Gracious Ruin

Hurricanes are born from pressure. It begins as lightning storms over the ocean. It shifts across the water, growing bigger as it moves through life. Unnoticed at the start, it should be harmless. But as the storm grows into a cluster, it becomes a tropical disturbance—something to watch, but not yet worry about.

Over time, molecules of water vapor compress and release heat, causing the hot air to rise. To compensate, the surrounding air sinks to the bottom of the storm, weighted down by the heat above it. Pressure rises in the storm and pushes the hot air out. This will finally release the pressure of the air below, allowing more air at the surface, creating clouds that compress again, release heat, and push back. The constant back and forth intensifies the storm to become a Tropical Depression.

Sometimes, depression is as far as the storm will go. Damage might occur, but it will be minimal. Depressions can minimize, fizzle out, fall back to calm waters.

Or depression will intensify. The pressure will rise. The storm will worsen and become a hurricane—the most destructive force of power. By the time it hits land, it’s too late. The pressure is too much. The world crumbles down.

Trucks are thrown over bridges. Boats are lifted from the harbor and land on houses. Trees that have stood longer than people are broken in waves of destruction. Everything feels like a dream, but it’s not. Everything that people worked for is gone in six hours.

But there’s no one there to blame.


In a short email to be sent to my father, I wrote:

I want to come home.

My mouse hovered over the “SEND” button.

I had been in Switzerland for less than a week at that point, but those days felt more painful than all the years of my life. I had run away from the MTC, but my parents persuaded me to go back. Try again. See if I could make it day by day. I had done what they asked, hoping they were right.

Yet, even after making it to Switzerland, I was living in a haze of spiritual dissonance—an inability to connect to God, to my new companion, to the very religion I was out there to preach. There was something inside me, a pressure in my stomach. I had thrown up every day, my gut roiling in pain and fear. I couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t have time. I needed time. I needed a break.

My father had been on a mission when he was my age, though he was sent to Japan. I knew his was harder. The language was difficult; the people were unresponsive; he even got appendicitis while he was there, but he never went home. I didn’t know how to explain why I needed to go back. Shame had built within me, but I knew I needed to say it. It only took a few minutes to receive his response.

What’s happening? Why do you feel you need to come home?

I feel sick all the time, I told him, I can’t do this.

You’re wrong, Andrew. I know you can do this. I know it’s hard, but you need to keep on pushing forward. It’ll get easier, I promise.

I kicked my foot against the ground, my stomach pulsing with pain. I scrunched up my eyes as if I could black out the world and come up with the words to persuade him that it wouldn’t get easier. That I couldn’t keep pushing forward. That I’d reached a dead end in the cavern of my mind.

I don’t know how, I type. I just need some time to figure all this out.

There was a pause, and I imagined my dad carefully picking his words. I wondered if he was in his office at home over 5,000 miles away from me. I could almost see him, leaning back, his hands clasped across his stomach, poised in the way he always was before he’d say something from deep within.

You can come home, Andrew, his message said. But it won’t be easy. You could be filled with regrets. People can be cruel. You might never forgive yourself for giving up too early. But you can come home. It’s your choice. We will love you no matter what.

I stared at his words, slipping the lime green tie he’d sent me my first week in the MTC through my fingers. I imagined light tears sliding down his cheeks and into his beard. I knew he wanted to understand my pain. I knew he wanted what was best for me. I wanted to tell him I didn’t know what was best. I wanted to tell him I didn’t know if I believed in God. I wanted to tell him I had filled my body with pain and hatred for myself, buried deep beneath the mountain of denial I’d spent my whole life building.

Instead, I said, I’ll keep trying.

Cars sped by the sidewalk beside the internet cafe, sending grey slush across our shoes. The busy street rang with German words I didn’t understand, and the emptiness inside me grew.

Without meaning to, I wondered how bad it might hurt to step off the curb into traffic. I wondered if it would be enough to send me home. I could pretend it wasn’t my choice to break.


Other Andrew pushes a button, and the cavern lights up around us. “Over here,” he says, “is the Great Heart of Timpanogos.”

A spotlight shines against a giant stalactite that hangs down from the ceiling. It looks more like a tongue than a heart, and behind it, the cave slopes down into darkness, no end in sight. With the Heart hanging down in an otherwise empty space, I imagine a mouth, its tongue reaching out to swallow us down.

I imagine what it would have been like for James Gough and Frank Johnson to see this. For us, it’s lit perfectly, each crystal shining under the beams of light. It must have been darker for them—much darker. I wonder if they could see the pinpricks of light dancing off the giant stalactite. They turned around at this point, went back to the entrance and covered it up with branches in order to protect the heart until they could come back with lanterns.

“They did come back,” Other Andrew tells us, “with a few others this time. They explored around the heart and found Father Time’s Jewel Box.”

He smiles and leads us down a side path. Stairs run down, carved into the cave floor. They twist in a U-shape down to a dead end. Our small group stops and waits in the silence of a dark room. Other Andrew flips another switch.

The room shines in light glittering off innumerable crystals. They pierce from every wall and hang down from the caramel-colored ceiling. They range in style and colors—colors and beauty I didn’t expect to find buried so deep underground. There are pale orange dots on light canvas walls; shimmering blue crystals contorted like snowflakes reaching down toward us; over a ledge, glittering waves of burning sugar rolling over each other as pillars stick out from the ground.

I reach my hand back and find Jed’s.

“It’s amazing,” he says, giving my hand two gentle squeezes.

“I just can’t believe all of this is down here.”

In the glittering light, Other Andrew tells us all about the different crystals, but I barely listen. The beauty is astounding, and I understand why James and Frank turned around when they found this, why they covered up the hole and didn’t tell anyone where it was. They’d seen the damage to Hansen Cave. They didn’t want something so magnificent and pure destroyed by human hands.

I agree, and yet they chose to come down here—just like I chose to enter. We’re all risking the destruction of the cave so we can have a moment of infinite beauty. Maybe it’s worth it. Would the cave be better off never being seen? Never being damaged?