Chapter Twenty-Two – My Very Own “First Vision”: Sandy Grackle Redux
On my mission to Spain was when I first realized the *phenomenon* of visionary Mormons…
I knew before my mission how members would stand during Fast and Testimony Meetings and discuss their “visions”. I kind of wrote them off as kooky. But it seemed that everyone who was truly righteous in Mormonism had one. And *all* the “prophets” in the Book of Mormon, and pretty much all the characters in the Bible had them, and Joseph Smith *really* had them. Me? I didn’t have them, not one. I felt things strongly, but they were pretty much just strong feelings, I wasn’t dreaming of anything, or feeling amazing rushing feelings that became bombastically strong testimonies or anything.
My dad always tried to help me get past this by stating that not everyone does, which meant that I was OK being a vision-less Mormon. One time before my mission my dad gave me a little story to assuage my concerns, a parable-like talk, if you will. He picked up a single stick and stated that single testimonies can be weak, and he snapped the twig. Then he gathered a handful of them and stated that when we have many testimonies it becomes unbreakable. Which made sense at the time because I didn’t really analyze it.
When applied to any odd religious group that concept works, even Jim Jones who was responsible for all those innocent deaths. He probably used that, too, as he was ladling killer Kool-Aid into cups so they could all feel strong together as their individual hearts stopped beating.
I know what he meant, though, I had to rely on those around me. (But that’s also what keeps you from rationally thinking things through.) Now generally this is a good thing, but when relying on others to help make sense of the craziest religion on the planet, not so much! Relying on only members and leaders in that religion means doing the “right thing”. You are counseled to never look to any non-Mormon sources, never look outside your close-knit family and leaders. You cannot be led astray! Well guess what? You’re being led astray.
When a religious person has a religious vision, you can’t really debunk it, there’s no way you can. When a *really* religious person starts telling you about their visions, you have to just sit there and listen and hope it doesn’t get too crazy. It dawned on my during my mission that visions can be just made up! And by doing so, you can demand the respect of those members around you; it’s a very effective persuasion tool in Mormonism.
One of the strangest, most out-there vision-based kookfest doctrines in Mormonism is called the “Calling and Election Made Sure”. This incredulous belief states that a person can receive a guarantee from Christ himself that he or she will achieve exaltation, or highest level planet ownership. Now imagine what happens if you’re a leading General Authority or Priesthood holder and you need some attention. Simple! Start telling those around you that you were visited by Christ and you received your *calling and election made sure*. No one can say you didn’t, not one person can challenge it! It can only happen between you and Christ!
But most Mormons that *seem* normal don’t throw their “visions” around. The less-crazy seeming Mormons. The “liberal” Mormons. The ones who discuss the crazy in the privacy of their own homes trying to make sense of it all. That’s the kind of Mormon I was, trying to fit into a space where I could be a good Mormon and still live a life, have friends, not feel crappy 24/7, vision-less but somewhat more sane because of it. My vision never happened while I was an active LDS member. It happened after I fell from grace and hit rock bottom. It happened after my parents basically decided I was trash. It happened after I left and found my true direction in life.
It happened after a black bird was brutally killed and eaten by a huge hawk about fifteen feet in front of me.
There’s a music artist I like named Sia. She has a song called Breathe Me, and one night I found a remix of it on iTunes that I loved; it’s called the Breathe Me (Mylo Remix). It has the right BPM (beats per minute) for me to work out to. The next day I went to the gym on my lunch hour and I brought my iPod ready with my new Sia song, generally jazzed as I always am to work up a sweat and stare at all the other hot guys working up a sweat. This was the highlight of my day.
I climbed onto the elliptical machine, put in my headphones, found the song, cranked it up and started to crank my heart up to around 145 HBPM (heartbeats per minute). What happened to me was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever seen. And it was *so* crisp, *so* brilliantly clear that it was overwhelming and completely engrossing. From the instant the first song hit my ears to the last moment of that song, a vision unrolled in my head like a personalized music video with such depth of meaning that it took me about a week to ingest the whole thing with the help of my friends and Rex-O.
