At the risk of being risky, I'm going to tell you the truth. About me, about my life, about what I believe. I don't know who reads this blog, and that's part of the thrill I suppose; not knowing. So here it is.
I'm a Mormon. I was born Mormon, raised Mormon. That was my identity. In Texas I was the Mormon. In Utah I became a Mormon. But it was something I never doubted.
For all my pursuits of truth, for all my affirmations of objectivism and reason, I never looked beyond what I knew to be true. I estimated new knowledge only so far as it agreed with what I knew to be Universal Truth. I did not doubt it, and therefore anything true must agree with my personal knowledge of the Universe.
And then I experienced something.
For the first time my eyes were opened. I saw what my life had become, I saw my beliefs and faiths reflected in the eyes of a woman on fire.
I watched a woman, the same as you or I, destroy herself. Willingly. Happily. She carried a guilt that threatened to crush her. The only way she knew to rid herself of it was to brand herself a sinner. Her hope was that honesty would triumph over the power of her family's secret darkness. It did not.
Like Hester Prynne herself, she was branded. Like a Saint of old she was burned. Like a criminal she was crucified. And the people of the congregation sat there and watched.
Tears streamed down the woman's face as she confessed the sins of her husband. Sins that bore her down like an anchor and tied her to his guilt. Sins that proclaimed her guilty by association.
I watched her sacrifice herself. She tore out her heart, the little personal bits and pieces that are sacred to one's self, and she cast them in front of us to be judged and scorned. She tied herself to her own pyre. She threw herself and her family out into the mercy of our judgment. And the people watched.
I was horrified.
As I sat there I witnessed an act of moral depravity. Altruism taken to its extreme. Her self immolation was supported and expected by all. Her personal family affairs were the business of every do-gooder and nosy busy-body in the room. Her husbands actions affected them all in such deeply personal ways that her punishment was deserved for what she had done to them. Her family's personal decisions affected them all. Her punishment was just.
I was horrified.
In atonement for her egregious crimes against the community, she and her husband sentenced themselves to travel the state telling their story. Nothing could be so humiliating, so heart wrenching, so shameful as sharing their story with every soul who did not deserve to hear it.
I was horrified.
My hands shook. My heart raced. It was as though I were watching a gruesome self torture, surrounded by those who thought it good. To my left and to my right were those who would have stoned the Adultness, who hung Salem's witches, who crucified the Savoir and passed judgment upon every living soul other than their self.
I was horrified.
And there sat the people. My people. Smiling and nodding. Taking notes. Seeing nothing wrong. Seeing nothing. It was agonizing.
I sat there in my seat, muscles clenched either to run for my life away from the monsters that would tear out my heart and eat it while I watched, or to save her. The burning woman. To scream and shout and tell her that her guilt was undeserved. She had done no wrong! By what right could they punish her?!
What I saw next will forever be seared into my memory.
She looked at us, and she smiled. A smile so full of agony, so full of guilt and self hatred and loathing. But there in her eyes, was approval. She! The victim! She approved of it all! She thought it to be good and just! She, the woman on fire, tied to the cross and staked through the heart, believed that she was deserving of this hell! She was a monster too.
I sprang into action.
I sprinted away as though from the very gates of Hades. I trembled and found myself sobbing as I ran.
By what right?! I cried. By what right?!
Before I fully knew it, I was standing at his door.
When he let me in, I wonder what he saw in me. I had seen something that I had not thought possible in our modern day. I had witnessed something medieval and wrong. Those smiling faces danced behind my eyes.
He let me in and I cried. First in horror, then disgust, then bewilderment and anger.
By what right?! By what right?!
It was her face. That womans' face. The face of a cannibal.
I cried, and he let me cry. And when I was done we talked. And when we talked I learned something important. The most important thing I have ever known.
Every since I was a little girl, I've been guilty. If I wasn't committing sin, then I was not doing something that I could have, committing a sin of omission. If I was doing everything right in my life, but thought one inappropriate thing, I was guilty. If I thought nothing wrong at all, but rushed and did not read my scriptures that morning, I was guilty. If I was too busy loving my best friend to convert him to the gospel, then his soul was in my hands and I was damned. If I drank the wrong drink the ambiguous voice in my head whispered of my guilt.
There was never a moment of freedom. I lived on my guard. I put up walls in my life, walls in my friendships, walls in my head. In order to protect myself from evil, I boxed myself in. Walls and walls of guilt.
My face had been the same.
The only way to atone for my sins was to try harder. And when I failed again and my guilt grew, so did my desperation. So did my secret agony. So did my smiles. I began to pretend as I began to realize my imperfections. I began to know that I would never be free of this weight. Even if I did everything right, even if I followed every rule, even if I went to my dear loving bishop to atone for my sins previous, the result would be the same.
The only consequence that lay ahead of me was sacrifice. The only presence that was sure in my future was guilt. There was nothing else.
And then it happened.
My eyes opened and I saw what I had never been able to see: The guilt was mine. It could not be distributed by another, only accepted by me. No other, no person nor organization or God could make me feel what I did not willingly take. And just like that, like cutting the rope from a heavy anchor, the guilt fell away.
I was free.
I saw the blind futility of it all. The entirety of my life that I had spent feeling so alone, so lost, so ashamed, it all meant nothing. I looked at myself and I liked what I saw there. I saw a good person. I saw a girl with values and morals and a lifetime of good decisions. I saw the potential for whatever I wanted that girl to be. I saw happiness in her eyes and goodness in her heart. There was no more guilt in that face.
I am free.
The consequences of what I have done are still largely unknown to me. I do know, however, that I can never go back. The door to what I once was has been closed forever. Only an uncertain future awaits me now. But I am not afraid.
Will I be able to return to that organization that demanded my own immolation since my birth? Will I be able to one day reconcile myself with a church that supports self sacrifice? I do not know.
I do know that my relationship with Deity has never been stronger. I do know that I am, for the first time, entirely made up of only myself. I do know that what tempted me previously holds no sway for me now because GUILT is not my motivator. GUILT is not my natural state of being. I was born, I was created to be happy. To experience joy. And I feel that now like I have never felt it before! My life is in my own hands. I am sailing this ship alone now. There is no one to tell me where to go.
My life is now uncertain. In some ways, I am afraid. But that is a fear of the unknown, not of hellfire and damnation. That is a fear that I will conquer.
I am free.
I am happy.
And I am guiltless!