I got on the bus home as I usually do at the end of the day: tired, impatient, and entirely unhappy about having to be in close proximity to the general public.
A pretty girl with red hair and big eyes sat down next to me and immediately asked me how my night was going - a bit strange considering Bostonians’ trademark coldness. I responded that it was going well. (As unfriendly and unapproachable as I appear, I am actually a good conversationalist when engaged by a stranger, in spite of my own feelings of awkwardness and insecurity.)
We talked about the moon. She told me to look at it when I got off the bus because it was full and beautiful. I said I love the night sky and I think it’s important to enjoy little things like the shape of the moon. She agreed.
She asked me if spring in Boston was always like this. (I knew she wasn’t from around here.) She asked me questions about how long I had lived here. She was from Wyoming, where evidently they have two seasons: winter and construction.
Finally, I asked her what brought her to Boston.
“I’m a missionary with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Have you heard of it?”
I have to admit my initial reaction was defensive - although I recovered quickly and didn’t make it obvious. All I could think about for a brief moment was how she was going to spend the rest of the bus ride trying to convert me - a self-proclaimed Agnostic-bordering-on-Atheist - into a Mormon. But I quickly pushed that reaction aside, thinking momentarily about what David Foster Wallace would do in this situation. (WWDFWD?) I guess he is kind of my Jesus.
I’m curious by nature (and also naughty, like the musical group, but that is another story for another time) for better or worse. I want to connect with people. I want to understand them. I am open-minded in spite of my strong opinions. So I asked her about it.
She told me she is here for 18 months to spread the word of God and let everyone know - let me know - that he loves me. She said she’s only 19, but she feels very blessed and feels like God has called upon her to do this.
At this point, another woman on the bus - a Catholic with cousins who do missionary work in Ecuador - got involved in the conversation, saying how great she thinks it is.
Then, the attention turned on me.
“What are your beliefs?”
“Well, I’m actually a non-believer, but I respect other people’s beliefs and I try to be open-minded.”
At that point, instead of trying to tell me I was wrong or convince me that there is a God up there who loves me, she asked me what exactly that means and how I came to be that way; a very candid conversation ensued.
“I guess I consider myself somewhere in between an Agnostic and an Atheist. As far back as I can remember, I’ve never believed in anything. Where some people feel a presence, I feel a void. Aside from that, I don’t feel comfortable believing in something about which there is no scientific evidence. I need facts and proof. I’ve never been able to believe for the sake of believing.”
She took all of that in and then asked me a very insightful question:
“Do you feel like you would be happier if you believed in God?”
I laughed and answered without hesitating, because it’s something I’ve thought about before at great lengths.
“Yup, as a matter of fact I do. I deal with a lot of cynicism and anxiety regarding my lack of belief in anything - particularly any sort of Heaven or after life. I’m terrified a lot of the time. It keeps me up at night.”
“But that’s not enough for you to believe?”
“No, I suppose it’s not.”
By that point I was almost at my stop. Actually - I nearly missed it because I was so engaged in the conversation. As I was getting up, she asked me if she could give me her card. I told her, sure, she could give it to me.
I’ll continue on with my life not believing in anything, while she’ll continue on with hers trying to spread the word of a God in which she so fervently believes. And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s just nice to be reminded that tolerance and rational discourse can exist between two people with completely different perceptions of the world.
Plus, in spite of our differences, we’ll always have the moon.