“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune
Living within the restricted confines of the mormon faith was like camping in the beautiful Rocky Mountains and being too afraid to leave the tent. The tent offers a false sense of security and safety, a feeling like the whole entire world exists within the dome structure of nylon and mesh. There is no need to set foot outside its confines where the dangers are fierce and unforgiving. The LDS church warns people that if they leave the tent, they will get attacked or hurt or worse… lost forever. So everyone holds hands and sings hymns and basks in the safety of being together in a community, having faith that they will be delivered from the tent and into a more glorious existence after the camping trip is over.
Leaving the confines of this familiar and loving space is terrifying beyond measure. To step away and start breathing the fresh air and view the fulness of the landscape, vast and wild beyond imagination is exhilarating and disorienting. The level of vulnerability is bewildering and the visual stimulation and open air can shut you down. Some dive back in, and declare to the group that it was horrifying and scary and they will never leave again. Some venture out for a while, but return, unable to feel safe without the controlled environment they were nurtured in for so long.
I had been outside out of the mormon tent once before, a year or two prior to meeting Rick. My first attempt to leave was after years of actively trying to stifle my inner voice and grow my faith in the life within the space I was born. When I stepped out of that tent, I had felt cast out, rejected and unable to trust in my family’s love. I had wandered aimlessly and ached for acceptance. In that short time outside, I never turned to inspect the tent I had been dwelling in. I did not need to know what it looked like to know that I did not want to live there. The few glimpses I took at the LDS church from the outside filled me with a fear so complete, I could not investigate further. My avoidance was a result of a lifetime of conditioning. The LDS people are taught that reading, listening to opposing views or examining material that is not “faith promoting” or church approved is a temptation straight from satan. It is evil and corruptive and to be strictly abstained from.
Eventually, I dove right back in. I sought comfort, safety, and most importantly, the look of affection in my father’s face, my mother’s unbelievably soft hands in mine, and the feeling that they still wanted to know me.
And I fell in love. First, with being a part of my family again and then, with a gorgeous LDS missionary…Rick.
Years later, Rick and I emerged from the bishop’s office, on this night, and found ourselves unzipping that nylon tent door, taking deep collective breaths. And together, we gathered our little girls into our arms and we took a step, just outside the tent. I gulped in the fresh air and kissed him fervently, trying to communicate my gratitude through those kisses. I squeezed his hands tightly in mine, and I promised him we would not trade my happiness for his. If he could not bear to be outside the tent, we would re-enter together. I would not leave him, and I would not want him to be unhappy. It was me that was changing the rules. The anxiety I felt in taking action, the idea that he may resent me, or secretly think I was a bad person overwhelmed me so completely, I could barely move. Rick was stiff and unnatural, unwilling to engage or talk any more about what was happening… but his love for me was soft and liquid in his eyes, and it kept me calm enough to breathe in and out.
Eventually, I turned and let go of his hand, wanting to move from the threshold, and for the first time, allowed myself to examine the place I had devoted my entire life to. I knew this time I would need to know where I had been.
I was shocked beyond belief.
I had been confident that I knew the LDS doctrine, the scriptures, the history, the prophets. Even after stepping out, I would have balked and bristled at the implication that inside those walls a cult was thriving. Or that my people were not Christians. I would have fought tooth and nail with anyone that implied such treacheries.
Being a mormon simply did not make me happy, and I was unable to explain why. Until I allowed myself to look at it with open eyes. The tent was constructed out of only one material.
And in the details of that fear, came such shock and alarm, I felt newly shattered. There is no bounds to the betrayal I felt in the things I discovered about the place I had called home my entire life.
I begged Rick…
Come and look!
Did you know this?
Did you have any idea?
Why did we accept this?
How did we allow it?
Can you fathom how deep these deceptions run?
But he did not want to look. For him, he had been out in the world, searching for safety and sanctuary when he entered the LDS faith. Inside, he met me, the most beautiful and intelligent woman he had ever laid eyes on (ha, couldn’t resist!) He would step back out to save me, but he did not wish to soil his glowing feelings about a place that had brought him so many blessings. It was the place we had discovered each other and had woven ourselves together in the most deeply intimate ways.
So I circled the tent, and really investigated all that it is. White hot, acidic anger liquified my insides. I was unprepared for the way it pulverized me. I had not recognized how my LDS faith and culture had infiltrated every thought and action and belief…it was the material I was made of. Upon examination from the outside, the whole structure seemed to burn to ash, along with my entire sense of identity, my culture…my tribe. The discovery turned me to ash too.
Rick, unable to watch me howl with rage and torment alone, tentatively stepped again to my side, and ever so slowly he let me share the betrayals and shocking discoveries with him. The anger lit a fire under me and we ran for it. Deep into the mountain terrain, fueled by fury and a sense that I no longer existed at all. It felt as if I had just witnessed my own death, and the disembodiment was astonishing.
I marinated in this anger for a long, long time. It still flares in me when I nurture it. But Rick did not understand it. He was not spoon-fed these stories and emotionally manipulated since he was in diapers or had fear infused into his every cell since birth.
The vast differences in how we processed our new, open-air surroundings left us staring at each other as if we had just met. It was a bizarre mirroring of the first time we met as strangers on top of the Empire State Building. Back then we had a year of snail mail letters and a shoebox of audio tapes sent back and forth in the USPS, a relationship born in a mailbox. When we came together we were unknown, and yet deeply known to each other.
We found ourselves strangers once again. We were in the wilderness without the safe confines of shelter and a long list of rules to measure ourselves by. Unknown to one another, but with four years of history and two baby girls between us. Our temple marriage, the vows we took…they were cremated too.
And the phoenix is our love, still rising from the ashes.