Showing posts with label fear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fear. Show all posts

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Stranger's Kindness

                I had a minor panic episode this morning while walking to a doctor’s appointment.  I was crossing an intersection when a car drove by, the driver yelling something at me.  I jumped in fear; my heart constricted and my lungs contracted as a wave of dizziness washed over me.  My body froze as I stood on the sidewalk waiting to return to a state of equilibrium. 
A crossing-guard noticed my reaction and asked if I was okay.  Without much forethought or conscious effort, I found myself telling this concerned stranger all about my accident and my fear.   Two years ago, I was hit by an elderly driver while walking across the street.  I was on the crosswalk with two other pedestrians – the driver drove up onto the median and hit all of us.  I was the first person to get hit – my head went through the windshield, leaving me with a mild traumatic brain injury and a laceration above my right eye that required 100+ stitches and missed slicing my eye by less than a millimeter.  The crossing-guard was sympathetic – she listened to the babbling of a stranger with patience, her face a mirror of empathy. 
I explained to the kind woman that my life at the moment is about balancing my fears – I panic at the sight of on-coming cars, which leaves me with the option of either panicking while driving or panicking while walking.  A few months ago, when I was trying to drive again, I was almost hit by another driver.  I came very close to blacking out from the incident, which has left me with a deep-seated fear of causing a car accident from my anxieties.  At this point in time, I choose to face my fears while walking.  At the very least, I can stand on the sidewalk until my fear subsides. 
In return, the woman told me about her fear of driving – she was rear-ended last year.  Now whenever she sees a car behind her, she is anxious that she will get hit from behind again.  I told her I was sorry to hear about her accident and we commiserated about Houston traffic.  She told me I was strong, which brought me to the point of tears – I do not feel like a strong woman.  We talked for another ten minutes, about life and marriage and family, before I had to leave to make my doctor’s appointment.  I thanked her and said good-bye. 
I wish I had given her a hug.  Or told her just how much her sympathy meant to me.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In Memory Of A Friend

         My friend Billy* was a year younger than I was, a sweet kid with brown hair that curled into ringlets and enormous blue eyes.  He came from a very poor family; he was also a non-conformist who wore chains on his Sunday dress-pants and listened to Linkin Park.  The opinion of the ward was stacked against my friend, as adults and teenagers alike whispered about him.  There were rumors that he skipped school, that he smoked cigarettes, that he had “bad” friends.  I never knew the truth of these rumors - we attended different high schools - but I do know that he loved his little sister dearly.  Her face lit up when she saw her older brother and he always gave her a hug.  My junior year of high school - my final year of church attendance - we were both prone to skipping sacrament meetings.  Sometimes we would cross paths as we wandered the empty church halls.  Our discussions were always topical - school, life, jokes.  The elephant in the room - our personal reasons for skipping sacrament meeting - was never addressed.  I was too afraid of the possibility of condemnation to confide in my friend.  
         Billy committed suicide my freshman year of college; he jumped off a bridge to meet the jagged rocks below.  I never mustered the courage to tell him about my shattered belief; now I am left with the empty feeling of having failed him in some crucial way.  I reached my limit at the start of my senior year of high school; I quit attending church and withdrew into a shell as I struggled to cope with my father’s anger, my mother’s heart-break, and the various gossip surrounding my exit.  We lost touch as I sorted out the aftermath of my exit; dealing with any Mormon, no matter how sweet or atypical, was just too painful.  And then he was dead and there was no second chance for reconciliation, no way of letting him know that he wasn’t alone.  I suspect he may have been going through the same struggles I was.  But I will never know the truth.  
          But what I do know is that being a non-conformist or a non-believer among Mormons is a very stressful and isolating experience.  A year after Billy committed suicide, I attempted to take my own life.  My father was making petty judgmental comments about my character while my mother was interrogating me about my “sinful” lifestyle.  The idea that my parents - the two people in the world that were supposed to love me unconditionally - had turned against their apostate daughter was too heavy a burden to bear.  The prospect of the impending years seemed bleak; I thought I would never regain what I lost when I left.  That was a very, very low point in my life and one that I never wish to return to.  And so I am compelled to write, in order to describe the warp and weft of a life spent traveling a different path in life.  A life that, in the years since my suicide attempt, has grown deep and rich from a curiosity about the world at large.  
         And so this brings me to the issue of why I write this blog.  Why I am going public with my story.  I grapple with the issue of sharing my story in a public venue; I worry that I am self-centered, that I will hurt my family, that my story is not relevant.  But then I am reminded of Billy and of why I need to write.  I want faithful Mormons to know that people who choose to leave the Church are not bad people.  We exist and are fellow human beings, with all the hopes and dreams and aspirations that make humanity so wonderful.  We deserve respect, to have our choices and beliefs honored.  I want the people who have never been involved with the Mormon Church to have a deeper understanding of what it means to be associated with this peculiar American faith.  And most of all, I write because I want others who are struggling with their faith to know that they are not alone.  I want them to know that their doubts do not make them a bad person and that life will get better, as they find the courage to shape their own destiny.
          Billy deserved better; he deserved to know that he wasn’t alone.  I have failed one person by my silence; I will not fail another.   

