Due to circumstances beyond my control, I experienced something prior to my 12th birthday which left me feeling bereft of anything human. I was angry, sad, and alone. Any belief in God that had been instilled in me during my childhood was gone. I stayed in this state for many years. I attended church, as it was a requirement--I was active in YW activities (again, required)--I spoke in Sacrament Meeting when assigned, using many wonderful scriptures mingled with the words of Thoreau, Kafka, Sandburg, and Dr. Seuss. But I had no belief in what I said. The talks were as well-crafted as I could make them, but far from spirit-inducing--although I'm certain there was thought provocation.
At age 17, I left my home. I got a job and worked until I entered college, at which point I stopped attending church. I went occasionally when a roommate suggested it might be fun, or when there was a social reason to attend, or when someone I knew left on a mission. I watched people worship and wondered what the point was. I was touched by nothing--ever.
However, at one point, perhaps by accident (I refuse to speculate), I encountered James E. Faust. Being an avid reader, and thoroughly familiar with the folklore surrounding his last name, I was somewhat interested in him. Enough to read some of what he had said. I researched his writings (secular and spiritual), I read about his life, and somewhere inside me a connection began to form. He seemed real. I felt that if I met him, he wouldn't care that I fell in love with women, that my body had been battered and used beyond that which it was capable, that I didn't go to church or believe in God, that I was filthy and beyond redemption. I felt, somehow, that he would love me--all of me--that he would allow me to stay with him, even knowing that I was unworthy of his presence, and that there was a possibility that he might even enjoy my company.
I know--how bizarre to fantasize about a church leader. I have nothing more to add to that particular sentiment.
I suppose all this came about because I loved what President Faust had to say. I loved the way he presented it. I loved his words. For the first time in my life, someone spoke to me in a way that made sense. I never felt that I was condemned if I didn't believe him. On the contrary, I always felt that he was challenging me to prove or disprove what he said, to question, to research, to find out for myself. In time I realized that my testimony was built primarily through looking for more and more information based on talks and books by President Faust. He spoke logically. I didn't have to rely on blind obedience. And that was okay.
President Faust died today. I have always felt when older church leaders passed away that it was the natural course of events, not to be mourned but simply something that happened. This particular death feels different to me. I feel a sense of loss, because in two months he won't be speaking to me one more time. I won't feel the rush of love and gratitude when I see him at the pulpit. I'm going to miss him--a person I have never met--I'm not sure how that happens.