Day 47: This is the place (said a Mormon once)

Joseph Smith assured his followers, the Mormons, that it wouldn’t be a problem if, as his critics attested, they were all sent to hell. It wouldn’t matter because, well, they’d just go ahead and make a heaven out of it.

I think of the swamps of Illinois they turned into the once-booming city of Nauvoo. Of the plains they crossed with handcarts. Of the frontier valleys and mountains of Utah, the ones they turned into Zion.

Something from nothing. Like the revelations, the kingdoms celestial, the plates of gold.

“What? You don’t believe in anything?” people ask me.

Were the swamps nothing before they were Nauvoo? What about those mountains and valleys? Or the fractured American Christianity of the 1800s? That certainly wasn’t nothing — it was the raw clay from which Joseph Smith molded his narrative of a great apostasy, the canvas upon which he painted a restoration for the believers to believe in.

These hands at the keyboard, this bus ride home from work, these fall leaves beautiful but rotting, my dad just a phone call away — also, not nothing.

I said something from nothing. But that can’t be.

Like the Mormons who shaped my early years, I’ll make something from this stuff, something from all these things. Even, if I must, a heaven out of hell.

(This is Day 47 of a 100-day project. For more about When I Was Mormon, read the introductory post. To access older posts, visit latest stories and scroll down.)