The Decemberists: California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade
I’m in the process of choosing to leave. I’m almost there. There’s only a consideration of the cost.
I have a rich family heritage of leaving. My thoughts often turn to that great-great-grandfather who left wife and two daughters in Sweden. Just left them behind because they would not go with him to America, to await the end of the world in a safe place among the Saints. There’s a great-granduncle who left behind “a fallen prophet” to continue practicing “the Principle.” And a great-grandfather, grandson of Brigham, who, overcome with grief, just checked out—haunting the poolrooms and pubs of Salt Lake City … and haunting my mind. Leaving seemed the right choice for them. Perhaps it was even a price they felt compelled to pay?
See the example and read the admonitions of those who stay. They say staying is good; the price of leaving, too great. Though they taught me to honor the sacrifices of those who leave the world to join the Church, and though they promise that the price of what is left behind is virtually inconsequential when compared to the reward, they also say that it is those who choose to stay that should inspire us now. And so I agreed to let the mysteries of those who reject the reward remain in that box under the bed where dust bunnies play their tricks.
But then fate and I pulled out the box, chased-away the dust, and wept with those who left.
Of all the choices in life, leaving may be the hardest. By nature, we want to honor our people and traditions. We want to stay, and this wanting makes choosing to stay so much easier. I wanted to please my parents, so I chose to attend church as a child. I wanted to honor the wishes and judgment of my elders, so I chose to be baptized. I wanted to be accepted by my people, to do what is right before my God, so I chose to serve a mission and to marry in the temple. I wanted to stay; and so for much of my life I’ve chosen to stay. And this choice has been comforting.
Then the comfort went away. There’s not much left at this point but to be true to the whole story. For every member not born into the Church, leaving is at least half of the story, the most traumatic, the price they paid for the flawed pearl they now hold. It’s time to honor the memory of those who left and the full value of what they left behind. Hold it in your hands and contemplate: Were they right? Am I wrong?
Yes, I’m in the process of leaving. The threads of my faith have become as bare as the threads of my garments. Yet I still wear them. The last few threads are as steel that binds my heart to those who stay.
I have not found a reason sharp enough to cut these last threads. So I remain in the process of leaving … unwilling to pay the price asked by my great-great-grandfather’s God.
Originally published in Sunstone Magazine, July 2009, under the title All That Is Left Behind. Re-published here with some revision.
[Image credit: album art - The Decemberists - Castaways and Cutouts]