When You Lose Something You Can’t Replace

Family Portrait - Montreal 1963
Family Portrait – Montreal 1963 (Photo credit: Mikey G Ottawa)

I dont often talk about my father in depth, mostly because its one of the more complicated conversations I can have. But as it gets nearer to the anniversary of his death, I occasionally think more about him.

My father was my best friend. I loved him more than anything. My love of computers comes from watching him work on the PC we had in our home from age 5 until he died when I was almost 10. We didnt get another one until I was 13. My father played ping pong with us in the garage. He spanked us with a belt and told us he would give us something to cry about. He let me shift gears on the old blue Toyota, when his old wrist injury was acting up. And he was smart. Never graduated from high school, but he did all the checking of our math homework counting, and other times swearing, in Spanish.

My father was also Mormon. He converted when he met my mother and held the first level of the priesthood in our church, but was never active during my memory. He never prevented my mother from taking us to church, played with the missionaries (19-year old boys who are always up for games) when they came over for food, and attended our youth talks in sacrament.

My father was also abusive. He drank without my family knowing it. He cheated. And he basically stopped working when I was 7. When he suffered a massive stroke, it was a blessing for my family that he died instead of lingering on severely handicapped, the financial and social responsibilities of which, would probably have limited what my family has managed to accomplish since then.

I still love my father. I love the man who took me on adventures with him when I was small. I love the man who I only remember teaching us Spanish at one dinner table session, pointing out leche. I love the man who was so charismatic and larger than life that everyone wanted to be around him. But I also hate him. I hate the man that made my mother sad and never want to remarry. I hate the man that hurt me. I hate the man who was so lost he could not find a way out for himself, and in my opinion, God took him so he could have a better chance in the Mormon version of purgatory, instead of continuing to make grievous mistakes here on Earth.

I think whats been hardest for me is how to answer questions about my family. We arent a typical family unit. I love my family and talk to them online or by phone multiple times a day. We exchange pictures of clothes and my sister’s cute dog and Ive helped my mom find the home she is now living in. But I dont live near my family, have no strong desire to (we are all extremely independent, controlling and prickly), so I am amazed whenever someone says it would be difficult to live far away from their’s, much less outside of the same state. I cant imagine needing to live anywhere closer than 45 mins to the nearest international airport to get to them. I spent 3 weeks with my mother last summer and was starkly reminded of why I will do all in my power to never live at home again (its because dusting is not important to me and likely never will be; This is a fundamental point of contention).

I dont really have an extended family – I mean Im related to a lot of people, but I have no relationship with them for a variety of reasons. Im still struck by all of the family pictures of cousins and second cousins twice removed on walls at my friends’ grandmother’s homes. I hate taking pictures and Im pretty sure we have no immediate family pictures that Im not age 6 in.

Im learning not to feel so alone anymore. Ive learned Im not the only one with crazy parents and strained family time. Ive learned lots of people dont have a billion cousins, like all the perfect Mormon families. Ive become comfortable with the family I am creating for myself. So, my family now consists of a few lovely dogs, some excellent friends, an alumni network, a broadway play or two, dear TV characters (Im looking at you, Felicity!), a worldwide LDS membership and some John Mayer songs, in addition to my nuclear peoples. Its full of things that provide comfort and the ability to keep trucking everyday. And at the end of it all, there is a God who promised himself as a perfect Father, in place of the one He took away. I love my Father in Heaven and because of Him I am capable of having more family than I ever dreamed possible. Everywhere I go on this Earth, I find someone who fits in to my little world. My best friend, Team Awesome, a new friend at work. It makes it far less scary when I do leave my Utah-imposed exile to know the world is just family waiting to be discovered. I can spend a summer in China and remember for the rest of my life the video store people who set aside DVDs they thought I would like (this mostly consisted of Fast and the Furious, which I love). Against all odds, I can keep in contact with a few friends from the summer I started college. And I can remember fondly the elementary school classmates at my father’s funeral.

Perhaps its not the normal way to make a family, but since Im not getting married anytime soon, who’s to say what we children can’t do? It beats the hell out of staying lonely, just because I dont share blood. So even though I cant replace my dad, or make my grandparents come back to life, I can connect with my half-brothers teenage children, or build better relationships with my mom and sisters. I dont have to stay lost forever.

I Could Spend My Whole Life Good Will Hunting

Dinner Party at a Mandarin's House - Thomas Allom
Dinner Party at a Mandarin’s House – Thomas Allom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jay-Z feat. Kanye West and Rihanna.

