"Through small and simple choices are great changes brought to pass."
Life is hard.
Most days, I'm not sure I see the point of the everyday. It's a never ending battle between what we want to do and what we know we're supposed to do. Like this inner turmoil that tears constantly at our soul. I know I need to be productive, but what I really want is to stay in bed. I know I need to teach my children the things that will make them happy and functioning adults, but what I really want is to let them watch Netflix all day. I know I need to write, but I'd just as soon keep my stories to myself than suffer the pain of criticism. I know I need to be healthier, but what I really want is cake.
Ever feel like what you want always seems to be wrong?
Will it kill my children to let them binge watch an entire season of Lab Rats? Will letting a few extra loads of laundry pile up bring the world crashing down? Will that slice of cake really go straight to my hips? It all seems so mundane that in the grand scheme of things, does any of it truly matter?
I'm sorry to say that yes. It does.
In political theorist Hannah Arendt's 1963 book "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil," she analyzes the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the man tasked with the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and concentration camps during World War II. Arendt observed that Eichmann felt no guilt for his actions, nor bitterness toward those trying him. As far as he was concerned he was not responsible for the atrocities committed, because he was simply doing his job. She goes on to conclude that people who often carry out these unspeakable mass organized crimes are not monsters at all, but simply individuals who are doing the administrative tasks assigned to them--from the plumbers who laid the water pipes in the crematorium to the chemists who developed the killing agent Zyklon B. Though her ideas are somewhat controversial, Arendt's term "banality of evil" would later be coined to mean that evil often comes in the form of bureaucracy--in everyday people carrying out their everyday lives.
But can the same not be said for good?
On Memorial Day in the United States we celebrate and honor those who have died in active military service. This is one of the few days that we celebrate heroes, not the ones with super powers we see on the silver screen, but everyday people carrying out their everyday lives. Real heroes such as soldiers, policemen, firefighters, nurses, paramedics, choose to spend their everyday helping others. They choose to participate in grueling and sometimes monotonous tasks that allow them to keep others safe.
And maybe being a parent isn't quite that life-or-death, but is it not through those small and simple consistencies that we somehow add good to the world? Is it not by teaching my children compassion that the world becomes a little more compassionate? Is it not by cleaning up their little messes that I show them the value of service? Is it not by chastising them that I help them to grow? Is it not by choosing to get my tail out of bed and care about their well-being that I show them what it's like to be loved so that they can love others?
Is it not through those small and simple choices, made in the moment, that great changes come to pass?
Yes, it's monotonous, and probably always will be. But it is through these everyday tasks--through the banality of it all, the common, mundane, and boring--that we can do the most good. So maybe the next time I want to hit snooze on my alarm or roll my eyes at another load of dishes, I'll keep in mind just how much I can do through the everyday. After all, if Eichmann could pull off an atrocity to the scale of the Holocaust by simply being a "paper-pusher," then imagine how much good I could do in contrast if I actually tried.
"Suicide doesn't guarantee that nothing will ever get worse. It guarantees that nothing will ever get better."
Nothing about me is typical. I’m not your average American white woman. Your average mother and wife. Your average student. Your average Mormon.
I am so much more.
For our Sociology class this semester, we were asked to put together a box which we would call our “Culture Chest”—a representation of all the elements of our backgrounds and our preferences that we think define us. In the box pictured above, you will find a cumulation of what makes me me. Ironically enough, most of the items contained within, meant to relate the story of my 33 years, actually represent events which have happened only in the last few of them, beginning with one defining moment.
The day I almost died.
I couldn’t explain to you what it felt like to hold the pills in my hand. I couldn’t explain to you the sudden onset of panic as the entire handful of them slid down my throat. I couldn’t tell you the sensation of losing control of every muscle in my body, or what my husband said to me as I began to lose consciousness. Ultimately, I couldn’t tell you more than a small fraction of events that happened in the next few hours, or next few days, after being wheeled into the Emergency Room. But the one thing I do remember is a single line playing over and over again in my head: “They’re all better off without you.”
