Heavenly Homes

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Deep down, I was always a little jealous, you could say, of those people. You know, the ones who always knew what they wanted, always knew where they were going next, always knew who they wanted to become—or at least, it seemed that way. Home is where the heart is, as the cliché goes, and those boundless vagabonds seemed to find home wherever their next specific goal, placed deep down in their hearts, took them. Cheerleading and tournament weekend champions? Check. Volunteering to build schoolhouses for Ghanaian children? Check. Scuba diving off the coast? Check.

But there were no checkmarks like these ones on my list, and I was no vagabond, neither seeking home nor feeling completely content with where I was. Rather, I was a homebody. Not that my body was particularly pentagon-ish or made of brick and mortar. Although, to be honest, if I were to be built out of man-made materials, brick would be my choice. But it would have to be red brick, the best brick of all the bricks in the world.

* * *

The Vatican is not made out of brick. Not even red brick. It is made of the blood of the laymen. As one of “the holiest places” in the world, our visit as a study abroad group of Brigham Young University to the Vatican had been hot, cramped, claustrophobic, and, simply put, miserable. The word Vatican, the origins of which are shrouded in mystery, was supposedly used a mere name for a hill in Rome; however, the Latin word vatincinor means “to prophesy” from vatis, meaning “poet, teacher, oracle” (www.alphadicionary.com). If I could have prophesied or had an oracle given to my by the gods the craziness that would follow the morning before we left for our outing, perhaps I would have gone about visiting the center of the Catholic Church differently. Maybe I would have tucked a fan into my saddlebag or worn a hula-hooped vest, allowing a few inches to be salvaged as my outward shrine for my personal bubble.

Yes, it was incredible, seeing the Sistine Chapel, the numerous sculptures and the “idols” (if you were a sixteenth-century Reformation Protestant), and St. Peter’s Basilica. Here is the home of popes, future popes, and cardinals, the past and the current, which is visited by approximately 25,000 sweaty tourists every day and five million every year (Brady). For some, the pilgrimage is a holy quest. Yet for me, although I recognize the holiness, which it holds for many and the importance it carries on with white-Western history, the Vatican was no heavenly home, to say the least.

At the end of August, it is still humid and sunny in Italy, and when I arrived back in my room—alone—there, I sat, drenched in sticky sweat and fanning myself in the living room. The room situation was fine. There were an odd number of girls, and I ended up, somehow, having an apartment to sleep in without other roommates. This room was to be my home-away-from-home.

* * *

Labeled: the homebody. I was the girl who preferred staying inside her room all day long. I don’t remember my first room, or my first home, I lived in particularly well. I was born and grew up in the sunny sin-city—Las Vegas. Memories of the past blur with present so often that it is hard to distinguish reality and pseudo-reality, which then feels just as real as reality—so is there reality in this un-real reality? Like my brother, who after watching home videos over the years, says he remembers perfectly eating a whole slice of lemon when he couldn’t even walk yet. Or when he says he remembers the feeling of riding two horses at the same time (or rather two swing sets linked together and swung back and forth from keyed up energy of a toddler aged boy) like Zorro in the movie. Does Jacob actually remember doing these things? He has a pretty close to perfect memory. Or is he reconstructing this reality from the reality of a camera and a video cassette player?

But I digress. Memories—all alone in the moonlight—you’re a tricky thing, aren’t ya? Much less poetical than the hit song from the musical Cats, music Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Trevor Nunn, but my point is this: as fleeting as moonlight is, so are memories. Maybe you think you see moonlight, but it’s really just a glimmer of a glimpse of something else.

My memories of the Paterson house, which my first home from the time I was age newborn to three, are limited and reflective. Inside the house, there were mirrors on all the closet doors of the bedroom. Flickers of color pass through my mind, reds and yellows. A red feather hangs down into my face, and yellow triangles or diamonds or both fly by. It’s a feathered headband! Legs spread out on the floor, drum between legs, arms beating (maybe with a stick?) a drum, which sides are leathered and worn with texture, but the skin of the drum—it’s smooth and soft to the touch. The focused gaze is at this poor little drum, which is continued to be beaten. But then the scrutiny shifts. And there sits a little girl, with cropped hair the color of sunlight and big, blue eyes and a calm face, half expectant for something to happen, and smooth—smoother than the drum—and paler than moonlight. She looks at me. I look at her. She is me, and in this final realization—the dream, the memory, the reverie—it dissolves to darkness.

