Thursday, March 26, 2009

Descending from My Pedestal

G and I were talking awhile back and discussing some of the issues we'd dealt with since leaving Mormonism. I don't go into my issues with Mormonism a lot here. This is largely because while things about the church piss me off, giving myself permission to leave it banished most of the cognitive dissonance that was making life so difficult right there toward the end of my stint.
That said, leaving the church and losing my belief in God necessitated a shift in my world view that was overwhelming at first. I had to reconstruct my reality in very fundamental ways. I had to do everything from change my conception of the cosmos to come to grips with the fact that people I'd taken as real historical figures never even existed. But I think the most difficult thing I struggled with after leaving the church was my overwhelming insignificance. This was what G and I were discussing particularly. We agreed to do blog posts on it. She's much more on the ball than I am :)
My loss of testimony happened the last couple semesters I was in school, so most of my "aha" moments happened as a result of things I was studying. The realization of my nothingness happened as a result of a "History and Philosophy of Science" class that I was taking my last semester. As we worked our way through each successive scientific discovery, I saw the need for a creator god becoming less and less. And while this is clichee I'm sure, our study of the cosmos was key in my realizing just how tiny, vulnerable and unimportant this planet--and as a result of that, myself-- was in the bigger expanse of the universe.
Growing up Mormon, I was taught that I was a daughter of deific parents and would someday, if I was righteous, be a goddess myself. I was told that I was special, that my generation would do magnificent things in the world. As a result, while I never really planned on being famous or anything like that, I still felt pressure to make my own particular mark on the world. The brand of Mormonism I was brought up in said that I would do this ideally through the influence I would have on my children. But the message was the same: You are a daughter of God. You should do great things.
When I left the church, I'd already made decisions that largely cut off the possibility of my making my own, kid-separate mark. I'd had children, hadn't gone to graduate school as I'd wanted, and I'd gotten a largely useless degree that didn't bring me a lot of financial freedom. It hit me at some point that I would probably never be that world famous philosopher. I'd never be a famous singer. I'd probably never make it out of the lower middle class. It was quite a blow to my admittedly large ego.
What was even worse was realizing that even if I did make some mark on this world, it would be transitory at best. I had an Ozymandias complex, I guess. Even if I wrote that great novel, came up with that thought changing philosophy, or even did a great job with my kids, eventually, it would be forgotten. Eventually all the people who remembered my stories would die. This caused me, and if I'm honest with my self still causes me, a lot of angst sometimes.
At my most fatalistic, I realize that if I ceased to exist, people would only be sad for as long as they were alive (and maybe not even that long) and then eventually, no one would care that I was gone. On those days, it's my stubborn, refuse-to-throw-in-the-towel idealism that keeps me getting up in the morning. But overall, the way I've dealt with this is to tighten my sphere of influence. I realized that the most important people in my life were not important to me because they were famous, but because they cared about me. I realized that if I lost any of them, it would be significant to me and their other loved ones, even though the rest of the world would never notice. And I realized that if these people were that important to me, chances were I was important to them too. So what if I never write the all-American novel (or even short story for that matter ;-)? If I've been a good friend, mother, teacher, lover, co-worker, whatever, to the people who share their lives with me, then it's enough. Because these people are absolutely vital in my eyes. If I lose any of them (and they are many) I would be honored to keep their stories alive. And even though I won't care once I'm actually dead, I'm honored to think that they'd be telling mine. Nothing is permanent in this world. And in general, I'm okay with that.