The song is exactly 6 minutes and 26 seconds long, and in that space of time my mind was blown and I would find a way to forgive my mom and begin to heal my ideas about her and let go of much of my pain.
The first 47 seconds of the song is an introduction that sets up the tune before the first big drum beats starts. As I pushed play on that elliptical machine, I closed my eyes saw a startling image. As clear as day the image of black feathers about a foot in front of my face appeared. They shimmered in a beautiful black and blue iridescent sheen. Then I saw small hands coming from both sides of my perspective, slowly moving towards each other, the hands of a little child. The hands moved slowly and I could see the way the feathers moved over and under those little hands. The child was feeling the feathers pass by each finger, and when the hands met in the middle, they pressed down like a hug.
My view moved back slowly and I saw that this was the back of a giant blackbird, a grackle. The sweet, little hands were coming around the sides of it and slowly my vantage point raised upwards higher and higher until now I was gazing down onto the head of this huge bird, and the bird was hugging the back of the child, both of them in a beautiful embrace. The young boys head was somewhat hidden under the higher head of the bird, now it was clear it was a grackle, and the feathers were so brilliant. The bird held its head high, looking from side to side, and as it glanced around left and right, the head of the young boy stayed so still, his little nose pressed into the chest of the bird.
I could tell the boy was in a serene state, relaxed, and that he seemed protected by the bird, he knew that bird. They held to each other, and the bird seemed on guard, the boy hidden completely inside its wings. Suddenly the bird took a huge wing stride and lifted off the ground leaving the boy standing looking up as it rose skyward. The bird lifted up and away from the boy, lifted its huge black feet and kicked the boy in the head with such force that it threw the boy backwards and flat onto his back. The first beat of the song started with the bird kicking the boy in the face.
Now I can see right into the face of the sobbing boy, he’s confused and physically hurt. From his view the blackbird is now so high above him it seems the correct size in the sky. The bird hovers 20 or 30 feet up in the sky, watching the boy pick himself up, dust himself off and begin to walk away. The boy walks to the beat of the song, walking forward with his back to me. I can see the boy walking and the bird hovering far above him, like a small fluttering blur. As the little boy walks steadily into his future life, images of the past appear, images of *my* past. The boy is me.
I see images from my childhood, locations I had forgotten entirely about. The boy is passing hometown scenes, places in Saint Louis, where I lived as a young boy. I see our backyard, the stream behind, a dog. Suddenly the bird flies down from the sky and forcefully pecks the boy on the head, sharp and hard enough to leave a wound; the boy recoils, squats and cowers, stealing a teary eye upwards at the bird that has once again flown up and away. The bird seems to want to hurt him now, instead of holding him softly or caring for him. Confusion welling in his heavy tears.
The boy grows; he seems a teenager, walking now through images of Colorado, friends from church, high school hallways, always walking steadily forward to the beat. The bird is relentless, taking stealthy advantage, swooping down continuing to harm the boy’s head. Each time, the boy recoils, bends forward to get away, holding and rubbing his head, always looking so high to see the perpetrator.
The boy now fully grown, it’s me, a man, still afraid and haunted by a blackbird, my life pouring out in front of me, the pain so visceral, the beak at my skull, the blood in my face. I walk with my kids by my side, I am now a father. I haven’t stopped walking through my life, steadily forward, not stopping to think for a moment except to contemplate the bird’s harm to me. It really hurts; I cower for the last time. I am getting angry. My vantage point in the vision shifts and flies to the front of me, I can see how angry I am, I’m getting very upset in real life, and my heart is racing, pounding inside my chest, I am unaware how this is effecting me in the gym, I am experiencing timelessness or all time at once. I don’t realize but I am crying, eyes tightly shut but feel as if they’re wide open; I’m gripping the handles on the machine so tightly my knuckles are white.
