The Stories We Tell
This is the first essay, in a series that rationalfaiths.com is doing, on the topic of Mother in Heaven. We will post one essay every Thursday for six weeks. Please return and read the other essays as well.
Click here to read the second essay in this series
The Stories We Tell
(OR…In Which CWC is Not Invited Back to the Ward Enrichment Activity)
By Sara Burlingame
“Heavenly Father loves Heavenly Mother so much, he just doesn’t want to see her name dragged through the mud,” and then, almost as an afterthought, as if in that moment, standing in the kitchen of Sister L who was teaching her fellow ward members and myself how to make delicious Korean noodles, “It’s kinda like in your marriage, you know?” No, I did not know. “Well, your husband wouldn’t want people to talk all bad about you, he’d want to protect you from that…right?”
Where to begin? For starters, my husband is one of the most conflict averse people on the planet. My name was being “dragged through the mud,” as it were, in the early days of our marriage. (We lived “in community,” which is like living on a commune but with more deodorant and less hugging.) One of our community members, an aging academic, was given to long tirades about the proper place of women in society which, coincidentally, was well below his own privileged place. Reader, we did not get along. It caused my husband no end of distress when I told him, “As long as R is telling people that I’m an unstable harridan, could you, at the very least, stop being so infernally nice to him?” He pledged to do better. We were having a “Common Meal” that evening, all families would gather in the Common House to cook and eat together. My husband would be firm. He would make it clear that there were consequences for besmirching the name of his one true love…What he did instead was offer R another burrito. It turns out that “protecting my good name” is something that ranks right below chewing glass on his list of things he’d like to do.
But not me. I like conflict, I like it particularly well when I am clearly in the right and can imagine music swelling behind me as I righteously decry vile acts and their pernicious perpetrators. It has happened, in the 15 years we’ve been together that someone has made the error of “dragging the good name” of my husband through the aformentioned mud. Not often, because he really is one of the saintliest, nicest men you’ll ever meet, but it has happened. In those rare moments I can feel my pulse quicken as my eyes narrow and I hiss between clenched teeth, very much like my role model for all things retribution-like, Clint Eastwood, “What did you just say?” That’s their cue to clutch their skirts, as Humperdink did and “drop your sword,” because I will happily, cheerfully verbally eviscerate anyone who runs down the name of my love.
What to make of this abdication of our eternal roles? Do my husband and I suffer from a rare form of gender dysmorphia? Or is it more likely that, like everything else in our partnership, we recognize that we are complicated and unique; there is no one-setting on the gender/class/sexuality/religion spectrum that speaks to our whole selves. I could not be who I am, some would say, who I was made to be, if that part of my nature was sunken under the unbearable weight of a Victorian role that gave me dominion over my stove, but not my soul.
But let’s come back to our Korean cooking class and the question posed by the woman named for a prophet who exhorted working women to “ Come home, wives, to your husbands. Make home a heaven for them.” Her earnest question, “He’d want to protect you from that…right?” was mind boggling to me for the dissonance it wasn’t causing in her. I’d seen her on the playground with her kids and not for a second did I think she seemed the type to stand by while her children were hurt and wait for a man to protect them all. It seemed very unlikely she’d shrug it off or wait for someone with priesthood authority to respond if someone dusted their heels in her husband’s direction. She looked like she’d go for a vein and ask questions later. So why was she cocking her head at me and repeating a trope she’d clearly been told dozens if not hundreds of times as though it was a new thought? It was worse to me then denying her Heavenly Mother, it was denying, even erasing herself. Like hell she’d stand by. Weirder, she knew she wouldn’t. It was just a story that she’d been told. A stupid, destructive story that turned the subjection of the female Godhead into a noble virtue.
Maybe it’s time we learned some new stories.