Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.
Years ago, a hummingbird flew right into our tent. I was sweeping out the last vestiges of pine needles and tree bark before packing it in for the weekend. The flittering beauty zipped right in through the partially open door. Its minuscule fluttering wings almost completely invisible with speed, she seemed to be floating in the air in front of me. She glided through the streaming sunlight, pausing at the mesh windows and then up to the crisscrossing tent poles at the ceiling. I was awestruck by her beauty and bravery as she explored the nylon cave of our tent.
When Rick and I married in an LDS temple, I followed him back into the mormon life. I had already attempted to leave, declare my independence. My attempt had been incredibly painful, and I was carrying some pretty big scars. After taking a shaky stand, I had serious doubts that I would ever be comfortable at a family gathering, or feel truly accepted by my parents. The difference between “I love you” and “I love you but do not approve of you” was a deep, dark chasm I had been lost in before meeting Rick. He offered me a way back into the fold, and he was so easy to love. I believed my love for him would deliver me the kind of testimony I had been seeking my whole life. I believed that the way his love had softened me, lightened me, and healed my wounds would make the LDS faith much easier to take in to my spirit.
Not long after entering, the hummingbird became frenzied, her movement more unpredictable and choppy. She began zooming from one side of the tent to the other, always close to the top of the dome. She was realizing that she was not in her element. Somehow, she had confidently flown in to explore and now she was disoriented. Trapped. She wanted O-U-T. Maybe my presence was scaring her. I completely unzipped the big, yawning door and stepped outside. Without my presence, she would find the bright, dappled sunlight beyond the door and be free. But when I went to check on our dainty guest…she was wild with stress. She was physically smacking into the nylon walls of the tent, the whisking of her delicate wings on the taut material caused a corresponding flutter of anxiety in my gut. I left her alone again. She just needed more time. But each time I went to check on her she was still whapping her fragile little body against the tent ceiling, only a few feet from freedom. I tried shooing her out with my hands, with the broom. She fought.
It was not long after we married that I knew. Love did not conquer nor quell the disquiet in my soul. The same niggling doubts and discomfort, the same sense of being trapped and smothered by my mormonism did not melt away. I felt betrayed by my own naivety. I could not hide it, so I was honest about my fears with my brand new husband. Just a few weeks after our wedding, I had my first panic attack in front of him. We were asked to give 10-15 minute talks in front of the whole congregation.* Rick was assigned the topic of “the evils of pornography.” Quite the ice breaker. My topic was about faith. The night before, I was a complete wreck. He had never seen me so distraught and irrational. I was supposed to be writing this talk, and the more I tried, the more panic I felt at the growing knowing inside me. The undeniable fact that I was still faking it. The temple wedding and uncomfortable mormon underwear did not change it. I threw my notebook with my half written speech at him. The look of shock in his eyes I still remember 10 years later. His reaction was to offer to give me a blessing.**
Eventually, I settled down. I gave the talk. And many, many more. I threw myself into the life of a mormon wife. I read “faith promoting material” and daily scriptures, prayed, attended church, fasted, served callings and supported Rick in every way I could. Peppered into our life were many tearful conversations, after the lights had turned out and we lay in the darkness. Me, trying to loosen the tentacles of doubt that wrapped themselves insistently around my neck.
Finally, I became aware of the absence of her struggling thwaps. Thank GOD. I went to the corner of the tent and yanked a stake from the soil, eager to get the tent put away and go home. Something burst inside me when I caught a glimpse of her through the open tent door. I had assumed the absence of her buzzing wings and desperate thunking meant she had found freedom. But it was utter, hopeless resignation instead. Our hummingbird was hanging upside down from one of the tent poles. Like a bat. Succumbing to whatever fate was dealt her, she was too exhausted to continue her fight, too disoriented to carry on. The door was big, and wide, and she would not fly through it. I could not catch her and force her release. I walked right up to her and looked her in the eye. I saw myself.
The day after Rick offered to leave our religion, on this night, we shuffled into the bishops’ office to seek guidance and counsel. Rick was distraught. He was desperately trying to hold the pieces of me together. But I was not broken, I was disappearing altogether.
We sat in chairs opposite his desk, and with Rick’s hand warm on my thigh, I unzipped my soul and laid it on the table before him. The bishop listened. He asked questions, and I wept with swollen, heart rending shame. Grief made my sinuses and throat swell shut, my voice eclipsed by my failure. After an hour and a half, there was silence. I believed the bishop was searching for the right words, the spiritual direction that I needed to survive this. Guidance, from the Lord. We waited with great anticipation, for some healing words of wisdom.
Finally, our bishop said solemnly, “Fake it till you make it.”
We waited as long as we could, and then Rick left me alone, to check the tent again. He knew I needed to be the first to look. I felt like that hummingbird was stuck in my throat and my heart was trying to pound her out. I peeked cautiously inside.
She was gone. Released. Free.
*mormon men who hold a certain level of priesthood, given to them by other men who deem him worthy, have the ability to perform special blessings and rituals. This priesthood power is one of the most sustaining elements of a couple’s marriage. Women can not “hold the priesthood,” and rely on the men in the church to wield this sacred and special power.
**There are no “sermons” at the LDS church. The church service consists of blessing and taking a sacrament of bread and water, and then talks prepared and given by members of the congregation. One is called and assigned a topic, and length of time by a member of the bishoprick, the group of men at the head of the ward, or church group. Saying no to this request is highly frowned upon. Mormons believe the bishoprick is asking them based on inspiration from God, and saying no is equivalent to saying no to God.