sins real and imaginary. What would mom and dad do without it? It seemed unspeakably rude to mention that my parents worldview was bewilderingly inconceivable.

To be continued....

1 comment:

James said...

I love your writing, and am still waiting for you to continue this story, even though "to becontinued" is a great closing like