Imagine life in poverty. Imagine life without a mother, or with an alcoholic father, or with family imprisoned. Imagine life with an abusive spouse or as a single mom. Imagine life after rape. Imagine life as an illegal immigrant, or with no food in the cupboards, or without education. Imagine life with mental illness. Imagine life in an arranged marriage, or as a series of co-habitations, or on the verge of divorce. Imagine life with disabilities or living in a hospital room. Imagine fearing violence in the street or dying from cancer.
Imagine life fighting for life and you can imagine my sisters.
As their Relief Society President, I’ve been given a tour of what used to be a plastic globe to me, but is now flesh and blood, lots of blood, too much blood. Women have washed themselves of it in the waters of baptism and now keep the commandments in a life that may be new and improved, but a life that cannot compare to Sister Mona’s charmed existence as an American. Or so they imagine. They love me for for my empathy (which gift I sometimes have too much of for my own good), but deep down, believe it can only go so far, which is true.
One day, while discussing the purpose of suffering in Relief Society, I made a dot in the center of the dry erase board and then drew a line all the way to the edge. I walked around the perimeter of the chapel, continuing an imaginary line, marker mid-air, until I came back to the dot on the board.
“Imagine this line as eternity,” I said. “And imagine this dot representing our mortal probation. As we agreed earlier in our discussion, we can only internalize many important lessons while on earth, through opposition, to prepare for all the rest.” I swept my hand around the room. “Is it any wonder then that with so much to learn in such a short time [pointing at the dot], that life is a crash course?”
They looked thoughtful.
“Yet we expect our ‘dot’ to be a smooth line in and of itself, with only occasional blips,” I continued the line metaphor, using the board to draw what looked like a healthy EKG; praying I was making sense to them.
Suddenly, a voice from the back rang out: “That may be YOUR life Mona,” (referring to the smooth line with a couple of hiccups), “but it’s not mine!”
The room froze at the mockery in her voice. If we’d been in a Wild West saloon, everyone would have backed away, clearing the space between us.
“That’s not my point.” I answered carefully. “This little line is not MY life. This line is NOBODY’S LIFE.”
It got very quiet.
“Would you like to see MY life?” I raised the pen impulsively. “This is MY life.”
Then with emotion that startled everyone, including me, I drew an EKG that looked like a woman having a heart attack.
“That’s MY life!” I finished. They were stunned.
Earlier in our stay here, I had listened to a sister for thirty minutes on the phone. She told me about an incident in the ward years before that had wounded her feelings so deeply she found it impossible now to trust the sisters. “I worry for YOU,” she said, turning the conversation in a surprising direction. “I watch how happy you are, and I think, she is going to get hurt.”
The next day I got an email from another sister (one whom I knew was under terrific strain) that read: “Thank you for your example, dear Mona. I watch how happy you are and I think, WOW – she can only be that happy because she's been through a lot.”
Wow is right. One sister assumed I was happy because of the ABSENCE of adversity in my life and the other thought I was happy BECAUSE of it!
I mused over that for a long time and ruminated on the conversation in the classroom (which spawned tears and hugs afterward.) If our happiness quotient is directly related to a lack of tribulation, how realistic is it that we could ever go up the scale? Do we imagine our plastic twin living on a plastic globe with nothing to disrupt her tranquility? When I imagine my Eden-Eve, I realize she couldn’t be anything like Flesh-and-Blood-Me, and actually, I don’t think I'd want her kind of contentment. Our Little Dots, our ”small moments” (D&C 121:7-8), may be going haywire more often than not, and may sometimes be filled with even terrible things, but I believe it’s the only spot where we can become strong enough, or deserving enough, for a FULNESS of JOY (D&C 122:5-8), which IS coming.
And imagining THAT life is what makes me happiest of all.
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted… To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord…” (Isaiah 61:3)