Nate heard his girlfriend’s sobs when he entered their apartment and followed them to the spare room where she sat in her favorite wicker chair.
“What’s wrong Ange?” He smoothed her hair out of her face and waited for her to speak.
“Brenda called today. We got into a bit of an argument. It ended with her unfriending me on Friendlink and everything.”
“Why did you argue?” Nate was concerned. Brenda and Angie had been friends since high school and though they lived two states apart, they kept a close relationship.
“Oh, she said she felt led to question me about my lack of faith. She kept bringing up that whole ‘I’m being led astray’ idea. She was nice enough, I knew she was acting out of concern. I wore the same shoes once, so to speak, so I just let her ramble on about returning to church and repenting. I didn’t really respond at first because I was hoping I could just change the subject or something. Finally she asked me if I could see the error of my ways. I said that in no way could I unlearn what I’ve learned about gods and evolution and the fallibility of the bible. I brought up the comparison of Helios. I told Angie I can’t make the leap of faith our ancestors did and believe that he drives the sun across the sky anymore. In the same way I can’t make the leap of faith required to believe in the god of the bible because we know the bible has been contrived and tampered with, plus evolution, plus our habit of inventing gods…” Angie stopped to wipe her face and gather her thoughts. Nate waited beside his partner and allowed her to continue at her own pace. Long moments passed.
“She couldn’t really ‘argue’ with my points and so she went on the defensive and said she’d have to really think and pray about our friendship. She didn’t know if she could be friends with an atheist, she said. I reminded her that in the past year of my godlessness I’ve still been loving, I’m still faithful to you, and even I’m involved in the community. She responded by telling me that none of that matters if I don’t have Jesus in my heart and then she said she had to hang up. When I checked my Friendlink page later I saw a message from her that she just couldn’t be my friend anymore but if I had a change of heart to please call her and she would welcome me with open arms. Then she unfriended me.” Angie let out a heap of sobs after the last statement and Nate, empathizing with her pain, held her close and concentrated on even breaths so she would sense his calm.
He understood her pain. He’d been ostracized by some of his own family. The justified anger and hurt took some time to work through. Nate hated to see his beloved endure the same.
After a while Angie sat up and spoke. “I know you’ve been through this with your own family. Maybe I shouldn’t complain about losing a friend.”
“That’s not the point. Ending any relationship is painful and requires a mourning process. Pain is pain no matter what the circumstances. We’ve talked about it before remember? We’re going to lose friends and family over the gig. But we support each other in the process and we do get through the grief.”
She allowed his words to soothe the wound in her heart and by degrees the conversation lightened. Soon they were discussing the evening’s basketball game and choosing teams. The loser had dinner and dishes duty tomorrow night.
It was a few months before Angie worked through the pain of losing her friend however. A twist of timing meant that she had to endure Brenda’s birthday without the traditional phone call and homemade card. She made the card anyway. It sat on the kitchen table for a few days before she tucked it deep within her armoire. Nate was brilliant. He held her when she cried over her lost friend and provided silence when she needed time to think. She focused on a couple of newer friendships and they did help some to make up for the hole left by Brenda’s exit from her life.
Still, the prodding of her friend’s questions caused her to examine her decision to leave church. She found herself going through a cycle of thought: was I right to leave religion? could I really go back? how? How can I go back when I see the landscape of evidence before me compared to the narrow view the bible offers?
She couldn’t. The thought of returning to the four walls of limited thought and knowledge even evoked a sense of claustrophobia in Angie. If it came down the to choice of acquiescing to religion and keeping friends and family, or living in the reality of what we observe and losing friends and family, she always came out on the side of the latter. Always. After going through the same cycle and coming out on the same side repeatedly, Angie found a deeper strength in her decision. She gained a greater measure of peace.
At their high school reunion three years later, Angie and Brenda managed a cordial but shallow conversation and then moved on to other people. Angie reflected later that night at the memory of their breakup and looked back to see how far she’d come since then. She had no regrets. Like Nate said once, sometimes losing a friend is an atheist’s sacrifice, but we do get through it.
*Author’s note. This is a complete work of fiction but it was born out of the many testimonies I’ve read in online forums. I’ve had a bit of fortune myself in that most of my friends are accepting and loving even though I’ve abandon the faith. A few have distanced themselves but I’ve not experienced the ‘breakup’ that Angie did. At times familial relationships become strained but love always overcomes and we’ve pretty much all learned to avoid the topic in order to retain our rapport. Some are not so fortunate and I wish for them strength and grace as they work through their own sacrifices. Yours, Frankie