A Time of Grief, A Time of Grace

“Seated Figure” from 13th century Niger Delta. Courtesy of The Met.

The last two weeks have been clouded with grief. Afraid that Exponent II would not survive the financial crisis, I wondered whether the work to which I’ve given my heart over the last eight years would melt away before my eyes. At night I lay awake, my mind racing with worry. During the day I felt physically weighed down, as if all the anger, sadness, and confusion I felt were literal burdens for me to carry. I was exhausted, but had more than ever to do: contact the women closest to Exponent II, help write a public statement, contact a couple of staff members to let them know that their usual miniscule stipends would be unpaid for this issue. I was also supposed to continue to move the Fall 2017 issue forward to production, although I didn’t know if we could actually pay to print it.

When I was sitting up late at night, the image that came to me was of the table at the silent auction at our annual retreat. For those of you who haven’t attended the retreat in the last five years: We set up a table in the back of the large gathering room and women donate items for the auction. We have books that retreat attendees have authored, homemade jam, hilarious MoFem t-shirts, art, jewelry, and once an entire crocheted nativity set. It makes us a couple thousand dollars, which is a lot for us. Exponent II has always been scrappy. I would sit up at night at think about that table and the hours of work and love put into filling it, and cry with grief and frustration. I imagined having to call Claudia Bushman and the other founding mothers I love, having to tell them that under my tenure as editor in chief, Exponent II had failed and that we were shutting our doors. My heart felt filled with a dreary fog.

As the Exponent II board prepared to go public with this sad information, we steeled ourselves for the anger that we assumed would follow. People had a right to be angry with us. And while we expected that many people would be forgiving, we also expected some cancellations of subscriptions and public shaming. Our current American culture is not one that gives credit for good intentions or is generous with forgiveness.

Because one of the roles of Exponent II is to make an historical record of the voices of Mormon women during a particular time, I want to share here a handful of the hundreds of Facebook messages, emails, and phone calls we received. These are from staff members, bloggers, donors, subscribers, retreaters, and readers, a spectrum of people from all across the Exponent II community:

“I’ve been mourning this since I first read it hours and hours ago. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you and everyone else dealing with it. If there’s anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to reach out—I am as committed as ever to this work. I dearly love ExII and I’m so grateful for the hard work you do for the magazine and the organization. Thank you, truly, for all that you do.”

“I believe in Exponent, and I also believe in and support the wonderful women on its board. Thank you for the work you do, especially the very hard work you have to do at this time and as a consequence of this situation. You all have my love and support.”

“Adding my voice of love and support to all the women involved and to the vital mission of Exponent II. May we all feel a spirit of forgiveness, as well as a renewed commitment to integrity and transparency.”

“So sad to hear this news. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Exponent II’s board will handle this situation with wisdom and grace, no matter how it decides to proceed. This community has been a balm to my soul for so long that it’s devastating to see it hurt like this. I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be for those who give so many hours to making the community and the magazine and blog thrive. Thank you for your efforts. Sending love and peace your way as you navigate these new, troubled waters.”

“Exponent II is a human institution with a sacred mission — it has been an answered prayer for me countless times … and for thousands of other women. I will lend my support however I can to preserving this organization and helping it move forward.

I’m grateful for the professionalism and dedication of the board during this complicated, heartbreaking time. I know they’re working countless hours behind the scenes to preserve the integrity – – legal, financial and otherwise – – of this organization.”

“Thank you for the transparency, and all the hard work you are doing. Love to you all, (and also to the woman who has taken so much money from Exponent, because her road ahead is also hard). Our group is replete with wise women who know how to manage wrongdoing with both grace and appropriate boundaries, and I am so grateful and appreciative of having you to lead us and to learn from.”

“This is such a painful situation. I pray for peace and comfort for all of you as you find a way forward that will balance the demands of justice and healing for the community. If there ever were a group capable of threading that needle, it would be in Exponent.”

“The editors and board work so hard to make this a safe community that is desperately needed. How painful that the trust you’ve placed has been betrayed. I’m glad there will be more diligent procedures moving forward, but this is not the fault of the board or editors, so I hope none of you women feel that way.”

“Exponent II has been one of the most important organizations (maybe the most important) in my life. I found it in my early twenties and have been profoundly honored to work alongside these amazing, smart, fiery, gracious women for years. I’ve been devastated by this news on many levels. But reading all these messages of love and support gives me hope. I too extend my heartfelt gratitude to the current board which is doing so much work to discern how best to move forward. Thank you for your good hearts and countless hours. I know you will guide this organization forward in wisdom.”

“Strong women doing good work. That’s what Exponent is about.

Thanks for this letter, for all the heart-breaking and courageous work being done with regard to this terrible situation. You have my prayers, my respect, and my full support. Now and always. “

“Exponent II has been a lifeline to me since the 70s. We will rise. You on the board are wonderful and the work will go forth.”

This moment feels so hard right now and raw, but I feel hope, and faith, and love that the Exponent community will get through it. The work that the organization does is incredible and real. And the magazine. It is gold. You bear good fruit. I know it will continue.”

“Trust lost in one is not trust lost in all. Thank you for your honesty and care toward mending and recovery. I love you all, and my heart is still yours.”

****

Have you ever seen a moment of pain on the internet that was met with universal kindness and an outpouring of shared mourning, comfort, and support? I haven’t, until this moment. Every single reaction we got was filled with gratitude for the space Exponent II has created over the decades and compassion for this error. I felt like the heavens were opening and light was pouring down on me. While moving forward will be incredibly challenging and there is still a great deal of work to do, the knowledge that our community is there to lend a shoulder to cry on and a hand to help gives me the hope I lacked on my own.

In Christian theology, grace is the unmerited peace and love that God gives us without asking for anything in return. When we are the most broken, grace is what gives us life. Given the depth and scope of wisdom, strength, and kindness that Exponent II women have taught me over many years, it should not have surprised me that there was much more I had to learn from this group. But grace always comes as a surprise, because it is unearned. It comes in at the cracks, when it is least expected, and disperses the darkness, leaving trails of hope and light in its wake.

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5 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    Oh, Margaret. Oh, Exponent II community. I read this out loud to my baby as he nursed at my breast. By the end, I was sobbing grateful, grateful tears, and it was hard to breathe, partly from the hurt that still feels like hurt, but much more so from the wide generosity and grace that have been offered. Thank you, Margaret, for preserving it here.

  2. Danna says:

    So beautiful! Your words, and the community’s! Thank you for your words and your courage to push onward. ❤️

  3. Jonette says:

    This was beautiful. I just renewed my subscription ? Much love to all of those involved.

  4. Ziff says:

    I’m so happy that this was the response.

  5. I was also surprised by the outpouring of kindness and empathy. This has been so hard, but the Exponent has a special, understanding, resilient community.

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