Would You go to Hell with Me?
Would you go with me to hell?
I hear the parking’s free
I hate for you to writhe and burn,
but want the company
There is many a thing I prefer to do accompanied: doctor visits, getting a pedicure, binge-watching a season of (insert show name here), binge-eating (insert food here), laughing, being in a dark space, the list goes on. Or it could. If I let it.
Most of these activities are relatively harmless. Fun, even. I hate going to the doctor normally, especially alone, but when I’ve had my mom or a friend with me, some of the weirdest, most interesting conversations have taken place. It completely changes the game for me. A game changer, if you will.
But if you’re reading this and you are more of a lone wolf, a free spirit, or just hate being around other members of the human race, you may be thinking, “why the hell should I care?” Well, because what if that’s exactly where you’ll be?
That’s an inflammatory thing to say, amirite? But no, I’m not really suggesting anyone reading this is going to hell; I am no fortune teller, nor am I a judge. I am also quite aware that Mormons have a very specific idea of hell that does not include fire and brimstone. Maybe that’s why until recently, I never feared it much. And I’ve always fancied myself a good person. I try not to do things that cause harm to others, and I would even go so far as to say I try help people, places, and things (nouns love me)! But the further I’ve drifted from some LDS practices, the more I’ve felt the tug of hell at my heels, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m going to end up in some Spirit Prison/Telestial Kingdom/Hell, whether of my own making, or Satan’s crafty hand or what have you. And it’s not a pleasant topic to dwell on.
This last week, I read a pretty insightful, autobiographical sketch titled “Random Memories of Growing up a Neurotic Mormon,” on the site Zelophehad’s Daughters. See article here.
I have to say, I related like hell (ha, ha) to a lot of what the author was saying about wishing to die pure, wishing for an apocalypse now scenario, just to avoid having to face my inevitable mileage of sins. Even as a young girl, I realized I had a whole lot of weird going on inside, and feared that my humanity and Mormonism would be forever at odds. But much like the author of the article, after going on a mission that was a far different experience than I had bargained for and coming home from the Dominican Republic no less a feminist, I think that’s when I decided to start dipping my toes into different puddles of rebellion. And I feel like this quote from “Random Memories” really spoke to how I wished I could feel after making choices that weren’t always in line with church teachings:
“Perhaps not coincidentally, I think, I’m also much less of a believer than I was as a child and a teen. I’m much less sure about what the afterlife might look like, or even if there is one at all. I sure hope there is one, because I’d love to see my family and friends again, but I’m just not sure. Overall, though I’m just happy to be not too worried about it.”
I’m still a believer, but in what, I’m not always sure. What I am sure of is that I am pretty confused and that confusion often leaks out into my life choices. I wrote an article awhile back on Young Mormon Feminists about feeling like I “Walk the Line,” Johnny Cash-style- too angst-ridden and heart sore to be a complete TBM but too entrenched in the culture, lifestyle, and residual good feels to completely give it up.
The problem really comes into sharp relief, however, when I remember that this journey through my own personal Mordor isn’t a solo one. My boyfriend, my very own Samwise Gamgee, often accompanies me on my attempts to stay active. I am grateful when he’s there and I know he’s only doing it for me. I never try to force him to go, but I still do ask him to come with me when he is able. He has no interest in being a member, and honestly, I don’t have much of an interest in him being one either. One of the first things I did when I came back from the mission was start to really dig into the non-member dating scene. I think after a mission where I was constantly under the thumb of dude bro elders who were several years my junior, I’d had my fill of the benevolent (or sometimes, downright menacing) patriarchy. I was ready to see if there was a partner out there who wouldn’t be peeing (presiding, providing, and protecting) all over me. I wanted someone with whom I didn’t have to constantly worry about being their post humorous polygamous wife. I wanted freedom from the parts of Mormonism that were too hard to stomach. But I also wanted someone who would be willing to accompany me, on occasion, to my attempted revivals of spirituality. I admit I enjoy having companionship in a church where singledom is often seen as sad and pitiable. And my man’s outsider perspective is always refreshing.
But I feel the price of this companionship, and it weighs heavily on me at times. I can tell Samwise is often left bored or confused or both by the end of any given meeting. And more often than not, I find myself glancing over anxiously at him when a certain, er, uncomfortable concept is preached from the pulpit, wondering how crazy he thinks I must be for willingly sitting and listening to ideas that I don’t necessarily even support or am actively against. At other times, I simply look at him with guilt, wondering how I can drag someone along with me to a meeting when I don’t even know how much I want to be there myself. Poet Emily Dickinson has an insightful way of looking at the conundrum of spirituality vs. church worship in her poem “Some Keep the Sabbath going to Church:”
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.
Ah, yes. I too have felt the spiritual pull of nature, or Ihop, or anywhere other than church, urging me to celebrate my piety in a more enjoyable manner. And I’ve always loved that idea that, instead of searching for an elusive heaven, I can be there already by doing good, worthwhile things.
So why do I do this to myself, and more importantly, to him? I guess it could be the fact that I am selfish, but I’d like to think I’m a little more complicated of a person than that. Maybe it’s because, deep down, even though I don’t want him to be a member, I still feel that missionary part of myself nagging at me, telling me that he has the right to explore, accept, or reject the gospel for himself. That may explain the Book of Mormon I gave him, which, incidentally, has sat unopened in the trunk of his car for over a year. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that if we get married, I would like my kids to have that same, comforting stability of religious upbringing that I felt gave me the courage and pluck I had (and that my current self sometimes envies), as a child/teen. That last supposition brings with it a whole other litany of issues, such as, does the good the church does for the youth (uplifting firesides, dances, weekly social gatherings, the inculcation of good values), outweigh the negative influences (LGBT phobia, lack of opportunities for women, rigid patriarchal roles, guilt-laden talks, etc.)?
These are the concerns that keep me up at night, and which, depending on the night, leaves me feeling partially stuck like Persephone in the underworld. Or perhaps Limbo/Spirit Prison is a better representation of where I am, stuck in the middle of a problem where no particular solution is especially appealing. But for now, for better or worse, that is where I find myself, and dammit (damn me?) I’m just looking forward to the time when I too can feel that “overall, though I’m just happy to be not too worried about it.”