[Note: this is a re-telling of an incident that happened about 8 years ago]
It was late, the kids had gone to bed hours before, and I was sitting on our upstairs balcony in the dark, waiting for John to come home from the airport. He’d been traveling on one of his many business trips—to Chicago this time, I think—and I was anxious for his return. I was weary of the days spent caring for our young children by myself and I yearned for some adult conversation. He came home, sat down next to me and began telling me about his disbelief in Mormonism.
I had counted the hours till his return home, and I was so tired, and so hungry for some affection from him. When John spoke about his doubts, a huge anger welled up in me. I realized that these ‘faith issues’ that he’d been having for a few years weren’t just going to go away. And in that moment my mind flashed backwards and forwards in time—remembering the dutiful and faithful Mormon missionary John that I corresponded with for two years; I thought of our children and my desires for them to have a strong Mormon father; I thought of my dreams that we would, as an elderly couple, serve missions to Japan or to Africa. As all of these thoughts raced through my mind and surfaced in rage as I reached out and slapped John across his right cheek, as hard as I could.
Then John took off his glasses and turned his left cheek to me, tears welling in his eyes. And I hit him across that cheek, too. Hard enough that it left a red welt on his skin. And then he bowed his head, ready for me to hit him again. Which I didn’t. I stopped, overcome with sobbing. So shocked that I had struck the person I loved most in the world, but also aware of the way I also hated what he was saying to me, that I felt betrayed down to my deepest core. This was my John. But it wasn’t my John. It was someone who was telling me these things that I just couldn’t believe, that I couldn’t reconcile with my understanding of who I had married.
As I write this I am crying. I can’t think of another time in my life that I have hit someone so intentionally, so full of anger. I had no precedent in my life for lashing out like that—I had never seen my parents hit in anger, John had never hit me, we had never spanked our children. I was hurting so badly inside. I was so upset that John’s changes were affecting my future, too. That my life wouldn’t necessarily proceed with the script that I had written when we were married. [And John, may I say once again, I am so, so sorry for hitting and hurting you].
In the months and years that followed that awful night, I have still sometimes felt anger and frustration with John’s changing religious beliefs. But I have also realized that I am not the same person that John married fourteen years ago, either. I have certainly grown and changed in ways that might surprise my 21 year-old self. And I have come to realize that these changes are okay. That life is about changing. About learning and experiencing and adapting and evolving. And while these changes sometimes bring risk–even the chance of failure–that that’s okay, too.
In the past eight years or so, as John and I have navigated the waters of Mormonism together, and as his Mormon belief and practice has waxed and waned, I have learned many important lessons. Most importantly, I have learned to appreciate the value of the journey, of the struggle to find the right path to follow. I would like to think that my relationships are not based on my idea of who John or others should be, or how they measure up to a standard that I have in my mind. Rather, I have tried to listen and learn from others’ journeys. As I interact with my students, grad school cohort, fellow freecycle moderators, Sunstoners, cyberfriends, my kids’ teachers, Mormons, Quakers, gardeners, democrats, UCI employees, or any other number of people “that I meet when I’m walking down the street,” I want to seek to understand their journeys, to learn from them. I want to make sure that I don’t react in anger to another whose beliefs differ from mine, that I can separate my expectations from my desire to affirm and love them as individuals.
More than anything, I want to learn a lesson from the time that I hit John. I want to learn not to react in rage, not to make others’ choices be about me. I want to learn to love even when I am blinded by anger, even when my ability for compassion is at a breaking point. I want to see the divine, the godliness, in each person. To understand their struggle to find it within themselves.