Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I dwell in Possibility--

A fairer House than Prose--

More numerous of Windows--

Superior--for Doors--

Of Chambers as the Cedars--

Impregnable of Eye--

And for an Everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky--

Of Visitors--the fairest--

For Occupation--This--

The spreading wide my narrow

Hands To gather Paradise--

~Emily Dickinson

All very well for Emily Dickinson, New England spinster and hermit. I'm sure I don't know everything about her life, but from my point of view it seems it was gently and quietly circumscribed. None of the hurries and rushes and multi-taskings of the modern. Neighborhood children and nieces and nephews dropped by occasionally to entertain or be entertained, but Emily didn't have to take anyone to lessons or appointments or cook their dinners or get them for heaven's sake to bed.

Did she have church responsibilities? Possibly, if she cared to. If she felt so inclined. She did have some meaningful and, I'm sure, satisfying friendships. She had lively correspondence with her friends. But were things expected of her? Were there dizzying demands on her time and resources? I know that she and her sister cared for their sick mother and Emily also had health problems. But there were servants to take care of many tasks.

She read and she wrote. She baked and she gardened. She stuck close to home and gathered her paradise.

I never cease to be fascinated by how people live. I am ever interested in the choices they make, how those choices are shaped, and what the results of those choices are.

I've had to ask myself lately, What is it I want to do? What are my priorities? What do I love best? What is my paradise and how will I gather it?

I've seen the results of studies claiming that the more choices we have, the less happy we are. Choice does not promote contentment, in fact it appears to have the opposite effect. The more things we have to choose amongst, the less happy we are with the choice we finally make. Also, the act of choosing becomes increasingly more stressful as the possibilities increase.

Dwelling in possibility can be excruciating. When I wake up in the morning, I truly don't know if I'm going to change the world or have one hell of a good time (E. B. White). Even worse, once I've decided one way or the other, how am I going to go about changing the world or having one hell of a good time? Of course it is ridiculous to even point out that there are infinite possibilities.

I don't know if my Mormon cosmos complicates or simplifies this. In our religion, choice is everything. We see mortal life as merely a tiny blip on the continuum of our existence, but the importance of the choices we make on earth have everlasting ramifications. In other words, this life is a test. Now, if I were not a Mormon I would find this fascinating: Mormons believe that we existed as spirits for who knows how long before our world was even created. We made choices in that premortal state. We do not remember any of this, of course. However, the manner that we chose to employ our time in pre-earth life is reflected to some extent in our mortal propensities, talents, or even genius.

For some reason I used to think that to be a "good member" of the Church I had to conform to a certain type. I had to somehow master all of the homemaking arts to perfection in order to qualify for eternal salvation. A proper Mormon woman was someone who lost herself in her family. She stays at home. She cooks, cleans, gardens, cans, and sews matchy-poo dresses for her five daughters and vests for her five sons. Obviously, she doesn't do much else. I thought that it didn't matter what my talents or interests were because all that really mattered was conforming to that ideal. Talents and interests (unless they ran in the homemaking direction) were something to be buried and forgotten.

I know that sounds silly, but that's what I thought! After travelling and seeing how Latter-day Saint women around the world work and live and gather paradise, I have realized that there are many valid choices and many ways to build Zion. We do seek to be a unified people in many ways, but conforming to that "ideal" is not one of them thank heavens. We are unified foremost in our desire to follow the Savior. We are also unified in our belief that the family is an eternal unit, and you should act in such a way toward your family that they will want to be with you in heaven.

I am trying to figure out what my role is in building Zion. What is my contribution? I have four children and no servants. Right now, because this morning I chose to write this post instead of do housework, my home is a disaster area. I live in a society where if you're not crazy busy you are considered lazy. Demands pull me every which way and I don't always know what the best choice is.

I want to be a good mother, wife, daughter, sister, etc. I care about maintaining these relationships because I do want these people in my life to want to be around me in the next! So yes, that is a top priority. But what next? I want to pass on my religious values to my children. I do believe they will be happier with this Faith than without it. I want to encourage my children to develop good habits so they will be happy. I want them to learn to be clean, hard working, and healthy. That's where things get complicated. How can I do all that without it completely taking over?

I know, I know. It all boils down to that ever-elusive balance. Has anyone managed to achieve that yet?


Karen ~ said...

I do hear your concerns and questions and I do share them pretty much every day of my life, too, but I just HAD to comment on the matchy-poo dresses and vests.

I do think that if all 6 members of your family had matchy-poo clothing (oh, give Frodo a matchy-poo collar, too) that at least some of your questions would fade away ... you'd be giggling too much to care!

ave said...