There comes a time when you have to give up on the fantasies of youth. I used to think that be married by now, a politician’s wife, or maybe a doctor’s, presiding over the dinner table at some important event. It was a silly dream and I gave it up a long time ago. But it seems as you get older you continue to have to discard old dreams, so new ones can take their place. I used to want help people on a one on one basis, being down in the trenches. After a few years though I was being worn out at a rate that was more than I could possibly continue to help at. I remember crying in my driveway one day, just exhausted and knowing something needed to change. Giving up that dream to move on to something more sustainable, was incredibly difficult and anxiety-provoking. I  had to choose between two dreams when I decided to move to NYC – the one with a cute craftsman house and walking a dog and riding a bike tow ork versus the eating at every culture’s restaurants each night, having ultimate convenience and being on whenever I wanted. I really wanted that dog – have since I was 8, but I guess it will wait a bit longer.

Now Im going to the Middle East. Initially Im giving up showers, Western comfort and variety, and being with the friends Ive made over the last two years. In exchange, I get…: anxiety, homework and the need to pack, ugh. And massive uncertainty. I am completely reliant on other people – I barely speak the language, I dont have housing, and I dont have income until May. This lack of control and predictability is a situation I try to avoid at all costs and now Im throwing myself headlong into it.

I think thats the cost of Good Will Hunting, as Im interpreting it. Everytime you get near the summit of a dream, it changes so that you can get closer to a real summit. Being able to play my perfect note. So I let God keep informing my decisions. Moving all over the country, earning extra degrees, and aiming higher than Iv Im persevering in the face of all of this, because I have certainty in the form of inspiration. Everytime I think about the fact Im getting off a plane with no place to go, I dont panic nearly as much as I should. That peace apparently doesnt extend to the mess that is my room, but I have a week. Soooo, heres to hoping.

It would be easier to keep searching for our original dreams, even though it probably wouldnt led to the happiness we are searching for. Im stretching every time I make the choices I do. And when I talk to friends I havent seen in a few years, they have no idea how to make sense of where my life is right then. There’s some inherent fun in being the wild child – if wild is going to school forever and then getting a job to pay one’s bills – but every once in a while acknowledging how difficult and painful it can be to walk along my own path makes me feel a bit less scared. At least this time, Ive got a few friends to ease the way. And traveling is going to be a hell of a lot more fun than waking up early for class. So bring it on anxiety – Ill be on a plane shortly.

I’ve Been Trying to Get Down to the Heart of the Matter

English: President Barack Obama tapes an inter...
English: President Barack Obama tapes an interview for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C., October 27, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A cover by India.Arie. So I was still mad today, until I spent some time at church and with some of my really good female friends, and then – the final kicker – went and stared at the temple for a while. It calmed down some of my anxiety and extreme anger to the point where I could see that I was stronger than I had been. Which makes all the nonsense worth it. Let me tell you another way.

Sometimes I imagine my future appearance on The Daily Show about my book (assuming its still running when I end up mattering). I have my mug that I will cherish forever in front of me on the desk and Jon Stewart props up my book and says, “So I read this book and I have to admit my first thought when they handed me this book was, really? there are some? enough to write a whole book about?”

The audience will laugh, and I’ll smile while taking a sip from my mug. Then he’ll say “But seriously, why are you a part of this church? You’re smart – you have to have heard about that ban against black men holding the priesthood? And remember when you guys were against gays? Preventing Boy Scouts from getting their Eagle Scout? Or when women received death threats for wearing pants to church?”

I’ll lean forward and this is what I’ll say, “So you want a logical answer for why I participate and believe in a religion that seems to be constantly be preventing some group or another from feeling accepted and equal and whose membership sometimes reacts badly to efforts to express and change the circumstances which cause those feelings?”

Jon nods or says something snarky. It is The Daily Show after all. “Well, Jon, there isnt one.” And Ill sit back. Eventually he’ll follow up the question and Ill answer for real. “Jon, faith isnt logical. It cannot be arrived at through thought alone or reasoned with. Most of the things we have faith in we have no control over. Sometimes past experience supports our faith – the sun came up yesterday, gravity existed last night – so all these things will most likely happen again tomorrow. However, we dont know that, we just know that they have, so our best bet is to assume it will again. But sometimes we dont have reason to fall back on, we have to take a leap to believe the voice or hope inside of us could be true and right and we jump forward into nothing. That is why I participate and believe. Because one time I jumped, and something/someone caught me.”