There have been no home videos, to my knowledge, of this scene of which I have described. I’ve never watched it before, so whether or not is contrived out of pure imagination or is actually happened, I don’t know—not that I ever will. When I reflect on this memory of home and my presence, sitting alone on the floor, the memory and the experience of reliving this memory become translucent and transcendent, simultaneously.

* * *

Rome is Rome—but home is home. And I just “wasn’t feeling it,” especially after being cramped and shuffled along with and pushed by Asians and Afghans and Anglo-Saxons and Albanians and Angolans and Australians and Argentinians and fellow Americans. I couldn’t help but wonder, in my state of loneliness and exhaustion, why I had bothered to come to this trip abroad, with no friends and no family and no common language and no real home. This statement may seem self-centered and shallow—which it was. This opportunity to see Italy, France, England, and Scotland—who could’ve asked for more? I was blessed, but in this exact moment, I had trouble seeing the blessings and felt my tired feet more. I don’t know, maybe I could blame my self-pity a little on culture shock or homesickness or something.

One, two, three tissues later—my being sick with a cold pressed forward with its mucus-travelling trip via nose, throat, and mouth. Sniffling, I wiped stray, rolling tears that began to fall down my cheeks. So add to the raw soreness of my feet, I now had bleary, eyes and tear-stained, flushed un-rosy-red cheeks. I’m an ugly crier; it’s true.

Skyping Mom and Dad was a rash, mistaken judgment call on my part. After complaining that I should never have come on this trip away from home, they told me to stop crying and, well, pull myself together. There were other girls who were struggling, probably, as well, to make friends and to feel happy and not tired. I just needed to seek out others to become friends with and to give myself and the experience a chance. After the call ended and feeling more lectured at than loved, I flopped on the skinny couch and fell into a deep sleep.

* * *

When I was around three years of age, my family moved from the Patterson house to a home about five minutes drive from the temple. It was a big decision, a big change, especially for toddler Katie. Apparently, I told everybody who asked that I was going to the “up-up-up house.” My parents didn’t know whether I called the new home this name because the home was built on the mountain or because it was a two-story house with a staircase, unlike the Patterson house, which was one story tall. But it became home to our little family, which grew from three to four at the birth of baby “Bapup” in November. It was the only place I ever really called home. My entire life surrounded that home: all my memories, all my experiences, all my hopes and dreams.

In my childhood, I loved to play pretend, imagining I was anywhere else but in the “up-up-up house.” My brother and I created a family of Barbies and GI-Joes where magic existed and literally anything was possible. Timus Thomas Barbae. A perfect, pretend world that never would exist.

* * *

I’ve never found myself to be particularly “motherly” or the “mom-type.” Playing with pretend babies and pretend Barbies and pretend dolls—easy peasy. But real babies—whole other matter. Babies cry when I hold them. Baby food looks disgusting. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I changed a diaper. And I look terrible in mom jeans.

I don’t remember what age when I thought, “I’m never going to have children. Like ever.” I just didn’t think then I could handle it, emotionally or mentally or spiritually. I feared that I would just break them, screw everything up, ruin these teeny tiny lives Father in Heaven had trusted me with. I feared failure, as a parent, as a mother, as a daughter of a Perfect Parent.

During my freshman year at BYU, there was a woman, middle thirties, in one of my classes. One day after class was finished, we walked out together, talking about school and life. She started talking to me about her separation she was going through with her husband and how that really frustrated her whole “baby hunger.” I was paying attention before, but when she said that phrase, my Lassie ears perked up. What in the world was baby hunger? Like straight up Jonathan Swift, whole Modest Proposal? Wasn’t that essay supposed to be bitingly satirical and not to be taken literally? So, being blunt as I am, I asked this fellow classmate what she meant by having baby hunger.

My classmate looked puzzlingly at me and replied that you know, really wanting to have a baby, and I just nodded my head and was like oh, right, of course. But I had no clue what she was talking about. Was this expression something Utah people said? I just felt like something was wrong with me, not wanting to have children at that very moment. But I’ve always been different growing up, I felt it must be another thing to add to the list of what makes me “special.” Not having baby hunger? Okay, yeah, that was me.

I confided in my mom once about my fear of rearing children, and she replied, “It’s different when it’s your own. It’s different.”

One day, like flipping a coin soaring in the air, I suddenly learned what it felt like. No, I didn’t want to eat a baby. And I didn’t want to kidnap or steal a baby. But there was this feeling inside me that said, hey, maybe doing this whole kid thing wouldn’t be so bad, you know? That’s my baby hunger, as a single, twenty-two-and-a-half-year-old woman, my desire for a future, for a family, and it’s good enough for me for now. I can look to my future home with only half an eye facing the future, and the other half facing the present.

