Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Religion: A Stable Force for a Traveling Girl

I wrote this post a week ago, before moving.
In just a few days, I will leave Provo, Utah, a town where I have lived for eight years now.  A number of people have told me that I’m adventurous and that they’d never be so comfortable traveling to new states for academic conferences, or moving across the country for a PhD program. But the truth is that I’m mostly a homebody, so moving is overwhelming.
When I moved to Utah, it was my first time living outside of New Hampshire, and I came here with an older sister. She wasn’t my only support: one of my cousins was here at the time, as well as several other friends from New Hampshire. Not only do I have no family in Athens, Georgia — I have no family in the entire state. I have no family in the South. For a multi-generation New England girl, who grew up with two sets of cousins as her closest neighbors, that’s a strange feeling.
Of course, other aspects of leaving feel strange. Over the last two months Utah’s dry climate has declared war on my sinuses, so I can’t deny that I’m a bit anxious to get away. At the same time, the landscape is suddenly very dear to me. The mountains for once seem lovely, and when I step outside at sunset, I’m shocked by the beauty. When I spend time with the many people I’ll miss, I’ve found myself counting down the months, then weeks, then days I have left with them – as I simultaneously struggle not to count down.
A Mormon temple in Atlanta, Georgia. For Mormons across the world, temples represent a haven from the trials of life.
Moving leaves me anxious — much more anxious than I like to admit. But moving is also making me aware that my religion is one of the biggest forces allowing me to pick up and go. That statement might sound contradictory – religion can be a grounding force, and it often goes hand in hand with settling down and staying in one place. But it’s that very grounding element that allows me to wander into a strange place, as a relatively cautious single woman, and not panic.
When I visited the campus where I’ll be starting a PhD program, a Mormon acquaintance let me stay with her. She took me on a tour of campus and brought me to her own Mormon congregation, where everyone welcomed me and even encouraged me to join them at the University of Georgia.
But the support doesn’t stop there. A woman in my mother’s Mormon congregation recently moved to New Hampshire from Athens, Georgia. When my mother told her that I was going to Athens, this woman passed along her cell phone number so I could call her for help contacting other people in the area. She provided me with numbers of local leaders and helped me figure out which congregation I would be attending (Mormons attend the congregation that is assigned to us based on where we live).
As a Mormon feminist in Georgia, I will probably inhabit a strange but fascinating space. My cohort is likely to include a lot of liberal people, since that’s often the case with grad students in creative writing, and my Mormon congregation is likely to include a lot of conservative people. My students are likely to be conservative too, but perhaps without acknowledging my faith as more than a cult. Given Mitt Romney’s place in the upcoming presidential election, the rhetoric will be nothing short of fascinating. Especially if/when people find out that I’m a Mormon woman who intends to vote for Obama.
But even though my faith will provide part of that strange and contradictory place, it will also bring me a sense of stability and family. Not only will I find support from members and from my personal relationship with God — I’ll also find a place of peace when I go to the Mormon temple in Atlanta. Unlike Mormon chapels, where we meet for Sunday services, Sunday School, and other meetings and activities throughout the week, temples are set apart as very special and sacred places.
So yes, moving overwhelms me, and it makes me nervous. But even if I sometimes feel like I’m in a place as unfamiliar as the moon, the temple will always provide a haven and a sense of consistency in my life.

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