“Elizabeth Smart was able to survive months of captivity and sexual abuse because at 14, she already knew exactly who she was. All of her life she had been taught that she was a daughter of God and that nothing, and no one, could ever change that. She knew that her mother knew. She knew that her grandmother knew. She knew that her great grandmother had known too that she could endure virtually anything, trusting that her Father in Heaven was watching over her.”
[On October 2, 2009, Elizabeth] Smart finally faced the man who violently changed her life and robbed her of her youth. Defendant Brian David Mitchell, appearing in U.S. District Court, sat in shackles opposite Smart. Ultimately Mitchell was banned from the courtroom for being disruptive, and was reduced to viewing the proceedings via closed circuit TV.
It is no surprise that magazine readers, particularly women, have been shocked and horrified by Elizabeth Smart’s unveiling of her true nightmare. Many who hear her story can only shake their heads and praise her for her courage, for her steely commitment to holding Mitchell accountable, and her equal resolve to be defined by all that she is, not what she has lost.
About a year ago, my then 11-year old daughter had the opportunity of being in a Sunday School class of young women taught by Elizabeth Smart, in a Salt Lake City congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The subject of Smart’s lesson was how to “put your trust in God when there is nothing else you can count on.” Elizabeth Smart shared with the young girls, who knew her sheer presence was a miracle, that they could survive anything if they would just understand who they were in the eyes of God.
Some skeptics in the world might brush aside such a message as sort of a lovely evangelical band-aid. If you were eleven and seated in front of the statuesque, unspotted, quietly fierce Elizabeth Smart, no more believable testimony could ever be given.
On October 2nd, in a Salt Lake City courtroom, in a time and place of her choosing, Elizabeth Smart quietly but confidently silenced all speculators. She revealed a tale of pre-meditated viciousness and abuse that almost no woman could survive, intact.
How did a 14- year old survive such a crime, you might ask?
Because of her mother.
Several days after her kidnapping, after her father had already poured out his soul to the unknown kidnappers and sobbed for his daughter’s return, Elizabeth’s mother, Lois Smart, stepped in front of the microphone. She seemed so bereft that she could barely lift her face to the cameras for early morning television. I remember Mrs. Smart calling out to Elizabeth, hoping somehow she could hear. Lois Smart challenged Elizabeth, wherever she might be, to remember her great- grandmother, a Mormon pioneer, who had crossed the Great Plains. Lois Smart reminded Elizabeth that her great- grandmother had known many hardships, but had always endured, and that Elizabeth could do the same.
As someone who shares the Smart family’s religious convictions, I can’t help but believe that Elizabeth Smart was able to survive months of captivity and sexual abuse because at 14, she already knew exactly who she was. All of her life she had been taught that she was a daughter of God and that nothing, and no one, could ever change that. She knew that her mother knew. She knew that her grandmother knew. She knew that her great grandmother had known too that she could endure virtually anything, trusting that her Father in Heaven was watching over her.
The answer to the question in everyone’s mind about Elizabeth Smart is simple. Elizabeth survived by showing the kind of courage that she had always been taught was there.
That is how the witnesses and national cameras cannot ignore that Elizabeth Smart is still a young woman with a rich life ahead of her.
Adapted from an article by Sonja Eddings Brown published 10/19/2009 in Meridian Magazine