“It’s different when it’s your own. It’s just different.”

* * *

Two hours or so later, after falling into a dreamless sleep in Rome, I woke to the sun beginning to set. In Provo during the winter, it always felt to me, a Las Vegan gal, that Provo skies decide to go to bed in a hurry. Once the sun decides it has done its work for the day, the sky switches immediately to moody blackness. However, the fragrant twilight of Rome seemed to continue almost endlessly. The amber light lingered longer, molding shadows that grew lengthy limbs. The sun, holding close her baby-pinks and lavender and ochre, took her time, as if smiling and wishing silent good-byes upon her children in the world below her ceaseless gaze. My window, with lacy trimmings and a wide, happy mouth, showed me this view with open arms, as if to beckon me “Behold this sight, little one.” And it was an awe-inspiring one, for me, in my isolation. Quiet solace entered my heart and cooled with gentle hand my feverish, perspiring brow.

This afternoon was our “free time,” the first time we really had in the course of our trip thus far to take a break and relax. My nap sucked up most the time, but there was still when I awoke to freshen up. Embolden to set out on my quest to meet new people and make friends, I knocked on the next door to my apartment, which ended up being the room of English professor and his family. Dr. Eastley was gone, but his wife, Alison, stood at the door. Uncomfortably, I mumbled that I was just saying hello to “the neighbors” and didn’t mean to bother anyone or to interrupt anything. Mrs. Eastley beamed and welcomed me in, saying that I wasn’t a bother and that I should sit down and talk with her.

* * *

Over a year after coming home from the study abroad, on Monday, 26 January 2015, I drove down 500 West in Provo, Utah, to my doctor’s appointment, scheduled at 1:40 P.M. An ordinary Monday, an ordinary appointment. I was experiencing a certain amount of pain, and there were some problems with my “time of the month.” Too long and too heavy, still, even after birth control. Mood swings. Sharp, piercing pain in my stomach. Nausea. Migraines. Difficulty sleeping. Hot and cold flashes at odd times. I sounded like the side effects of a commercial advertising some new pill.

The doctor came in, asking some pretty normal questions. I answered as best I could, explaining the situation. She asked some more health questions, and then she told me to rest on the table/chair so she could check some things. After she was done, she said she wanted me to get my blood tested. “Premature Ovarian Failure,” she said. “Or maybe not.”

“It’s different when it’s your own body, your own problems, your own infertility,” I thought.

I was in shock. Maybe it was thyroid problems, but she wanted to check for Premature Ovarian Failure, AKA Early Menopause. Only twenty-two years old! Menopause is for old people, right? I joked sometimes that I felt like I was going through early menopause, with all my random sweatiness and inability to sleep.

But it was possible that it would be impossible for me to ever bear children. I may never be able to become pregnant or have high difficulty becoming pregnant. I may never hold a little life in my arms.

Approximately 1% of women have Premature Ovarian Failure. I might be part of that 1%. Yet, 5% to 10% are able to become pregnant spontaneously. When I read that online, I thought immediately to immaculate conception. But the chances of become pregnant the “natural way” are slim.

Infertility. It sounded final, irreversible, like fate shoving its enigma down my throat. Shock, sobbing, shock, sobbing, shock. When I left the clinic, I seemed to go through those motions, stuck in an endless cycle.

“It’s different when it’s your own,” I thought. “It’s just different.”

* * *

Children, of the Eastley’s and those of our art professor, Dr. Jensen, and her husband, ran around the room and laughed with wild glee. Marian was to write in her journal, explained Mrs. Eastley. The girl holding the book wore glasses and two braids on the sides of her face, and there was something about her that reminded me of myself at that age. Next to her was another girl of the same age, a Jensen, with bright eyes and round, cheery face. Marian had finished her writing for the day, and the two girls were looking back at what Marian had written at home when she was in first grade—first grade! Now they were in fifth; first grade was such a long time ago. Apparently, there was a love interest, in this first grade class, and it was passionate. There was love involved, of course, which was gross, of course, but this lover, the topic of conversation was what the two girls talked of interminably and nothing else—this forgotten love of her young life that was ages ago—was it four years, really?—and this discussion, full of giggling and wide eyes, lasted the thirty minutes I spent in their current home for the week.

