My mother went to BYU in the 70s when, as she often reminds me, she wasn’t allowed to wear pants to her classes or to her on-campus job. She was an English major—and later an English teacher—so she spent her college and grad school years writing theses. If there is one thing I have learned from my mother, it’s that a good thesis comes from asking the right questions.
The first time my mom lived in the United States was when she attended BYU as a freshman. Though she grew up in Ireland, Morocco, Venezuela, and Panama, she always believed that she belonged to the Mormon community in Utah. However, to this day, whenever anyone asks her about the cultures in which she lived, she will say BYU Provo was the strangest. One of the examples she gives to punctuate her assertion happened on her second Friday at BYU. She was called into the common room of Heritage Halls for a “candle passing.” This was a common ritual of sorts done when someone in the dorm got engaged. The women gathered and passed around a candle with the engagement ring attached to it. When it reached the newly engaged freshman, she blew out the candle, and the rest of the women in the dorm squealed with delight. My mother says she felt so confused. Her childhood Mormonism looked almost nothing like the BYU world she had entered.
Not too many years later, my mom went to Morocco to teach English at the school she had attended. A large part of her motivation for going back to Morocco was an attempt to re-find the culture of her childhood and deal with her own faith crisis. She had spent almost two years in a Washington, DC LDS single’s ward and was disturbed by what she called the “competitive dating” she saw there. She wanted to find a place to explore her faith.
Before returning to Morocco, my mom had written her master’s thesis on T. S. Elliot. Today, when she reads me Eliot’s poems, she talks about how she loves the way he deals with doubt and exploration. One of my favorite passages from Elliot’s Four Quartets is: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
This passage was a thesis for my mother’s life and has become a thesis for mine. After about two weeks without the LDS Church in Morocco, my mom missed the music and started going to an Anglican church weekly to sing. She dealt with the doubt, conflict, and pain in her experience with Mormonism, and boldly explored her own questions.
Knowing about my mother’s exploration gave me the courage a few years ago to explore my own faith. And while I’m nowhere near done exploring my own doubts and questions, at the end of the day, I know my mother is there for me. If and when I find my way to where I started, seeing Mormonism for the first time, I will know my mother is with me all the way.
Honoring our past,
Envisioning our future
Emma, the author of this post, has a profile on Ordain Women