My anger mounts, I’ve stopped walking now, and the bird has just struck my head for the last time. I turn and I face the bird for the first time. I stop walking; I am done with this cycle. I peer into the sky blinded by the sun to the right, blood flows down my forehead, a single stream that I wipe at; streaks across my face, the tears leave clean lines through the blood downward. I see the bird fluttering in the sky, it’s out of reach, and I have to end this. The pain has to subside, I can’t stand another moment. I’ve moved from fear to breaking anger. I draw in a breath and I lean forward, I clutch my fists at my sides and I scream so loud I startled my watching self.
The scream is brutal, it makes me feel pain, my vantage point closes in closer on my face and suddenly my face is distorting, it’s being crushed, the bones are crushing, but pushing outward. I hear the bones crack in my nose, and it’s sickening to watch it push out the skin taught and there’s a distinct vertical line in my face now, the skin splits on my nose, something is coming through.
I won’t stop screaming, my view pans around to my back, I’m shirtless and I can now see that my entire body is deforming, transforming into something, two curved lines push out of the back skin, I’m splitting open. Something is inside me. I begin to fall forward, I’m spinning, my vantage point is now on the ground, I’m falling, and I explode. I have disintegrated entirely into a great sparking cloud of ash.
I’m looking upward at a brilliant brown hawk. I am stunned; I jolt with what I see. It shakes the ash off itself. It is the hawk I saw in my backyard. And with that quick recollection suddenly I am inside the eyes of that hawk, I look down, I see my strong talons, I lift one leg, it’s me, I made that happen, I am the hawk, a huge brown hawk. And in an instant I know that I am going to kill that blackbird. The blackbird is my mother and I am going to kill her. It feels feral, instinctual, she will not escape my claws, and she will die. I look up into the sky, I see the bird. The bird sees me; it’s scared now, perhaps it never believed this would happen, its black eyes widen it turns quick and darts away into the blue.
With incredible strength I *feel* myself beat my wings and with blinding speed I now pursue the bird. It swoops over the top of some pines, I’m right behind it now, it’s just in my reach, I open my talons and it eludes my grip, it darts under me, I see it streak away, I throw my self hard to the left, it’s almost too easy for me to accelerate, I go for the kill against a wood fence. CRACK! I smash it with all my force, we fall to the ground. I’m breathing so hard, it’s gasping for breath as I stand on top of it. I clamp down on it, it dies now, *she* dies now. I feel it crunching in my grasp, her head bending from the force, I can feel her heart through my feet, one last crush and she’s gone.
Now my vantage point stays low by the hawk, I grip the bird and I fly away with it, I lift it up and away. I see myself flying away carrying the dead, mangled bird. As it disappears from site words appear on a scroll, easy to read, they say, “Now I will fly for both of us.”
The beats of the song end, the final sounds disappear from my headphones and I open my eyes. I’m overwhelmed and I lose footing on the elliptical machine, I misstep with my left foot, and I fall off the machine to the floor of the gym. I’m in tears, I’m soaked, and my heart is racing. It was the most brilliant, overwhelming vision I’ve ever seen. Someone leans down to help me up. I stood up, I gathered myself as much as I could, I walked to the locker room, out of breath and stunned entirely. I had no idea how something so vivid could be paced so cleanly to a song I hadn’t heard all the way through. It flowed as if it were a completed film; it was so amazing to me. Perfectly timed forgiveness in 6 minutes and 26 seconds.
For about a week I tried my best to understand it, and it became very clear with help: I had killed my mother’s mental illness.
In the ensuing time after that vision, I have forgiven her, now that I had removed her mental illness from her. Up until that moment I harbored anger and resentment, now I finally felt some love again. My mom did the best she could for being mentally ill and trapped in the Mormon Church her entire life. In my mind, she was free, and I feel warm knowing that she did love me, and if it wasn’t for the complexities of her life, she would want to hold me, accept me, and love me entirely for who I am. I found a way to forgive her.
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