How many times?
I sat on the floor with my legs crossed, leaning against a console stereo, my ear pressed to the textured side. I listened, intently and for hours, to the music emanating from the speaker. My mother carefully placed records on the spindle inside and from the outside I learned how to live in the world. Peter, Paul and Mary sang the questions of “Blowing in the Wind;” Bob Dylan’s poetry woven with their plaintive and impassioned harmonies. “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see? How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? How many deaths will it take ’til he knows that too many people have died?” The answers were elusive and elemental, but in the questions we were urged to look in our own heart. It was the questions that taught me the woman I wanted to be.
With this soundtrack, I went out into a world where war was on television, where kids got teased, where people with difference were made to feel that way. I fought back, cried, worried, wrote poems, and listened to the music that gave me courage. I read voraciously about rebels and holy people who stood for what was right amid challenging circumstances. Every quest began with a question that defied an established order. I read passages over and over, memorizing the words and actions of change. I internalized their stories and looked for how to enact them in my tiny, suburban sphere.
At ten years old, I heard about Joseph Smith’s first vision. My father played Peter, Paul and Mary songs for the missionaries when they visited, cementing the connection between this story and the ideas that, up to that point, had been the spiritual grounding in our home. I recognized Joseph immediately. He was young and brave and he set truth in motion with one question. This journey would lead him to a rich, vibrant theology that boldly asserted that humans were not born as sinful slaves but gods in embryo, charged with mortal to divine progression, given gifts of text, personal revelation and inherited insight. I believed deeply in what seemed a glorious birthright. As a young woman, I was told this right to ask was exclusive and not mine, but I never believed the answer mongers who chastised me. Teenage Joseph was one of my people, obviously not theirs.
I am a grown up now. I aspire to big activism and try for small actions. I still play the same music and read the same stories. My heros and heroines, however, are closer to home. I see people who stand up and speak up all around me and I cheer them on. There are many fights I have had to walk away from, too tired or wounded to continue. But from the sidelines, I hand out cups of water as if to support runners in a marathon. I marvel at how fast and strong people can be and how long they can keep going. I celebrate them, even when I don’t always agree, even when the fight seems futile. Questions, hard questions, human questions, often rooted in pain, are at the vanguard of any community, demanding that old boundaries are reconsidered. It is asking “why?” that shifts the next generation to a world more safe, more free, more fair, and more innovative than the world before.
I admit that I can be strident, relentless, and overly protective. I exhibit the same impatience with people who don’t agree with me that they do when I don’t agree with them. I am distracted by the day to day and tempted by the desire to sit down and shut up and accept and obey. I lose my focus to what is really meaningful to me and those around me. Then I play the music, ask the questions, and see through lens of possibility. I realize once again that every time I work an eight hour day, every time a see a school bus, every time I fly my flag, every time I vote, every time I daydream about my son’s wedding, every time I read a book, every time I do something that I take for granted as my right – someone, somewhere, defied the answer they were given and went to search for something more. Something in the wind.