Educated by Books

I love books. I love reading them, holding them, hearing the soft opening of a new hardback. I inhale the smell of paper and the tingle of ideas.

Books have been my teachers. When I was debating whether to stay with or leave my first husband, I wandered into the Barnes & Noble in downtown Naperville and found myself in the Relationships section. I don’t remember the name of the book or the author, just that it was a small book with a green cover. Thumbing through it quickly, I landed on a question, “If God gave you permission, would you divorce?” I burst into tears, then told God that I was going to break my vows and hoped I could be forgiven.

There was a therapist I saw briefly when I was married to that first husband. She asked, “Don’t you find it interesting that your family, your former church, and your marriage are all essentially the same?” I didn’t want to face her question so I never went back.

I never really decided if the church where I spent the decade of my 20s was a cult. Instead, I described it as, “an extremely controlling religious organization.” But recently I read Charles Vogl’s The Art of Community  and considered his “Common Features of a Harmful Cult.” Pulling out three:

  • Isolation from the outside is encouraged. Check
  • Worldview is polarized. Check
  • Exit barriers are high. Check (I was shunned)

Now I have decided. It was a cult.

Tara Westover’s memoir Educated tells me that she and I have something in common: a father with bipolar disorder. While her upbringing was horrific, what she helped me see was how my father’s mania played out in a dance with danger, where he risked not just himself but his family. It was a kind of hubris, as if he were pitting himself against God. He had my 12-year old brother drive him to Canada so they could go skiing, Eric driving through the night while my father slept. He took me out sailing at night in a storm that rated small craft warnings, “because we will have good wind.” At age four he left me at dusk in a snowy golf course and told me to walk home. Now I understand that all this had nothing to do with any of us, just him and his mania. But what I don’t understand is why I worked so hard for so long to get his attention, to please him.

I left a church. I left a husband. And finally, I left a father. 

PS: My apologies for the double mailing of last week’s post. I am obviously still working out the kinks with getting this blog back up and running smoothly.

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