* * *

After traveling on the Continent, our study abroad group stayed most of our time in London. Our student flat was in Kilburn, about fifteen, twenty minutes out of the heart of central London. Two tube transfers, and you could be in the center of the world. I was assigned the Lea Valley Ward, about a two-and-a-half hour tube ride. This email is what I received from Brother Kahwa, the councilor in the bishopric, shortly after moving into my new home for the next three months:

The three of us were the BYU students. Sarah and I were called to serve in the primary, wrangling children and breaking up fights. These kids were vivacious, to say the least. There were many children, and the ward was quite diverse. People from all over the world—South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Philippines, Ireland, Scotland, Mexico, America, New Zealand—gathered in this humble little church outside of London to pray and to worship god. And, if you were ten years old, to punch one another.

The children, they were rascals, and I, overwhelmed. Overtime I learned their names, their personalities, their voices, their hearts. I became less overwhelmed and more heartfelt. As my love grew for them, I knew them better, and they grew to know me better, too. They weren’t always quiet, but there was a little more reverence. When I would play the piano, the children would want to sit with me and watch me play. Poor primary president, having to tell them, along with me reminding them, to please sit down.

* * *

Often I felt inadequate with conversation, although, while sitting at the kitchen table in the small apartment, much more comfortable talking with an adult than I did with the other students on the travel abroad who were my own age. Even as a child, I never seemed to fit in particularly well with kids in my age group, my class (both at primary in Church and at school), or dance and sports activities. In a body of a frustrated child was a soul, it seemed, of an adult.

Despite my feelings of inadequacy at conversation topics, and while the two girls gleefully prattled on about Ms. First-Grade’s class and the other students, Mrs. Eastley and I talked of nothing out of the ordinary but only of our extraordinary day, full of art and history and culture, even if there were lots of bodies about and the crowds—weren’t some tourists just awful!—but, oh, the art’s beauty—oh, it was stunning, wasn’t it?—seeing these murals up close, by Michelangelo and all those other guys who were artists back then, even if passing by was a bit hurried at times and sometimes more forcefully shoved along, they were just so real and so touchable, and your whole life, you see these pictures in books and in movies, but it feels, or maybe, seems so different to see them, the art, in real life, in reality.

This topic, of our day and of the art, came naturally. Mrs. Eastley was a kind woman and easy to talk to. We also talked of God and the sacredness of temples, in contrast to the feeling that we both felt in the Vatican. A place, renowned as well as respected for very legitimate reasons, seemed to lack for us that sacred feeling of the Spirit. In my head, I thought about how, a few mere hours ago, I had been sitting alone in my room crying, while now I, laughing and talking as if a natural at it, was in quite a different state of mind and person. It seemed easy now, or at least easier, than the thought of human contact and interaction had been in my state of previous bemoan-ment, rather than being in the moment and enjoying myself over a wooden table in a kitchen in Italy. Italy!

* * *

Mansions in heaven—that always seems to come up when we talk about returning to our home in heaven. We see this idea expressed in the scriptures. D&C 98:18: “Let not your hearts be troubled; for in my Father’s house are many mansions, and I have prepared a place for you; and where my Father and I am, there ye shall be also.” D&C 81:6: “And if thou art faithful unto the end thou shalt have a crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions which I have prepared in the house of my Father.” John 14:2: “In my father’s house are many mansions.”

We even see mansions being prepared for us in hymns. In Hymn 136 “I Know that My Redeemer Lives,” we learn that Christ “lives my mansion to prepare. He lives to bring me safely there.” Hymn 117 “Come unto Jesus” says, “Come unto Jesus; He’ll surely hear you, If you in meekness plead for his love. Oh, know you not that angels are near you From brightest mansions above?”

The mansion, our rightful reward, our motivation for doing what’s right on earth so one day we can have a three trillion dollar house with stereos and computers and movie theatres and personal gyms. Right?

This idea of mansions in heaven never made sense to me. The pearly gate of Peter locks out the unrighteous, while those righteous who are allowed to pass the golden roadblock enter Heavenly Hamptons, zip code 810000. Mansions up and down the lane. An upstairs, downstairs, Downtown Abbey scenario where the less righteous are forced to be slaves for eternity while the Celestial are blessed and waited on hand and foot.

But I feel like our home in heaven is not going to be a bourgeoisie v. proletariat, us v. them, sort of situation. Perhaps mansions is said because our brains cannot imagine how blessed our future homes could be. Even the chorus of Hymn 223 “Have I Done Any Good?” says, “Then wake up and do something more Than dream of your mansion above. Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure, A blessing of duty and love.” Yes, we will be rewarded and have a heavenly home, but we must do something. We must do good to others and share joy. It is our call, our purpose. Not only is it a blessing, but also serving others is a duty, a responsibility.

