Eau de Good Mormon

[This post is long and touches on religion. In fact, it sparked me making a new category, because it is a topic I would like to explore more even as I know it's not a topic that most people care about reading. I wanted to put a name to where I am at with my religion right now, and I ended up with "Mormon Fringe." As in...that is where I am. Still thinking about Mormonism but not really IN the church.]

As we reemerge from our shutdowns and quarantines, blinking again in the light of interacting with people in the same space, I am remembering that there is something I still have to process. I put it aside during the pandemic because I could, because my world was comfortably small: home with my family, and a few stints at work, passing people during a hike but not really engaging with them. Now I am out in the world a little bit more, I am rediscovering this. It didn’t ever get better, I just put it away because I wasn’t forced to pick it up, examine it, figure out what to do with it.

The thing is this: I don’t really fit here anymore.

(It’s also that I never really fit, but I didn’t clearly see it. Now I do.)

The reason I don’t fit in here (and by “here” I mean: deep in the heart of Utah County, where some ridiculously high percentage of people is staunchly LDS and so the majority is safe to assume that everyone is staunchly LDS) is mostly because I no longer go to church. There are many stories I could tell to explain why. Many experiences and realizations, so many months of grieving and aching and crying and then finally coming to a sort of peace and a sort of acceptance. Some things I have shared on my blog, but most of them I haven’t. Not because I am ashamed or don’t want to talk about it, but because most of the people in my life don’t want to listen to it.

One of the last public things I did in 2020 was a sewing class. I got a new sewing machine for Christmas in 2019 and it came with a free class, so I spent a Saturday at the Bernina shop, learning about my machine. I arrived with my machine and my hydroflask and my always-present hope…maybe I’ll find a new friend here? But, nope. I learned a ton that day about my machine, but I also learned something about myself. I had already not been going to church for a year, so honestly it had been awhile since I’d hung out with people from the UC at all. So as I watched and listened to the other people talking, laughing, and connecting it felt like anthropology. Like observing a society from the outside. That was my realization. I really don’t fit here, there is something different about me.

It was like…there is something they can read about each other’s body language that is an invitation. They just immediately find their connections: a son and a cousin who actually were mission companions in Guatemala, they are both primary presidents,  they each bought their machines because they wanted to learn how to sew ruffles to skirts to make them modest enough. My personal favorite were two women realizing they live only three blocks away from each other, in one of the fancy neighborhoods in Orem, on the east side of course. “Oh, don’t you just love living in there? The views are so amazing and the air is so clear and everyone’s landscaping is gorgeous!”

(And meanwhile I’m like…well, thank God they won’t even ask me where I live because I’m just down here on the flat part of Orem with the dirty air and the views of everyone’s trash landscaping and if I admitted that to them then they would know I am NOT seriously so blessed like they are.)

(I’m not bitter.)

Here in the Provo/Orem area, what it means to be LDS is to be a person who is ALWAYS and WITHOUT A DOUBT LDS. They prove it with their big east-side houses, with their top-of-the-line Suburbans (to carry their seven children of course), with the mission references and the temple-wedding references and the this-is-my-calling references. With their blonde hair and their modest clothes and the occasional flash of garment just so everyone knows they follow The Rules. They talk about it. (It seems it is all they talk about.) They assume everyone knows the cultural language they speak. They never have a thought enter their heads that someone else might be different than they are. And if you do happen to be different, it’s like they can smell it. They know there won’t be any connections to be made with you, so there is no reason to be friendly.

Even when I was trying my hardest to fulfill that appearance of “perfect Mormon person” I still didn’t really fit. They could still smell my wrongness. I was accepted on the surface, but actual, real relationships with my Mormon neighbors were few. And then as life progressed and I didn’t “earn” all the righteous blessings they did—I mean, it’s OK to start on the west side, it’s never being blessed enough to move up that proves your worth, and then none of my kids went on missions and actually none of them are even interested in the church and my husband was never a bishop and I was never a Relief Society president—my lack of those “blessings” proved I had earned the way I smelled. I didn’t do it well, I wasn’t righteous enough, I didn’t get the blessings I wanted because deep down I wasn’t good enough. If I were I would’ve earned those “good things” and would be happy.