The interview will go on and on – we will talk about how I cant stand soda so I never think about the caffeine rule (even though Im addicted to Vitamin Water Zero’s energy burst, which is tons of caffeine). And whatever else is in vogue about Mormons in that day. But I will have told the truth. When I was small and everything else that supported me failed, and there was no earthly way to go on in such a world, I took a leap of faith that a God loved me, and He knew me and He was in charge and would make things alright if I just kept moving forward and listened to him.

Things didnt get “better” for a long long time, not until recently, like the last 5 years, would I say I finally was becoming whole. I spent a long time trudging forward with no idea of what happiness felt like. I remember a week in college that I felt light and looked up, and thought, “Is this what everyone else feels like all the time? This is sooo much better!” It wasnt permanent, but it gave me hope. God has continued to hold my hand and lead me forward through the darkness until I arrived at a point, where I feel like the world is mine. Ive never been happier and more excited for the future, despite being scared out of my mind, because everything that comes next is nothing like what came before. Its another leap of faith, but this time I know God will catch me. Just like He did tonight – he eased my heart and reminded me of how far we had come, and how great Now is given all the crap that came before, so think how much better Then will be if I can survive this.

So I stay. Because the organization lead me to God, and the God that I have come to know I will never leave. No characteristic about me, black, female or smart, will change the relationship I have forged. The religion and I will work it out, but the God that I love will never abandon me, despite how it feels to bear the hardships I may be called to experience, like dating, or dumb friends, or Utah. Its been ok thus far, and its only getting better.

If You’re Flawless, Then You’ll Win My Love

Anxiety
Anxiety (Photo credit: Rima Xaros)

90s Angry Girl turned into Ryan Reynolds ex-girlfriend and recent Canadian Hall of Famer: Alanis Morissette.

So for the last two nights, I keep waking up freaking out about this blog. I am prone to perfectionistic tendencies, which is the major reason why I never wanted to write about things so personal and important to me before. No one is going to care what I write about the lastest crappy ensemble movie to hit theaters or John Mayer’s lastest album, but comment on racial, gender and religious issues and the writer comes into question. And I, am not perfect, especially not compared to the Mormon perfection standard. I dont feel a listing of my personal sins is necessary, lets just say Ive fallen off the wagon in minor and major ways. I think what makes me Mormon despite those mistakes is that I usually try to get back on and that I show others the same forgiveness I try to show myself.

I spent a good portion of my life living by shoulds, because I was scared to death no one would love me if I didnt follow all of their rules. By no one, I literally mean no one. No friends, no family, nada. The thing is people have so many rules. My mother wanted straight A’s, my PE teacher for me to run that stupid mile each week faster, my friends to stop studying and play, my teachers to work harder on their assignments, my volleyball coach to come to practice during finals week, and blah blah blah. I spent so much time trying to figure out what I should do, that I literally had no idea what I wanted to do. Even those few times back then when I knew what I wanted to do – like go to school in NYC rather than a suburban college town, I felt God wanting me to do the latter, and I should follow him, right? Well as far as I can tell, God is the only person on that list who I should (hah!) consider when I make choices and even then, Im still a bit bitter (damn you Utah!).

Ive been slowly teaching myself to acknowledge my own wants. If Im exhausted and want to go home, but am worried about keeping my friend if I go home instead of go out with them, well I try to come up with a compromise that doesnt compromise me. Im trying to state my preferences more, which has resulted in quite a few people calling me a bitch, but the truth is I havent lost anyone yet. Now Im practicing asking for things that I wouldve been scared to rock the boat on before – like the emergency exit row on the plane. Guess what happens? Im polite, no one cares, and so far Ive always gotten get the seat!

This blog is me making another conscious effort to be whole. In the words of C.S. Lewis,

“If all experienced God in the same way and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the Church triumphant would have no symphony, it would be played like an orchestra in which all instruments played the same note.”

Im not as interested any more in behaving like a Middle C, when I am clearly like an A Sharp. Ive made enough decisions thinking about just me and God’s opinions that have been considered really random by all outside observers, and yet turned out truly awesome for me, so I can take the hit. But yes, Im afraid that someone will stumble upon this and say, but she doesnt go to church regularly, or she cant get anyone to marry her, or some variation of, “But did you hear about that thing she did that one time?” and make me feel small and awful for trying to stand. And worse yet, that those of you who are reading this with the growing inclination to find or support your own note will think, “The price she paid was much too high to take that risk.” I am choosing to believe I can handle a few sleepless nights. What will you choose?