There are only two items inside this box that represent the struggle that was my life before that moment. First, is an envelope from a two-page letter I received when I was only fourteen. It is at that age, in my faith—the faith which my family has been a part of since it began—that a member receives what is called a Patriarchal Blessing. Designed to be a guide for the person receiving it, a Patriarchal Blessing is the only blessing within the Church that is recorded. It is a special message imparted on the receiver by one whose sole purpose within the Church is to relay such blessings. Within not much more than a few pages it outlines, in vague detail, guidance on just what it is that that person is meant to do within their time on earth. It can contain information on everything from path to purpose, and for me one line has stood out as an influence in nearly every decision I have ever made since that moment. “He has a great work for you to do while on the earth.”
No pressure, right?
The other of those two items is wherein lies the rub. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” written and issued by the leaders of the Church in 1995, outlines the purpose of the family and the roles each individual plays in it. “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are to help one another as equal partners,” it says. Like most members are expected to do, I married young, at the tender age of nineteen, and was pregnant with my first child by twenty. “Primarily responsible for the nurture of their children”? But what about my great work? What about the entire reason I believed I was even on the earth in the first place? How in the world was I supposed to do both?
And for a long time, I tried. I believed in both vehemently. I knew, and had always felt, that I was meant for something special. That I was meant for something more. But the more I tried to do outside the home, the greater pressure I felt towards my responsibilities within it. After all, all the other women in the Church could keep an immaculate home, maintain perfectly well-mannered children, homeschool, hand sew elaborate Halloween costumes, run blogs, start nonprofits, and spend hours setting up Christmas parties for a hundred people, so why couldn’t I?
Eventually, of course, I crashed and burned. I couldn’t do it, and I knew it. My kids were falling hopelessly behind in our state-sponsored homeschool program, my house looked like a tornado had torn through a Toys-R-Us, and I wasn’t accomplishing a single one of the things I felt might contribute to my “great work.” Unfortunately, my husband wasn’t fairing any better. Working 70 hours a week, going to school full time to finish his degree, and serving as leader to the men’s organization at church, he was just as frustrated and distant as I was. Ultimately, unrealistic expectations on both our parts lead to my demise. I began flirting with an unhealthy habit as poor consolation, left the Church in shame for it, spiraled into anxiety and depression, and landed myself in the ICU. For my family, friends, and readers, that ER visit was assumed to be the result of nothing more than a severe panic attack, and though I'm sure that's what led up to it, only my husband and medical staff knew otherwise.
Everything else in this box represents what happened afterwards.
The picture inside the box of myself and my husband, at one of our favorite date-night places (Krispy Kreme), was taken four months after recovery from my suicide attempt. Not only were we spending more time together, but both of us had just finished a healthy challenge competition in which I had placed fourth in the individual level, having lost twenty pounds in eight weeks. I’d been seeing a therapist and psychiatrist since my hospital stay, had finally learned to prioritize taking better care of myself physically, and felt better than I had in a very long time.
Eventually, I found the strength to go back to church. Only this time, I let go of the image of everything I thought I was supposed to be. I learned to distinguish between the gospel and the culture—learned to distinguish between the teachings of Christ that I so deeply believed in and the culture which everyone else dictated they thought it meant. I realized that I didn’t believe in “The Church,” I believed in the Gospel. That I didn’t follow the culture, I followed Christ. In a lengthy and revealing blog post titled “Why I Left the Church is Also Why I Came Back,” I explained that I wasn’t perfect and that, more importantly, that was okay. I had made mistakes. I wasn’t infallible and I couldn’t keep up. I couldn’t do it alone. I wasn’t Super Woman. And I was no longer going to try to be—nor was I going to be allowed to be made to feel guilty for it, by myself or anyone else.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. The post went insanely viral on my own blog, and was picked up by a magazine called LDS Living. In a matter of days, the article was read over 200,000 times worldwide. It was published in the print version of LDS Living a few months later (a copy of which is inside the box), and has since been one of their most popular stories. I also found out I wasn’t alone. Other authors and bloggers had spoken out on the subject of burnout as well, and the Church has since launched initiatives, like their Mental Health resources program, to aid in combating the struggles of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorder.
