I have a lot of cousins. My dad has 10 siblings, my mom has two. And most of them had at least two kids.
A bunch of them are Facebook friends. And while there’s an odd familiarity, it’s amazing how little we actually know about each other.
That really hit me when I talked to Hollie, who grew up in Brockville, Ont., a small city on the St. Lawrence that isn’t exactly known for its diversity.
In a city that is dominated by Catholics and Anglicans, she grew up Mormon (click here for an overview of beliefs). So that’s what we talked about.
What was it like to grow up Mormon in a small Ontario town?
It was very difficult for the most part. I do love my religion. It defines me. But there weren’t many Mormon children.
My religion was looked at as weird. I grew up with very few friends, but I did enjoy being different. It helped me remember who I was and that everyone has their own religion and beliefs and we need to equally respect each other.
When you can look at yourself and be happy with who you are and proud of the decisions that you make in life, you’re doing something right. I feel that religions in general are not understood or respected the way that they need to be. This is something that I have personally experienced.
You presumably hung out with people who were not Mormon at school and work – was it ever awkward?
I went through elementary school with no friends, and the kids in my grade trying to get me kicked out because of their strong dislike for me.
It was so bad that even my principal wanted me out of the school in order to stop all of the problems that I was apparently causing. All I wanted to do was get through elementary school with the hope that high school would be better, and high school was more tolerable than elementary school.
It wasn’t always easy. There were people who hated Mormons and would tell me how much they hated me and what they’d like to do to Mormons.
There was a time when some of these people tried to destroy an art project that I had spent four months working on because of my religion.
There were times when it was awkward. Those times were usually when people would be asking me really deep religious questions only to mock me with them.
It was hard explaining everything to people. I did my best. I didn’t go to many parties because of the alcohol and drugs. I don’t believe in participating in those kind of activities, but I respect those who do.
There were also times when my beliefs gained me the respect of others. I was different because of my actions, and what I would and wouldn’t tolerate.
I remember in my grade 12 English class, my teacher had assigned a book to the class that made me feel really uncomfortable reading due to the language and content in it. (ed note: It was Catcher in the Rye)
And so I requested to read another book. She was reluctant, but I insisted. Throughout the month that this book was studied, there were times when I was to be excused from class, but never was.
I stood up for myself, told her this was unacceptable, and left. Most of my classmates made fun of me, but a few stood by me and respected me.
What do people not understand about Mormons?
We’re just like everyone else. We just choose to live the standards that we do, and most people don’t understand why we choose to live that way.
I feel that they also don’t fully understand that we have a love and respect for all different kinds of people. It doesn’t matter their race, colour, or religion. We respect people no matter what.
What’s the best thing about it?
The comfort that my religion brings me. I know who I am, I know where I came from, and I know where I’m going when this life is over.
I couldn’t imagine a life without this knowledge. I love the love that my religion shares. I am able to be different. I stand out in a crowd. I love it when people are curious about my religion.
If I get on a religious conversation with someone from a different religion, I ask just as many questions as they ask me. It allows me to have something in common with someone even though our religions may be different.
What’s the worst thing?
For me the hardest thing that I have experienced is that people in my religion tend to take things too literally, and I would imagine it’s that way with other religions too.
It has unfortunately led to people in my own religion looking down on me for not living my life the way that they feel I should even though they don’t know the reasons or situations that I am dealing with.
What was it like to move to Idaho for university? Was it like moving to a whole other planet?
Moving to Idaho to attend Brigham Young University was surprisingly an easy decision to make. It just seemed to click.
But when I got to Idaho I found it rather difficult to fit it. I grew up with so few Mormons. All the people that I hung out with weren’t Mormon.
I had gone from a community where my religion set me apart and made me different to being the same as everyone else. I really struggled with it. I had to find a way to be different again and it wasn’t easy.
It got easier with time though. I do love the Mormon communities, but I look forward to the time when I can be in an area where I become the minority and hopefully I can make a difference.
You got married very young – is that normal among your friends? Is that a Mormon thing, or is it a Idaho thing? Or just your thing?
I was two months away from my twentieth birthday. Back home it was not normal to get married that young so I had never given it much thought about getting married at nineteen.
My plans were to actually have fun in college, date around than think about getting married when I was in my last year. There weren’t many guys that I was interested in back home so I was hoping that it would be different in Idaho.
I guess one could say that it is a Mormon thing. Most people in Idaho and Utah get married young. I never planned on it. It just sort of happened. And next month I’ll be celebrating my fifth wedding anniversary so I guess you could say that it worked out great for me.