Thursday, July 25, 2013

Trip to Mormon Country (aka St. George, Utah)

I'm about to lose my mind. I'm sitting in the passenger seat as my dad drives home from St. George, Utah. We are passing Vegas as I type this and I think about how the chances of me throwing myself out the window in the next four hours are becoming greater with every passing moment. It's been a while since I ventured inland. I like to stay by the coasts as a general rule, since being away from the ocean makes me a lunatic. If that isn't enough my Dad is decidedly the worst driver in the world, and my mother is the most excitable passenger in the world, so there was a lot of screaming, throwing of peanuts, snapping, laughing derisively at each other, and threatening to pull over so whoever had a problem with the way my dad was driving could get out and walk. But really, he's the worst driver in the world. I'm not exaggerating. We say that he drives by the braille method because he likes to ride the raised bumps in between lanes instead of picking a lane and sticking to it. It's horrifying.

So this trip made me realized how I live a pretty great life.  I live humbly, but my life is rich with interesting things, healthy food, good books, beautiful people, and pleasant weather. I have a job, which I love to complain about, but it's the easiest and most enjoyable job you can imagine. I spend my days running, making art, writing, and connecting with the people around me. I generally do what moves me. It's mind-blowing when I look at my younger cousins who are all married with multiple children, and I can't imagine myself in their shoes.

When I think about what my life could have been like had I chosen the path my Dad had in mind, it astounds me. 

I was born in Provo, Utah, to two Mormon parents. When I was a little girl, my Mom left the church while my Dad stayed in it. I chose not to join the church at a very young age, which terrified all of my relatives. While this might not necessarily seem like a big deal to most, my ancestors led oxen and covered wagons barefoot and pregnant across the plains to Utah so that they could freely practice Mormonism. It is a big deal in my family, and they take it seriously. To add insult to injury, I'm related to half the state of Utah between my Mother's and my Father's families. My ancestry before that goes all the way back to the Mayflower. I think. I've said that for a really long time, and I don't know if it's true, or if I just took liberties with the genealogy program my grandma let me play with. It's actually pretty easy to trace your lineage back to just about anything when you come from a long line of people who have entire litters of children instead of just one or two. From this expansive lineage, I've been endowed with a Protetsant work ethic, strong bones, and an unrelenting desire desire to cross America on foot. I guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. 

"the girls in the church"
(my mom and I)
Mormons have a saying that you can take the girl out of the church, but you can't take the church out of the girl. I just might be a walking testament of this. While I don't accept the beliefs of my family, I accept my family and I love them. Even though they are obviously aliens that adopted me. And despite the fact that I completely resented not being allowed to dress in the scandalizing clothes of my peers as a child (read: tank tops, skirts above the knee), and not being able to watch any movies that had anything above a PG rating until I was an adult, I actually appreciate the way I was raised and I see the value in it. My parents didn't let us watch TV when I was a kid, and I am eternally grateful for that. 

(As an adult, I have yet to own one, and don't plan on it any time soon. I usually don't tell people about my aversion to television because they immediately conclude that I am a pretentious intellectual. I don't think I am an intellectual, but I am definitely a snob, at least about not watching TV. It's not that I don't enjoy it. Who doesn't enjoy zoning out? It's just that I can't sit still, and I have a lot of conspiracy theories about advertising and secret plots of the media, which makes it impossible to enjoy a show without pissing off everyone around me. "Oh my God, you guys, did you just see that can of Lysol on the counter next to the Aloe Vera plant? Nice advertisement."  or "That was really bad writing. Wow. I thought you said this show had good writing. These characters are totally undeveloped." I take it too far, and I know it. So I just avoid the topic altogether in order to lessen the misery of the people around me. I digress. I ALSO
realize that it's stretching it to put an entire paragraph inside of parentheses.)