A few months after the article was published, my husband and I put in an offer on what would be our first single-family home. At the time, we weren’t even planning on buying one. I just happened to come across the listing while browsing online. The thing which caught my eye was that the house was nearly an exact replica of the house I had been designing for the last five years—the dream home that my husband and I had been working and saving so hard for. Despite several other offers which were on the table, ours was accepted immediately, by the LDS family who was selling it. A month later, we moved into what was the only single-family home I’d ever lived in, the house pictured in the photo above. Growing up in poverty, I’d always lived in relative’s basements, trailers, apartments, and duplexes before that time. For months afterwards, I would sit in my living room after everyone else had gone to sleep, look around, and find it hard to believe that it was actually mine.
Over the next couple of years, my family and I would enjoy even more milestones and memories than I could ever imagine. I attended my first live concert, my first prom with my husband, my son’s baptism, and my daughter’s introduction into the Young Women’s program at church as she turned twelve. My husband finally graduated with a degree in business a year after my hospital stay, after having spent six years balancing work, school, and family. As a graduation present to him, I arranged a two-week vacation to Japan with two of our dearest friends, which consisted of more firsts than I could count. I’d never even been on a plane before, let alone out of the country. It was my first time in a big city, my first time on a subway. It was my first time on a train, my first time on a dinner cruise, my first time to eat sushi. It was my first time to go to Disney World.
Since that trip to the Emergency Room two and a half years ago, I’ve continued to focus more on what I think my life should be, instead of what I think everyone else expects of me. I’ve learned to embrace the “fathers and mothers are to help one another as equal partners” portion of the Proclamation, and let go of defining whatever my “great work” might be. I’ve learned to focus on my strengths, instead of my weaknesses—learned to stop comparing myself to others and let go of what I think they think. I’ve returned to school at the ripe old age of 33, to finish Bachelors degrees in Emergency Management, Political Science, and Psychology, to explore and contribute in the areas that interest me the most. I’ve also chosen to focus on my writing, and have since finished my first novel, When Darkness Builds. In short, I’ve chosen to “just do me.”
Because in the end, that’s all any of us can ever be.
I still struggle on a daily basis. I still have a panic disorder, now compounded with a recently developed arrhythmia that has yet to be properly identified. I still struggle with depression, and the constant fear that I have no idea what I'm doing and that one day everyone else will figure that out. I still struggle with my weight. I still struggle with my roles. I still struggle to get out of bed every morning. But despite all of those things, I'm still here.
And, for the first time in a very long time, I know that here is where I truly want to be.
"Because we could all use a touch of sportive satire right about now."
For some it begins early. For others, even more so. They gather in their great halls, dressed in their ceremonious reds, whites, and blues, with the name of their evangelist of choice painted across their chests. They listen proudly and shed tears of joy as others, clearly more knowledgeable in such matters than themselves, pronounce the magnificence of their chosen predicant and sing (in wild, foot-stomping melodies) the glories of his or her name. “He’s the one that will save us!” they chant with a riotous hope. “See the greatness of her accomplishments!” they exclaim in sincere and overly-excited reverence. And all the while they condemn their enemies, those evil fools who would dare mock and disdain their great and palpable papabile.
Once they’ve been so moved upon by the Spirit of patriotism as to work each other into a righteous frenzy, they will then go forth in great armies among their neighbors and friends, proclaiming their gospels to all who are (mostly) willing to hear, as if at the very walls of Jericho itself. “He’ll change your life for the better,” they proselyte, “as he cuts taxes for the middle-class!” “She’ll protect those who cannot protect themselves,” they testify, “as she abolishes abortion!” Like the crusaders of old, they will flood their streets and Facebook feeds with prophesies of better times, better education, and lower unemployment—if you’ll but join them in their suffrage.
