The day I met J, the shaggy-haired, lanky boy sitting on the opposite side of the submarine in the lab I worked in, I knew by the way he discussed Tolkien’s invented languages, the way politeness tendriled through his speech, and the way he loved animals that we’d be friends. Having spent the majority of June in a lonely funk after the move, I now congratulated myself on finding a friendly soul, a kindred spirit to brighten my skies and with whom to share lunch breaks. Each week we ordered single shots of espressos at the nearby cafés together—sometimes I’d pay for us and other times he’d pick up the bill—and talked about his family, foreign languages, the trapezius muscle palsy surgery he was deeply interested in. It was so easy to talk, to laugh, to fall into step in friendship again, easy like breathing.
But each night I’d open Instagram and see the zealously pro-life stories he would post.
J was religious, Christian. I hadn’t taken note of this the first time I had met him in person, but it had gradually become apparent even without the aid of Instagram by his murmurings of transcendent beauty as we passed the statue of Man and Freedom in the atrium and by his mention of a religious retreat he was going to attend that summer. His religion on its own did not offend me, but I struggled to make sense of his wholesome in-person self with the person who compared abortion to both the Holocaust and to slavery on his Instagram stories.
“I guarantee you he will try to save you,” texted my mom after listening to me talk about J.
“He can go ahead and fail,” I wrote back, liking the way my words snapped back fiery and strong, like rubber bands and hair elastics.
“He will try to save you,” my mom texted again the next day.
“I told him I’m a heathen,” I said, which was true, although I’d said it mainly in jest to J in real life. “It’s fine.”
But I started to feel like it wasn’t fine. I asked myself, as I read his Instagram description of transitioning as “chemical castration,” at what point, if ever, did I become unfaithful to myself and my own values by not explicitly challenging his views, or by remaining friends? Was it fine to “let this one slide” and just not talk politics or religion? If I felt his views were morally unjustifiable, did I have a duty to at least broach the subject with him?
Something that bothered me also was the question of whether J would still like me if I weren’t so opaque about my viewpoints, if I didn’t frequently wear dresses and formal wear, or if I were an undocumented immigrant. I would think to myself: We’re friends, but he doesn’t know that I’m pro-choice. We’re friends, but he doesn’t know that I will never belong to a religion because I hate the way people have used it to persecute others. We’re friends, but he doesn’t know how hurt and upset I was when I found out he had been perambulating the halls unvaccinated for most of the summer.
One day during a lunch break, I became more directly confronted with these questions. J and I went around town together getting a meal from food trucks and talking about our lives. The subject eventually turned to religion, which we’d never formally addressed before. J was talking about there being a higher power—God—and a higher form of beauty to all things, analogous to Plato’s Theory of Forms. He asked me whether I agreed.
I had been nodding along amicably to all this, but now with an explicit question served to me, I felt I had to be honest. “No,” I said, and in the ensuing hour, told him how I dislike the concept of a punitive God, that I feel morality is a social construct but nonetheless important, and that I believe there is nothing after death—no judgment, no life, no consciousness. I told him how I lost my belief in souls when I saw people in my life drift away in pieces due to dementia, how brain diseases make me feel like souls can be disproven by science. “And that’s why our conscious moments in life are so precious,” I said to him.
He at points seemed upset by my beliefs, but I in turn listened to him tell me about why the Resurrection makes Christianity true, and why, as a result, it is important to be a believer and spread Christianity everywhere possible. I listened as he told me he cannot support the belief that there is no judgment after death, that those who commit atrocities receive the same treatment as those that suffer and are persecuted. I listened as he came back again and again to logically disprove other theories surrounding the Resurrection other than that Jesus came back to life.
But I never broached the subject of abortion.
A few weeks later, J went back to college. Before departing, he left me one of the kindest notes anyone has ever given me, half in French, half in English, telling me how much he enjoyed our time together. I texted him in return about how much I loved the letter and how I insist on seeing him again when he’s back in Minnesota.
And I do still want to see him again. Because we’re friends. The day we got food and walked around town talking about our wildly different belief systems, I had told him, “Jesus did not come back from the dead because that doesn’t happen to any life form and it is unverifiable.” J had responded, indignantly, “You’re just going off what you see with your own eyes!” And I am, because the real world is all that matters to me. And part of my world is the friendships I’ve created, like my friendship with J. But part of the real world is also championing real causes.
I just wish I could reconcile the two.