What my Mom taught me when I was growing up was that life was not about trying to win a popularity contest. Whenever I would say, "But pleeeease, Mom! Please let me go out with this boy in my six grade class! All the other girls have boyfriends!" She would flatly refuse and tell me that she didn't care how other parents were screwing up their children, and she didn't care what they thought of her, because she wasn't trying to win a popularity contest. Because being the most popular girl in my class (which I never was, not even close--I didn't even make it out of the "loser" category) was the most important thing in the world to me, I concluded that she was evil, and out to ruin my life. She would compound that feeling when she threw cliches at me like, "What is popular is not always right, what is right is not always popular."  Looking back, I was a really unattractive 11 year-old, so I'm glad that she saved me from the pain of rejection I would surely feel after I secured her permission to have a boyfriend in elementary school, only to find out it was impossible anyway. Somehow, I guess all of those aphorisms finally sunk in. That lesson--doing what is right for myself and not trying to win a popularity contest--that is an idea that I've lived by. Like my best friend Carolina says, sometimes you have to give up your need to be cool.

I went to Utah because I wanted to grow as a person (read: make myself uncomfortable, punish myself). One could say that I've cut off ties with my Mormon family for about the last ten years. I haven't shown up to Thanksgivings, Christmases, graduations, mission farewells, births, or deaths. I've avoided Utah, Nevada and Arizona in case I run into a distant relative. When I decided not to get baptized when I was a kid, and when I left the church, I guess I kind of threw out the baby with the bathwater. I rejected the religion, and so in turn, I rejected my entire family, and then told myself that it was them who rejected me. It's silly, I know. But sometimes I tell myself stories like this one just to protect my identity. 

I knew that I had to go face the music because of the project I'm doing. Just like I reached out to veterans and took their cause on as my own, teaching myself how to be compassionate and caring towards a group of people I've never tried to understand, I knew I had to extend the same olive branch to my family. I thought for sure it would be the most difficult thing in the world to reach out and humble myself before a group of people that I felt I'd been ostracized by, but I knew it was important. Like I've said before in this blog, you can't really choose who you show compassion to. You should show love and empathy to everyone. If I decided to deny my family the same courtesy I was offering the rest of the world, it would make me a hypocrite.

This is what I realized when I was in Utah. For the last twenty years, I've been missing out. Once I approached relationships with them without the filter of  "you-people-are-mother-effing-crazy-and-i want-absolutely-nothing-to-do-with-you" I saw that they actually have a lot to offer. They've created a community, a support network, a web of blonde-haired people, that I've completely been blind to. They were kind to me, happy to see me, very loving, and interesting to talk to. I realized about halfway through the trip that this whole time, regardless of whether they were judging me or not, I was definitely judging them. I was putting up the same wall that I put up with all things that I don't like, but that closely resemble me, all in order to protect my delicate ego.

While I was in St. George, I went on a drive with my Dad to Mount Zion National Park, a place where red rocks jut out of the earth skyward and carve out rivers and green vallies. The sky seems more expansive than in California, the air more crisp and clear. I started running up the side of the mountain and I realized the whole time that I wasn't able to appreciate the beauty of the place because the entire time I was thinking, "Mormon Country. Huh!" as if the whole place was ruined because it is inhabited  by a group of people that I have a complicated history with. As if Mormons ever did anything more threatening to me than bring plates of cookies to my door and ask me to come to choir practice. Sure, that's oversimplifying it, but to explain the whole story I would need another blog.

In Zion National Park, there is a formation called a blind arch. Its a natural rock formation and it's called "blind" because it is not a true arch, since you can't see through it to the other side. It's named after arches in Medieval churchers that were similarly filled in. The funny thing is that the blind arches in Zion National Park all look like human eyes. Kind of ironic. So, the arches are only blind because you say that they are. Once you realize that they are watching you trying to figure them out, you realize that they should  be called "seeing" arches instead.  This made me think about how I was blinding myself to experiencing extreme beauty, both with my family and with the earth, because I was too busy looking inward, too self-involved to notice the symphony of people, and rocks, and steeples, and sky. Once I looked outward, allowed myself to be present, and embraced reality exactly as it was, I was finally able to see again.

1 comment:

  1. I loved your introspection in this. It was very frank and open. The world is a better place when we look at each other with compassion and when we take a look at what we can improve within ourselves instead of what others need to work on.
    And BTW would you like to come to choir practice??
    Love ya,
    The Scout Chick