In high school, a female classmate became interested in the Church through our personal discussions at school and decided to take the "discussions", or lessons, from the sister missionaries. She was one of the missionaries' star 'students', doing her reading, asking all sorts of relevant questions, and despite some early hesitations, she came alive talking about the gospel, getting answers to prayers, lighting up with bright eyes when discussing gospel principles and quoting scriptures. She agreed to be baptized, and we all could see the happiness and peace in her eyes.
Her parents, on the other hand, did not see her as pursuing something which could possibly offer lasting joy. She didn't tell them at first, but we urged her to be honest with her parents and see if they'd offer their blessing rather than waiting until she was 18 and getting baptized against their will because family ties are important, and it'd be better to try to gain their support than to push them away, even though we fully believed she was making the right choice to be baptized. But her parents didn't approve and tried to dissuade her gently when they eventually found out she'd been visiting us. I knew her family was ultimately the most important thing in her life, and I never wanted to pull her away from it. Eventually, before her 18th birthday, they sent her to live with her grandparents for a few weeks. She assured us she would come back and be baptized and was looking forward to it. But her grandfather was an elder in her church and, she figured, planned to help correct her wayward wanderings.
When she returned, the light and warmth about the gospel was gone. She was distant. She had actually forgotten her spiritual experiences and could no longer answer basic questions about gospel principles or scriptures she had previously easily remembered. She no longer wanted to be baptized, and she kindly informed us she would not be pursuing the discussions any longer, that she appreciated our time and kindness with her, but that she was no longer interested. And that was it.
She had been shown how what we taught was a false doctrine, decried by the Bible and dangerous to the soul, and that whatever happiness she was feeling was therefore not of the Spirit but possibly socially motivated or a rebellion, or a desire to believe because she was interested in me. What she'd felt had not been true happiness because it caused stress in her family and set her on a path that could not end in eternal joy. But having gained this new "understanding," what she had felt could be dismissed as having been a mirage. The time she spent with her grandparents, immersed in a different perspective, had wiped much of her memory of the things she'd learned in discussions and what she'd felt.
The sisters were baffled by her sudden turnaround. How could she have forgotten what was seemingly so precious and animating to her? What had her grandparents told her to make her so detached and indifferent towards the gospel she had so enthusiastically embraced before? What should we have done to help prepare her better for her discussions with her grandfather? How could she think those feelings which lit up her countenance could be anything but right and good? But she was resolved to commit to her family's religion again, and any discussion about it was over. We had to learn to accept that, hope for her happiness, and move on to other prospects.
I didn't believe her decision not to be baptized was the right one, but I understood her family and social situation maybe meant there'd be a better time for her, that she didn't have the support she'd need to successfully make such a lifestyle change right now anyway, and it was better for her to keep harmony in her family than lose their support and end up unable to stay on the path anyway. Or maybe she had happiness to find in other ways, and I tried to trust that I don't know all things, and maybe, in some way, we learned from each other and had different paths to follow. I also accepted that she now saw me as promulgating a lovely but false religion, and we had to agree to disagree, and the friendship was going to shift a bit because of it.
Now, I find myself asking similar questions from another perspective. He had said and done and shared so many things which led me to believe he had a certain understanding which allowed for our relationship. I look at pictures of the two of us and see such light and smile and peace in his eyes, though I may be imagining it. I wonder if he's forgotten many of the specific memories I hold dear, which I've written down to remember, or if he looks back on the whole thing as a shameful memory to be blotted out in favor of his new, truer path. I ache to think he may have given up something beautiful because he bought into the claims that it couldn't be real, couldn't work out, or couldn't bring real happiness, but I have to let go and let him pursue his truth the best he knows how, as I pursue mine. If he has become convinced that, happiness or not, it couldn't be eternal, then I can accept that, but I saw him happy, and I saw him relishing and looking forward to life, and nobody can convince me that relationship wasn't every bit as real and productive and meaningful as any other comparable heterosexual relationship. I may question a lot of things. I may be a skeptic. But I have many convictions, and one thing I know is that what I felt for him was no mirage or substitute for love, it was no farce, it was not inferior to an equivalent mixed-sex relationship. It was meaningful, it was pure, it was good, it was personal, it was balanced, it had potential, and despite social stresses inherent to being in a non-standard relationship, it would have been beautiful to pursue it further.
But I'm truly beginning to move on and come to terms with our departure. I hadn't thought of my high school friend's turnaround with the church in many years, but it came to mind this week, which reminds me that such experiences will always be part of life, some more intense or personal than others, and there will always be something ahead to look forward to...I hope.