O Remember, Remember
It got to be so common that I knew it was happening before we were fifteen seconds into the conversation. A woman from my ward would pull me aside in the church hallway, ask to go for a walk, quietly start up a conversation in a corner at a ward activity. They were Relief Society presidents, a stake president’s wife, a Primary president, my visiting teacher, a senior missionary, a bishop’s wife, a seminary teacher, and a dozen others. They ranged in age from early twenties to eighty. Sometimes the woman was calm, sometimes weeping, sometimes agitated, but the opening words were always similar: “You seem like someone I could talk to about the temple and I just have to talk to somebody . . .”
They told me about how they cried through the endowment because of how women were treated there. They told me that they felt like what was intended as the pinnacle of their spiritual lives was a burden they could barely bear. They told me that every time the temple came up at church, they were internally cringing. They told me they felt ashamed for their feelings. Often, they told me that their husbands simply didn’t understand, and so they’d stopped talking about it.
I just listened. And I told them that how they felt was okay. They weren’t unrighteous. They weren’t imagining things. They weren’t wrong. I told them that I was always willing to talk about these things and they could bring it up again with me anytime and that I wouldn’t betray their confidentiality or judge them in any way. If they never brought it up again, I would respect that silence.
I did, however, carry their stories with me. I have held their grief and pain with my own, making a burden that felt too heavy sometimes. Out of love for them, I have many times been the dissenting voice in a lesson on the temple, earning me dagger-eyes from some other members of the class. Almost all of the women who came to me never showed up on at a feminist blog or retreat. They never publicly shared their struggle and couldn’t rely on the kind of community that I had. I felt, at times, like I had an unofficial calling to be the one-person temple support group for the women in my various wards.
I am genuinely overjoyed to think that these women have had their burden removed. I have gotten weepy with happiness every time I think about them in the last couple days. I’m so grateful to know that my own daughter and these women’s daughters will not suffer like their mothers did. The easing of that struggle is something to feel wholeheartedly and unequivocally thankful for.
But as long as I live, I will continue to carry those women’s stories with me. I will not pretend for a moment like these changes are simply an adjustment of details. These women will never receive public recognition for the quiet work that they did within themselves or their families and they would never ask for it. Yet I believe that these faithful women’s cries to God for relief or comfort were a major part of the birth these changes. I will forever be a witness of that crushing work. My soul wept for them as we had those conversations in hallways and corners. I will not forget or deny that grief.
There will be a “before” and an “after” January 2, 2019 for LDS women’s experiences in the temple. I couldn’t be more happy to be on the “after” side. But the burden of what went before doesn’t disappear. It is etched in my heart. It is etched in their hearts. We will remember together.