There was a long line at the post office in Pleasant Grove on Saturday. Having to wait made the event seem more dramatic. I didn’t have anything else to do (besides trying to not listen to the woman behind me barking into her cell phone). I looked at my letter. It’s dry. It feels emotionless. Emotionlessness is huge. The first two times I seriously considered resigning from the Mormon church, writing the letter was an angst-filled process. I didn’t send it, either time. I’m not sure why. At first, I know I thought, “but what if they’re right?” Abandoning what you’re grown up believing is frightening, especially when it has to do with your entire life’s purpose. Where you came from, why you are here, and where you are going (as they put it). I was so into it that I devoted 18 months to being a Mormon missionary, wearing one of those black name tags (Hermana Mardesich), knocking on doors (or clapping outside non-existent doors in the countryside of Uruguay), looking for people who were “ripe and ready to harvest.” 35 of my investigators joined the church. I took time off of college and spent my own money (and some from an anonymous donor). Not trying to brag. Just explaining how significant it was.
But even though I stopped believing, it was still in me.
Around 2000, I wanted to write a book on my experiences in the church. Word got back to my mother. She called me one night, in tears, and told me that I really didn’t grow up Mormon, so how could I write a book about it? “Your father never joined the church, so we didn’t have the priesthood in our home,” she said. “So you really didn’t grow up Mormon.” I asked her what all those hours of church meant then? It seemed that every day was consumed by meetings. Three hours of services on Sunday, extra time to prepare for my calling (I played the piano for the kids’ services, so my piano lessons, taught by an enthusiastic, ancient woman in our ward, who had survived polio, centered around mormon songs, though I did get to practice the occasional Scott Joplin ragtime). Monday nights were for Family Home Evening. Tuesday or Wednesday the “youth” had meetings of their own, where learning about chastity seemed to be the focus. Fridays there were usually some sort of social event. Saturdays we had outings, things like visits to the cannery — where we helped can peaches, which were distributed to the people on church welfare, or visits to to the temple — where we offered up our bodies as proxies for dead people the church wanted to baptize and save (like those holocaust survivors that absolutely are not being baptized these days). Oh, and every day before school –BEFORE SCHOOL! we’re talking early– we had to go to Institute (the Institute of Religion) for an hour-long discourse on mormon topics. It felt like I’d sacrificed all my free time for this organization. And I didn’t grow up Mormon?
After my monologue, she came back with the only thing she could — she simply asked me to not make fun of something that is so important to her and my brothers.
Honestly, that virtually stopped me. I still wrote bits and pieces, in between long bouts of self-medicating, but she got her way.
So why start writing about it now? And why now, finally, am I resigning from the church? I can’t sit back and do nothing after what they did in California. And Arizona. And Hawaii. And Florida. Next stop? your state.
The heart of this whole issue, to me, is that they believe gay marriage is wrong because being gay is wrong. It’s not. It’s natural. People who are gay don’t choose to be gay. They just are. What’s wrong with that? Why do we have to fear something we don’t understand? And more than fear, hate it. And campaign to strip people of their fundamental rights.
It’s time for people to get over their prejudice. The gay civil rights movement is the last great civil rights conflict of our time. What other disenfranchised group is left?
I finally got to the counter at the post office. I handed the postal worker guy my priority mail envelope. He looked at it. Then he looked at me, straight into my eyes. In the past, I would have felt some sort of shame or judgment, even if he wasn’t intending that. This time, I looked right back at him, not feeling shame, but liberation. I smiled at him. I thanked him.
As I was walking out of the post office, I felt light, free, and completely joyous. I wasn’t prepared for how it was going to feel. It felt like the best part of meditation, that spaciousness and openness, energy rising up through my third eye and out of the crown. That feeling of being connected to all.
That huge burden of shame and guilt was gone. I thought of myself as the creative seven-year-old girl I was before being introduced to the mormon church, finally free and able to move on beyond the roadblocks, and beyond the damage, the guilt, the fear, and the self-loathing. I am free.