*Name has been changed

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Only Sin Worse Than Murder

          A couple weeks ago, I read “The Girls From Fourth Ward” by Donna Banta.  The book was a dark romp into the world of teenaged Mormon girls, complete with the bishop from hell.  One of the scenes that lingered in my mind was a conversation between the four girls about the consequences of leaving the Mormon church.  Mormon theology teaches that the only sin worse than murder is renouncing the teachings of the church.  In the mixed-up minds of these four teenaged girls, this teaching somehow justified the murder of a bishop who was acting as an obstacle to fulfilling their potential as ideal Mormon women (and achieving access to the highest level of Heaven).  This example is extreme and one that I hope is relegated to the pages of fiction.  But the conversation in this book brought up very painful memories of just how afraid I was when I began questioning my faith.  
          When I was sixteen, and my faith was just beginning to crack, the missionaries were asked to teach my Sunday School class for a week.  Being the missionaries, they decided to use the opportunity to show off their knowledge of the Gospel.  We were treated to an overview of the Gospel and the three-fold mission of the Church: perfect the saints, preach the Gospel to the world, and redeem the dead.
          Then the missionaries started talking about the levels of heaven.  I grew up learning about the Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial Kingdoms but I had heard very little about Outer Darkness, which was a fate too awful for my mind to even comprehend.
          “Don’t worry.” the missionaries assured my class.  “It’s almost impossible to get sent to Outer Darkness.  You have to either kill someone or renounce the teachings of the Church.  And even murder is forgivable in some situations.”
          Uh oh.  I sat there on my hard plastic chair, painfully aware that I was in the process of committing the only sin worse than murder.  The only sin that meant irrevocable exile to Outer Darkness.  I felt as though I had been punched in the gut.  The rest of the day was a blur as I mulled over the lesson and all of its implications on my life.  
          I was upset for a while.  Upset and terrified.  But as the lesson began to sink in, I began to get angry.  Really angry.  Boiling, red-hot anger that started at the top of my head and crawled its way down my body.  I knew that what I was doing -- asking questions of my religion and expecting rational answers -- was not a sin.  The fact that I had received no answer, the fact that logic dictated that there could be no proof, did not mean that I was a bad human being.  And yet, as part of Mormon Church, this sin of mine was worse than killing another human being.  I began to see the Church in a different light; I could no longer rationalize its goodness.
          I reached my limit that day.  I was tired; tired of feeling like I was less faithful, less worthy, simply because the answers I had received were not the “correct” answers.  This lesson tipped the balance from grief about my lack of faith to anger at an unforgiving authoritarian religion.  This anger gave me the courage to start my journey out of Mormonism, as I began to untangle the many threads woven throughout my up-bringing.  A year after this lesson, I made a permanent break with the church.  I am grateful that I managed to find the courage to break away, even while faced with the threat of absolute damnation.  But for every person that does manage to come to terms with their lack of belief, there are ten more that stay because they are too afraid to commit the one sin worse than murder.