She wasn’t looking as she stepped out Emma’s front door, and the fall knocked the wind completely from her chest. It was a big first step, and she was so distracted by the people surveying the Smith family cemetery across the street, she completely missed it. She was still in her skirt from the Temple earlier, which flew up and let the rough concrete take a gnarly bite of exposed leg, as her head slammed into the iron railing on the edge of the landing.
For a few seconds she sat, stunned and detachedly noting the reality she had long suspected only a Looney Tunes gag- but nope- stars and bells, coupled with black swirly spots swam across her vision.
Then embarrassment. Oh my heck, did anyone see her? She shoved her skirt down, and looked across the street- some men had turned around, but everyone was far in the distance. Did she yelp? She didn’t know. She gave a sheepish wave at the guys, and gathered herself up. She had been on the way to a meeting with the group of writers she was traveling with, and had been in hurry, but now rivulets of blood were running down her leg.
Back in Emma’s house, she found a friend who helped her clean her leg, and they concocted a history-nerd story about being pushed down the stairs. They both giggled and thought themselves very clever and funny, and hobbled together on the short walk from Emma’s house to the visitor’s center to join their group.
As the evening’s presentations wore on, her head began to ache, and her leg began to swell and turned violently purple. By the time they returned the house for the evening, she was feeling quite ill and sore.
In the basement dining room of the Nauvoo House, it was proposed that she be given a blessing. As a member of the church, she had received many blessings, but this suggestion at first startled her and then made her feel very self-conscious. The group of men and women gathered were academics, writers and historians- and she knew and trusted them intellectually. Somehow the idea of partaking of a blessing of faith with people she had generally interacted with cerebrally was startlingly personal.
She sat quietly for a moment, struggling with her own uncertainty. Why was an act of faith so much more intimate than discussing the minutiae of history? She did not shy away from history- even sought it avidly- and yet there in the quiet basement of Emma Smith Bidamon’s house in Nauvoo, Illinois, she was suddenly self-conscious.
She sat down and bowed her head, acquiescing to what she knew she needed physically- a blessing- and what she ultimately wanted to experience spiritually and emotionally- communion with her brothers and sisters of faith.
A phial of oil was blessed and consecrated, and her lowered head was anointed. In every blessing she had ever received, one or two pairs of hands were used, usually by someone standing behind her leaving her with the sensation of openness and air. This time, as she closed her eyes, the large group of men gathered and drew close, completing a circle with their bodies. The sensation of being covered, protected and encircled made her eyes sting with surprised tears.
A dozen gentle, open hands were laid upon her head, one after another, and a beautiful blessing was pronounced.
On the flight back west, she reflected on why that particular blessing felt so much… heavier? stronger? personal? and she still hadn’t arrived at a true answer. Her leg still throbbed, and she had a concussion- the blessing didn’t change any of her pain. But she suspected it wasn’t supposed to- the blessing opened her, as she moved from the abstract intellectualism of discussing her faith, into the emotional vulnerability of practicing her faith. It bonded people in a way no paper submission, no verbal debate, no footnotes ever could. It was a metamorphosis.