But if you so choose to disagree with their beliefs, prepare to feel the burn of righteous indignation. For once you become one of them, once you willing submit to that grand old party, you’ll no longer entertain the outlandish claims of your people’s past mistakes. How dare you presume to purport that my potential leader may be morally questionable, or slightly hypocritical, or even just plain wrong. Why, attacking everything she stands for, or the platform he stands upon, is like attacking me! Now repent you immoral, un-American Satanist, and join us on our mission. Cease to dispute the truth that we’ve so painfully obtained and make your choice (as long as it agrees with ours) before it’s too late!
And then, beneath the chilly guise of a Tuesday in early November, the day of judgement finally arrives. They’ll line up outside their assigned parish, having earned their place through everything from birthright to being unfriended by twenty followers, and wait in anxious anticipation for a chance to step into the confession box. They know by now that long ago the founders of this new-fangled religion designed the system in such a way that their individual choice today would have very little impact on its own. After all, the simple, uneducated believer has no business in making the ultimate choice on who the next great and powerful P.O.T.U.S. will be. It is the electoral conclave that will do this.
For once, long ago, the people were not so righteous. They were not so educated in the ways of the world. Heaven forbid the people have the ultimate say in who will be the next leader of that new religion. Heaven forbid they be given the opportunity to ensue tumult and disorder, to be lead astray by that false prophet which could so easily manipulate the unknowing masses. No, the fathers were much wiser than this. The electoral would insure that only the worthiest messiah would be given such powers, that only the most qualified would lead.
But that matters not to the people. They are there to prove what kind of person they are, to make the “right” decision. They are there to join in a sense of community, to identify with intelligent, responsible, like-minded individuals such as themselves in the hopes of banning together in what they know would otherwise be a futile attempt to “make a difference” on their own. They will carefully tap inside the little box and emerge victorious, proudly displaying their self-adhesive badge of honor proclaiming “I Voted!” for all to see. And all of this they will do for the sole purpose of being able to later say, “I didn’t vote for that idiot,” when things go poorly, or, “I chose him!” when they go well. No, they are there to express themselves. They are there for the chance to be justified in their convictions. There to be right in their righteousness.
Once it is all said and done, once their penance to God and country has been paid, they will gather in their homes and at their watch parties and in their private places. They will wait in white-knuckled anticipation as each ballot is carefully counted, as each electoral vote roles in. They will hold their breath in hope and in faith that they have made the right decision. That their candidate is backed by Heaven and by God and by all that is good and right in the world. And then when all is said and done, when that great anticipation is finally over and we all know with a complete certainty just who our new messiah will be, they will chant and they will cheer and they will cry as their newly appointed Savior takes the pulpit and addresses them as one in a tone of revered humility, both comforting and wise.
But for others, for those whose choice was not the popular one, they will mourn. For to them, there is no cause to celebrate. A great earthquake has shaken through their world, and all they know and love. They were so sure in their cause, so certain in their convictions. So fully they believed in the righteousness of their ways and what their prophet-of-choice stood for. What will become of them in a world that no longer sees itself the way that they do? What will become of them and their so-closely held beliefs now?
Do these people, these “others,” have any idea what they’ve done? Do these people truly realize what leadership by this Unholy One entails? Have they really thought about the consequences of their actions? Do they not realize the darkness that will now descend on the land they once loved so much, on the America we no longer recognize? For these select few the process will continue for long after the deed is done and over. They will take up their righteous mantles and resort to crusading in the streets and in their places of business and on their Twitter feeds. “He’s not my President!” they will exclaim. “We didn’t vote for her!” they will insist.
As for most, once the storm has subsided and the calm ensues, they will go on about their lives, celebrating and hopeful or otherwise completely indifferent. Like the Sunday evening after service, they will return to their schools and to their jobs without giving such matters a second thought, melancholic and mostly unaffected until such time as called upon again to battle diligently for the sake of all that is democratically holy.
In another four years.
Why I Left the Church
The Importance of Friendship
Secrets to Staying Sane
Fighting the Rain