28 September 2013

This Mormon Girl.

I've just finished Joanna Brook's The Book of Mormon Girl.

Saying anything more than that seems to cheapen, somehow, the beauty in her story; the way it resonates in my soul. But Joanna's story has opened my own heart to tell more of my own. To open to view further the insular community I claim, in its beauty and strangeness, and yet its simple familiarity, too.

I also grew up watching Man's Search for Happiness on white cinder block walls with my few Primary classmates, my nursing fathers and nursing mothers weaning me on the unorthodox stories that are the very weave of the fabric of my faith. My ancestors crossed the plains, knew Joseph Smith, and several lines settled and thrived in northern Utah. The similarities in our Mormon heritage even extend to both of us descending from grandmothers whose mothers died in their infancy, and then appeared to them as angels when our grandmothers approached the later years of their childhoods.

I remember so clearly the isolation of simple means and outside-of-the-city stomping grounds, the treasures of knowledge books held, and their influence in my life.  Her southern California home sat against orange groves; mine in northern California between the verges of alfalfa and corn and highway 160's winding levee, where Mormons were even thinner on the ground. I felt, keenly, the isolation and separation from my peers that inner difference of Mormonism made, and reading of her arrival at BYU, her rejoicing in finally being one of many, brought back to life my own arrival four years after hers, right down to her dorm room in Helaman Halls, English classes in the basement of the JKHB, and the sweet gentleness of a favorite English professor's love of learning and of his God.

My adult life has taken a different tack than Joanna's: I married in the temple, and my husband and I have continued attending church without fail. But under the hood, where hearts beat and dreams spin, there are threads that run the same.  "As I wrote," Joanna said in her book, "agnostic Catholics, reform Jews, gay Christian girls, even stone-cold atheists, gave me a hard look, then nodded, and said: 'Yes, I recognize something familiar in the story you are telling.'"

And so did this Mormon girl.

Something beautiful. Something kind. Something gentle and true and delicate; and yet impossible to destroy.  Even pancaked between concrete and cinder block, her story beats quietly, with the power of a still, small voice.