It's funny, I was having very similar thoughts before I logged on to the computer and read your blog. JW and I were thinking back to the glory days before kids, when life was free and easy. How I love your prose dear sister.

athena said...

i don't think i've found that balance. i do feel though that the older i get the more fuller my life gets--my life is much fuller today than before i was married and had children. i am discovering that i do have talents outside of church (i am often discouraged of my inability to stand in front of a crowd to speak which is another of those "conforming to a certain types" examples) and that building zion can be achieved outside of church programs.

i don't know much about emily dickinson either, but if there's one thing that sticks out for me as a mother that i can take from her, it would be the importance of home (whether one has children or not). there's no other place i'ld rather be than home. :) your writing is beautiful.

Montserrat said...

I agree with the others - this is a beautifully written post.

I haven't found that balance either. Maybe that's the great 'trial' of our day, what to do with all of our choices.

My personal opinion about building up 'Zion' is that we contribute our talents, whatever they are, to helping others around us whoever they are. I don't draw a line between church and the rest of life. For me it's all intertwined.I guess I'm saying that Zion to me is the world because we are all God's children. So whether I'm serving in church or elsewhere I'm still building up Zion. Does that make sense?

My choice though is serve at home at least for now. Like Athena said, there's now place else I'd rather be than home.

Calandria said...

i appreciate your comments!

karen, maybe the answer to all my confusion is matchy-poo outfits. maybe that is the one thing needful in my life. :-)

ave, you're probably like me that it's not that you want to go back to pre-kid times (at least not usually), it's just that things were less complicated. i can't imagine life without my children. like athena, my life is fuller and more meaningful with them. however, sometimes i feel like i'm letting them completely take over. bad for me and bad for them.

athena and montse, i am a complete home body! i love to be at home and i can't imagine "gathering paradise" anywhere else. i have never been interested in working away from home, for example. my problem is that i have a hard time figuring out how exactly i want to spend my time at home. there doesn't seem to be time for all the things i feel i can't live without. :-)

athena said...

yes, i know what you mean about having a hard time figuring out how i want to spend my time at home. i get sidetracked often. it's called mount washmore! LOL. i swear i could do a whole lot more constructive things if my family didn't have as many clothes for me to wash and iron. :-b although i do get to watch my favourite movies whenever i do iron. so i guess that's a plus. :-)

Lorainne said...

I really enjoyed reading this blog. It reminds my of my Sunday School lesson yesterday. The topic was unity in the church. Paul suggests in 1 Cor. 1:10 we are to have the "same mind". Do we have to like the same things? And think the same way? The discussion concluded that the gospel docrine is the same but the way we choose to live it can be quite different. So thankfully we do not have to sew matchy-poo clothing. We can all choose to do what brings joy.
It is also nice to here that I'm not the only one who struggles to find balance. (Thankfully the kids are going back to school so I can get a few moments of peace.)

Mama Ava said...

This was a wonderful post, forever ruined by my American Literature professor who informed us that the majority of Dickenson's poetry can be sung to the tunes of "The Yellow Rose of Texax" or the theme song from Gilligan's Island.

Sadly, including this one.

Mama Ava said...

For the record, however, I do usually know how to spell Texas.

I don't think balance is ever achieved. In nature the concept of balance is very fragile and nature self-corrects all the time to try to keep that balance that's best. I think everyone struggles with that, men and women, husbands and wives. Making the decision to live one's life according to a faith adds another dimension to those decisions.

I believe God calls us all to be His children and in the call rests a universal mandate for all of us. But how we fulfill that call is by necessitity very individual. It's according to culture, it's according to denomination, it's according to individual needs, all of which are man-made. Does God "want" you to stay home? Does he "want" me to work? Those are small questions, I think. What God desires from us is a personal relationship and obedience and faith. From a personal relationship with God will come the ability to make clearer decisions and the strength to weather the storms that come as a part of life. At the end of the day when we are all called to stand before Him, I am very sure that my housekeeping abilities and my lack of matchy-poos will be on His list. He created all of us replete with our talents and our flaws and wants nothing more from us than a relationship with Him that will allow us to reach our fullest potential.

It can be discouraging at times. The letters of Mother Teresa were so shocking--that this woman who was the face of faith and confidence in God for so many for so long had such black doubt and despair (that's another post entirely). Yet she continued with the work she believed God called her to do, even if she didn't appear to have faith in God himself anymore.

I, too, would never go back to "without kids" but like many mothers I've put my needs and wants on hold for now. Sometimes I do look forward now, to the time when they will be away, but I also know I will miss them desperately then, too! My sister-in-law once said she was not simply raising her boys, that she was raising someone's father, someone's husband, and that gave her the perspective to see that what she did every day for her 4 boys is very important to people in the future. I loved that idea!

Mama Ava said...

OOOPS. I meant to say that when I stand before God my housekeeping and matchy-poo outfits will NOT be on His list. God forbid. I'd be consigned to Hell already if they were.

Reminds of the very very very old "Sinner's Bible" in which the typo read "Thou shalt commit adultery."