Finally accepting that in part they were right—deep down, I am different—was one of the most freeing, if painful, processes of my life.

After that sewing class, I confess: I went home and cried. Honestly, every time I sit down at my machine I feel a little bit of a scrap of that feeling, that realization: I never fit because I don’t fit. I tried to fit for two decades, but just broke and tore and cut and scarred. It was a turn in my path, a realization and acceptance: stop trying to be someone you are not.

Of course, church members would say “no, there’s a place for you here, too. And maybe if you come and work harder, if you pray more and do more and believe more, if you stop being a lazy learner and just have a little faith, your children will turn around and everything will be OK, you just have to not give up.”

But here’s the thing.

I don’t want to sit in church and continue to feel bad that my kids didn’t turn out like everyone else’s did. I don’t want to be in a supposedly-holy place that demands I feel that way about my own children. I don’t want to pray that they will want to “go back” to church. I want to pray that they have happy lives. That they find relationships that fulfill them, careers that give them confidence and purpose. I want them to have meaningful experiences, to help others, to be healthy and safe. If they choose to get married or have families, I want them to do that because it will be a part of them being happy, not because it’s what a religious institution told them is the path to happiness.

All told, what I want for them, what I pray for and hope for, is that they don’t have to live their lives this way. Feeling like they are odd, like they don’t fit. Like they smell wrong.

❦❦❦

So, here we are, more than a year after the start of the pandemic. I’m starting, just a little bit, to go out into the world again. Last week, I reluctantly started going to PT again. Reluctantly because while I trust the PT I’ve been going to now for seven or eight years, I don’t love going there. My not-a-good-Mormon smell is especially potent there.

I knew to expect it so I was pre-hardened.

But this morning I struggled. Everyone talked about their weekends. “My nephew was ordained.” “I got to go to in-person church for the first time!” “I went to my cousin’s baby blessing.” One woman and her tech discovered they both went to the same mission in Switzerland, twenty-odd years apart, and then she glistened and glowed about her husband, a BYU professor who served in Belgium and also speaks French and so they decided to move to Provo instead of Orem so they could put their kids in a school that does French immersion and “of course it didn’t hurt that we’re only a few blocks away from the temple” (ie, east side on the hill) and now they only speak French in their home. (“Home” is spoken with a special reverence in LDS parlance, an extra-rounded O and a drawn-out M. It is never a house.)

I listened to them, patients and techs and therapists, speak their Mormon language, smell each other’s correct and pleasing smell. I started wishing again—wishing I could speak it, too. Wishing I had the right smell. Wishing I could laugh and start conversations easily and just…be involved, wherever I go.

And then I wondered: what do people outside the Book of Mormon belt talk about?

I don’t even know.

(Like, literally. I don’t know.)

I looked at Mrs. We-Only-Speak-French and young I-Know-Everything-About-BYU-Sports dude and the lady talking about how sweet it was to go back to church and hear signing again and the tech expounding on the church’s policy with polygamous families and how gracious it is. The guy getting his knee massaged with 4 inches of garments hanging out from his shorts and the older woman working on her shoulders, her g top exposed with each weight lifting.

I thought you are all insane. They don’t know what to talk about or how to be outside of their religion, and even more disturbing is they don’t know how strange that is. They fit because they fit here, so nothing hurts because why would it? Round pegs, round holes.

And I stopped with the wishing. I can wish this thing away all I want, but it isn’t going anywhere: I don’t fit here. My shape is spiral and convoluted and angles, and that is who I am.

And maybe if I were at another physical therapist’s office in, say, Seattle or Helena or Orlando or Detroit, I still would listen to the easy conversations around me and not know how to be a part of them. Maybe there is no place my shape fits.

(Actually, strike that “maybe.” More than likely.)

But I want to write this thought anyway, this thought that I had as I came home, again in tears, to write this post. The thought I had after putting into words this thought: I hope my kids don’t have to live this way.

Do I have to?

Is there somewhere I could fit, some place where I am the missing piece?

I’m not sure. But I am sure I don’t fit here. I could ignore that during the pandemic, but I don’t think I will be able to for much longer.