Sterling’s lovely pimento seemed to be taking to the apartment balcony quickly, and with a transplant to a large pot and some fresh soil there were even some very tiny peppers beginning to form. The plant began desperately growing towards the sun, forcing Sterling to continually rotate it to ensure that it didn’t collapse under its own weight. It didn’t collapse, though, it continued to grow, continued to reach towards the light.
She started to think that maybe the pimento was on to something.
Sterling and Blair had grown apart as far as religion was concerned. Once in college, Blair had read one Kurt Vonnegut novel and decided that whatever what going on upstairs was really none of her business. Sterling had been slower to step away, gradually becoming disillusioned with organized worship when many groups in the South still refused to accept gay people. She prayed alone sometimes, when she wanted to feel closer to God, but didn’t feel connected enough to her community in college to bother seeking out a new church there.
She was a whole-ass adult in graduate school this time around though, and surely there was a church out there for her. If for nothing else, it would be nice to have some more familiar faces to see around town.
It’s not like cities in Georgia had any shortage of churches to choose from, but Sterling’s faith was very personal to her. Now that she found herself firmly in the ‘B’ part of LGBT, it was crucial to find a place that felt accepting. A place where she could feel God in its walls.
So, she began a quest to find one.
A quest that Blair began calling her, “personal pilgrimage.”
The first church she tried was warm and accepting, but fairly small. Not that she required a large congregation but growing up in a Baptist church in Atlanta had gotten her used to having an extended community that was connected through her church. A regular attendance of twelve (albeit very kind looking people) just didn’t resonate. Nope.
The church on the second Sunday of her search was very large, with beautiful facilities, good works, and beautiful services. It was only after staying for the light refreshments afterwards that she realized there were no young folks. Beyond that, there were almost certainly no progressive-type people at all. After some internet sleuthing, she realized that the second church was “okay” with LGBT people attending, but not actively supportive of the community. No way.
Which brought her to church number three: The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Though originally wary of the length of the name (everyone knows the longer names were more extreme) the service seemed lovely, the facilities were bright and open, and the congregation seemed actively involved in improving the lives of, well, everyone. (There were a lot of rainbows visible on the bulletin board.)
The pastor’s homily discussed Genesis 19:26, the story of Lot’s wife.
The city of Sodom had become a depraved place and the extremely violent Old Testament God had sought to strike it down for all of its sins. A band of angels agreed to spare Lot and his family for their continued piety, on the condition that no one look back as the city was destroyed. Lot’s wife looked back as they fled and was turned into a pillar of salt.
Sterling expected the usual ‘we should all turn from sin’ lecture, and there was some of that in the sermon, but then it took a turn. The pastor spoke about another lesson of the story; about how sometimes we don’t need to look back at where we’ve been to appreciate where we are, or to move forward from it.
Something about the message resonated with Sterling, as she sat in her very comfortable theater-style chair in the second row. Natural light poured down through the high windows, and she realized that maybe she wasn’t letting enough of it in. There was a fair share of darkness in her origin story, and there had been low points in her life for certain, but maybe she couldn’t fully reach for the light until she’d agreed to stop looking back at the darkness.
It was unreasonable to expect that she could be the protagonist of everyone’s story, that she could be forgiven for things that had long since been dead and buried.
Maybe the person she really needed to forgive for those things, was herself.
The past is the past.
The growth and the learning and the joy came as reflections of the light, not the absence of it. There were things she dwelled on constantly that she’d allowed to haunt her, and if she couldn’t let it go, then she couldn’t move forward.
This was her place. She could feel it.
A tear streamed down her cheek before she’d had the chance to fully register that she was crying. Hastily, she wiped it away and began to pray.
When the service came to an end, she made a snap decision to go straight home rather than mingle. Certain that her mascara was absolutely wrecked, she dabbed under her eyes with a tissue from her purse to make herself presentable enough to manage a clean getaway.
She could do this. She could leave the past behind and move forward with her life. She could fake her way through exit pleasantries until she could have a good existential cry in the privacy of her own apartment like a real adult. The sound of her own steadying breath calmed her as she got up from the seat.
Shaking the pastor’s hand and quickly thanking him for his words, Sterling all but fled the scene, keeping her head down on the flowy material of her dress as she made a beeline for the Volt. She dug through her little handbag for the key fob and jammed on the unlock button, hearing a distant, “Oh!” of surprise as the locks clicked.
Her eyes darted up towards the sound. It had been weeks. Weeks.
The past was behind her.
Wasn’t that just the conversation that she’d had with God?
Why then, was her past leaning against the Volt with a shy smile like it was 2020 all over again?
“I see you’ve found me again,” April said breezily, like they were friends or something, like she hadn’t speed-walked away from their last encounter a month ago after an apology that was impossibly late.
Sterling’s recent tears left her snort coming out more like a sniff, “One could argue that you were the one that found me this time.” She crossed her arms defensively, “And last time too, honestly.”
April’s expression shifted from a smirk to a knitted brow as she thought for a moment.
“Regardless, what kind of Christians would we be to ignore the number three here?”
Sterling didn’t have time for this. She had a pimento plant to greet, a good cry to have, and a past to leave behind.
Too bad her past was still blocking the driver’s side door in her Sunday best.
She let out an exasperated sigh, “What exactly are you saying?”
“I’m saying that maybe we should lean into this,” April suggested as she gestured between them, before crossing her arms afterwards as though that could protect her from whatever Sterling’s answer might be.
“Lean into…?” Sterling echoed quietly, her body relaxing. Something about it tugged at her, tugged at the parts of her past that weren’t quite so dark.
“Brunch. Are you interested?”