I like to think of our so-called mansions more like a place where we will continue to learn and to grow, to become more like our Savior. It may not be exactly perfect, because we are imperfect, but we and our homes in heaven, in the process, become perfected.

* * *

One Sunday, the primary children of the Lea Valley Ward were preparing for their upcoming Primary Program. They had practiced so diligently, working very hard to make their parents proud. And to have treats, of course, afterwards. The music conductor was a senior missionary sister from the United States. She often came off as frazzled, but she really did love the music and the children, especially the little ones. Again, she reminded them all to be quiet and good, without much avail. Then she had them sing “A Child’s Prayer.” It’s such a classic, and probably every child who has ever been to primary knows the words to this song by heart. But as they sang, a reverence and a peace rushed like wild flames of fire into my heart. I felt loved. I felt wanted. I felt peace. I felt at home.

* * *

Dr. Eastley entered the front door, and I stood, the conversation having seemed to come to a close with Mrs. Eastley, said my rushed good-byes and quickly stepped out of the room. But I had done it! I had talked with someone; I had made a friend. In this tower of apartment buildings, I had made a friend. On this level of several rooms, it ended up being only my room and the Eastley’s room as part of the study abroad group.

* * *

The primary had so many different personalities. Osawee was a feisty, young boy. He had bright, big eyes the color of amber. His family was from Africa originally, though he was born in the UK, and his mother was often sick and looked so tired. Her son would run around in circles and still have energy, and he was about three and a half, of course. During the primary songs, he would sing the loudest. During the primary program, I think I could hear Osawee over everyone else in the war choir. During his speaking part, he said that he loved his parents, articulately and loudly into the microphone, causing a reverberation to ring shrilly. The adults laughed while covering their ears. He liked to sit in my lap and tell me stories, using his hands with big swooping motions and his expressive eyes often said more than his limited vocabulary could express. Soon before I left, he came up to me confidently and declared, “I love you.”

And I replied, smiling and holding back tears, “I love you, too, Osawee.”

Another little girl, quiet with solemn eyes and spiraled hair, sat on my lap the last Sunday before I left and asked, “Must you go back to America?”

I explained that my home was there and my family was there, too. They missed me terribly.

She continued, “But you can stay with my family in our flat!”

No response, no answer whispered from my lips, since I just hugged her tightly, so she couldn’t see the tears that flowed down my face.

* * *

I feel like no one will ever want me now, if I cannot bear children. Who would want something broken? Who could love something barren?

My best friend wrote me a letter after I told her that I may never be able to have children. Here’s a section of the card: “I just want you to know that anyone worth loving isn’t going to care about whether or not you can do backflips or whether or not you’re fluent in Urdu, or whether or not you have the best dance moves in the zip code (which you do), or whether or not you can have kids. They’ll just love you because you’re you.”

* * *

The beginning and the end seemed seamless, as I waited in my seat on British Airways going home after my study abroad. When I flew out to London, we left in the early morning from New York City and arrived in Heathrow in the dark eventide. Now, flying home to the States, I left late afternoon to arrive home in the evening. Sun sets; sun rises. Constant, yet distant. Eternal, yet ethereal.

Life is one continuous sunrise, one continuous sunset, an experience that is both translucent and transcendent, simultaneously.

When I bake pies or cook curry with my best friend, there always seems to be just an extra pinch of coriander or another teaspoon of garlic or another fourth a cup of sugar to add for taste. Like adding extra ingredients when cooking an old, familiar recipe, I felt like there were bits and pieces, pinches and tablespoons, of my heart, of my home, everywhere. Whether I had a piece of Kilburn or a pinch of Provo or a spoonful of hometown, or even remembering myself playing the drum or hearing the words “I love you” or being held by a loved one while I sobbed over sorrows and pains—all these ingredients and experiences and memories came together to make up my own version of my heavenly homes—imperfect, but still homes.

I may never have children. I may never marry. I may never have a family. But I can have homes wherever I go. I will one day be able to live with Osawee in our homes above and hug him and say, “I love you so much, little one.” Maybe then, one day in my heavenly home above up there somewhere, I will give life to my own dear ones who can play with Osawee and all the other children and people that I love so much.

It really didn’t matter which sunset or sunrise came first or which one lasted longer because when the cycles were completed, I would be home.


 

Works Cited

Brady, Tara. “Vatican forced to tighten security at the Sistine Chapel after pickpockets target huge crowds of tourists.” DailyMail.com. 21 May 2013. Web. 18 Jan. 2015.

“Vatican.” www.alphadicionary.com. n.p., n.d. Web. 18. Jan. 2015.

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