I don’t know what they will do with my letter. But as of the date I wrote it, I resigned. It really doesn’t matter.
If anyone is thinking of doing the same and needs encouragement, please write to me. There’s also a website, http://www.signingforsomething.org, that is posting letters of people who have resigned. There are also sites, like http://www.exmormon.org, or http://www.mormonnomore.com, or mormonresignation.com, that have sample letters and instructions.
August 21, my four-year-old nephew Cooper was accidentally killed. He had gone with his mom to walk one of his brothers to the bus stop, as he did every school day. Just after the bus full of kids pulled away, Cooper started to cross the street on his bike. A 15-year-old neighbor boy (who has not been named because he’s a minor), driving his family’s minivan, had stopped at the corner. His windshield was dirty. The sun had just come up over the mountain, and was shining across the lake directly into his eyes. The boy ran over Cooper without even seeing him.
You can see the photo of the helicopter that landed in the street, and a stretcher carrying him, and the minivan with its dirty windshield in the photo gallery here:
My brother called to tell us that Cooper had been run over, and that he was in the helicopter on the way to Primary Children’s hospital in Salt Lake City. I was downstairs, in my basement, doing my yoga practice, when my dad opened up the door and called to me. From the sound of his voice, I thought my mother had died. He sounded like a feral animal. I ran upstairs, grateful to see my mom was fine. We sat for a few minutes, crying, going over what my brother had said. On the way to the hospital, my mom kept saying she knew everything was going to be okay. I didn’t feel the same. We got through to my brother once while we were driving. All he said was that Cooper was in surgery, and that he would talk to us when we got there. All I could think was that he wouldn’t want to tell us that kind of news on the phone.
As we walked into the hospital’s atrium, I could see my brother walking brisky toward us. He went straight to my dad, embraced him, and said, “Cooper’s gone.” My dad started wailing. My 78 year old father, a quiet, reserved man, screaming, “No!” Over and over. Finally my brother said, “Dad, I don’t think they like people to do that here.” Obviously-sick children in wheelchairs were visiting with their families in the sunny atrium, while we fell apart. They took us to a grieving room. We waited there for Cooper’s two oldest brothers to come back (someone had taken them out to get something to eat, and I think they were riding the light rail), worried that they might find out from someone other than their parents that Cooper was dead. His six year old brother was the last to arrive. One of the family’s friends picked him up from school. He was hungry, so they stopped for something to eat on the way. When his parents told him what had happened, he threw up.
They brought Cooper into the grieving room, and everyone who wanted to got a chance to hold him and say goodbye.
What should happen to the 15-year-old boy, driving without a license, without insurance, who accidentally killed Cooper? My brother and sister-in-law met with the boy and his family a few days later. They told him they loved him, and that he was part of their family now. They told him they didn’t want his life to be destroyed by the accident. They hugged him and forgave him.
Today, my brother got up in juvenile court and said he supported the resolution the district attorney and the boy’s lawyer had proposed. No jail. I can’t get into the details, but I wanted to note that the attorneys and the judge all cried. They commended my brother and sister-in-law for their love and compassion, something they didn’t see much of in juvenile court. My brother stood and said he didn’t want the boy to be separated from his family, from his mother and father and sisters. What good would come of placing a boy who is a good student, loved by his family and friends, into the criminal justice system? It wouldn’t bring Cooper back. He wants to minimize the pain and suffering.
As we left, I asked my brother what would have happened if he wanted “justice.” He said he thought the boy would probably have served time. Now, he’s free.
In January, when I was back for a short visit, my mom and I stayed with the boys while their parents took a rare vacation. Every morning, Cooper and I walked his brother to the bus stop through the snow. Even in the winter, waiting at the bus stop was a neighborhood social event. I imagine there were at least a dozen people there the day Cooper died. It’s hard to imagine how it could have happened.
When I met the boy today, I didn’t feel charitable. But then I saw a boy surrounded by family, who are grieving as we are. And my brother, who could have asked for “justice,” but instead offered love and compassion.