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Why Are We Here?

More and more lately, I’ve been finding myself as a post-Mormon wondering what the point of life is. And yes, I recognize the irony. I’m well aware that for decades, missionary discussion often began with the question — Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? And Mormonism had all the answers. We’re here to get a body. To be tested to see if we will choose the right. To get married and have children. To join Mormonism and follow all the rules until we “earn” our way to become gods in the after-life.

But when you throw all those ideas out, then why are we here again?

As a Mormon, I was so convinced that I had a purpose. I started telling people at age five that I was going to grow up to be a writer. For a long time, I believed that I was just really smart at figuring that out. Now I look back and wonder how much of my wanting to be a writer came from a natural fit for language and story and how much came from me wanting to fulfill the story of the five-year-old who knew she wanted to be a writer because she wrote a story about a rainbow dragon. (For one thing, I wonder if she would have been better off deciding to work with computers, like all of her well-paid siblings did).

I believed firmly that I was going to make the world a better place through my writing. Even through a lot of my faith transition, I continued to believe that my writing was helping other people. They contacted me often enough, in emails or on-line, thanking me for putting words to their experience. This was what I’d been made to do. I’m good with words. I can write quickly and efficiently. After the idea that God was inspiring me to make people better, I was OK with the substitute mission in life to help people who were going through similar things to what I was.

Until I wondered if it was worth it. Not just dealing with the on-line criticism (which is worse for me as a woman than for men, but not nearly as bad as if I was a POC or LGBT+). But also just the weight of carrying the burden of other people with me in each essay I wrote. I wanted to make sure I got it right each time, and if I made a mistake, it was a lot worse now since I have no real concept of “repentance” or “Atonement” anymore. I’m responsible for my own shit and I just have to keep trying to do better because I’m far from perfect (whatever that means) and I hurt people accidentally far too often. Worse, I neglect people and ignore them. I’m trying to do better, but yeah, this is a thing.

If I’m not convinced anymore that I’m doing good in the world by my writing, then why am I here again? I’m a human in a body that is great at eating food and creating heat from it. I’ve already given birth to children and am no longer fertile. I’m not making money that I could give to charitable causes I believe in. I don’t know that anyone needs me anymore. I’m not waking up every morning, bouncing with the need to write a new novel that bugs me until it’s complete.

I’m not saying that I deserve space less than other humans on the planet. I have complicated feelings about environmental issues, which I don’t think we understand well still. But one thing I do believe: I’m going to die. And when I die, it won’t be long before my books are forgotten. I may or may not have grandchildren, so my genes may or may not end up in the larger gene pool of the future. So why am I here again?

Yes, I know that people answer me all the time that I need to stop focusing on big picture stuff. I’m here to be happy. I’m here to enjoy the moments of joy I have with my adult children. I’m here to enjoy the movement of my body when I go on a walk and don’t get bitten by a dog. But I’m going to be really honest here and say that I’m not sure this is enough for me. It’s a big step down and I guess I was just the kind of self-righteous, certain Mormon who knew what the future held and how important she was in it. It hurts to let go of that, even knowing all the racism that was part and parcel of that. It hurts to be so small. It may be true, but I’m not sure, as a certain Mormon apostle once said, that truth is always good.

Written by

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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