On June the 13th, my friend and roommate of two years during my university years became married to his girlfriend. Both of them had been dating for nearly four years, and became married at the age of 22. When I first heard the news of their engagement last year, I was conflicted. My roommate is a devout, evangelical Christian. He is studying to become a pastor, and his girlfriend (now wife) is an engineer. Both of them had married pretty young. Straight out of college young. I felt conflicted because both of them had married without a long period of time out of school. Not enough time to explore, date other people, or be out of the college town we all came from. In spite of that, both of them knew that they wanted to be married.
As I drove to Gainesville, a lot of old memories flooded in my mind. I drove through the hot Floridian sun approaching North, passing miles of farmlands, rolling hills, lakes and prairie fields that seemed to continue on and on. I have a lot of mixed feelings toward the atmosphere of such a competitive and insular university and its community. Even more, the people who I attended college with. I wasn’t close with my old roommate during the last year of college. He was becoming more involved with his church, wanting to be a pastor. I became more distant, skeptical, removed from the insular collegiate Christian group I had associated with. I hadn’t seen him since I graduated. What the heck was I to expect? Did I fuck up by accepting the wedding invitation?
Another reason I was conflicted was my own opinions on marriage, and weddings. There are two events in life that have extended since the beginning of human civilization. Weddings and funerals. Both events have left some very particular views on me. My own parents had a terrible marriage; dozens of fights, manipulations of one another, affairs, and resentments over life choices and having children. There is something about the ritual and ceremony of a wedding. Two people choose to consecrate their marriage and bond before God. Two people trust to be with one another for the rest of their lives. Are they crazy? Who the hell can predict the future? Especially at that age? How can someone fall in love and be certain that early? Most of us want to explore ourselves, other people, other worlds, cultures.
I arrived at the church around 15 minutes before the ceremony. It was in the outskirts of Gainesville, in a wooded area with several streams and trees littering the landscape. It was at a beautiful location. A wooden building shaped in a dome with a glass window allowing for sunshine inside the chapel. A wooden balcony and flooring surround the church, and a wood walkway and bridge connects the parking lot to the actual church. Trees surround the church and bridge, and a small stream flows underneath the bridge. The ceremony was short in itself, only about 45 minutes. My roommate was smart enough to know when and how to wrap shit up.
I sat in the very back of the church, so I could see the maids of honor, best man, mothers, fathers, bride and groom. I hadn’t seen my roommate in nearly two years, but the smile he gave me when he saw me relieved all fears and reservations I had. It was such an open and innocent smile. He had kept a straight face walking down the alter, and he gave me a smile as if he had seen a lost brother from a war. It was a smile that reminded me why we bonded so well, our connection in spite of our differences in beliefs, backgrounds, our priorities and even personal distance from one another. Watching him and his wife, I felt a sense of warmth between them that for the moment ebbed away all the criticism, negativity and disbelief I had toward marriage. That’s the beauty of the ceremony and the celebration. You are swept in the festivities, as if a force like a river carrying you.
The reception was wonderful and held at a small coffee shop right across the street from campus. The building was in the style of a southern plantation. You know. Without the slavery, and the cotton, and the white guilt, and Django. Seriously though, the architecture was close to the Greek Revival of what I see in photos of Germany. We partied and danced until about 9 PM. During that time, I reconnected with my old friend Timothy, a great Korean guy who had just finished his first year in medical school. I will mention his name because he composed the second part of this story.
Tim and I had danced and hung out most of the time during the reception. We had dinner and went for drinks on the other side of Gainesville, in the outskirts near the highway (Interstate 75). It was here that I had one of the best conversations in a long time. A bit of background on Tim is necessary. I’ll keep this shit short (Bullshit, coming from me. I know).
Tim was a Biochemistry student during my time at the university. He was a devout Christian, one of the major leaders at the campus ministry and youth group. He had his finger in the highest echelons of leadership when I was a student. He is intelligent, confident in what he devotes himself to, shy at first glance, and exceptionally humble. Where my roommate was aggressive and at times off putting and snobbish, Tim was always kind, accepting, and open.
When we went for drinks, Tim told me about the struggles he had in his first year in medical school and the exams he had to retake. He sounded despondent, and tired. He obviously had a lot on his mind. He told me he became distant from his friends inside the insular Christian community and from God. He talked about becoming indifferent to the rhetoric of every Christian, and how being in medical school forced him to re-evaluate his own beliefs. His parent had gotten divorced, and his father got remarried only a year after a divorce. Tim has three younger brothers, so I can’t even imagine how that must be on several child-aged siblings. His father had began using Bible verses to justify his own new marriage, ignoring the own cracks in his own life and the issues with his children.
We confided in each other. I could honestly talk about my own reservations about being a Christian, living up to the standards of Christ, my cynicism in religion, the hypocrisy I see in other people, and my own doubts. I always looked up to Tim as the ideal Christian. I prayed to become more like him and my old roommate. Tim was taken aback by it, and openly acknowledged his own shortcomings. His dating life forced him to understand that during his time at college, he was ignorant of other cultures, people, and beliefs outside his own. He thought he had a firm grasp on things, when he knew nothing at all. His parent’s divorce forced him to see that God couldn’t save all marriages. I could see how he was forced to reconcile the dissolution of his own parent’s marriage on the same day that my roommate was to begin his. The duality was not lost on me.
We both felt the pressure and expectations as men to live in the image of God. Both of us couldn’t come to terms with the word of Christ and the world we live in. How can the Gospel be as relevant today when we have so much on our shoulders? We are suppose to be strong, when we live in a world of doubt. We are suppose to be in charge of our own household and of our women, when both of us view women as equals and share the power. We are supposed to be strong moral pillars, when our own friends have a selective view of morality that suits them. Both of us felt isolated at the wedding. We enjoyed ourselves, but while everyone else was part of that insular Christian group, Tim and I were skeptical of that viewpoint and saw the holes and limitations of that life.
Which brings me to the title of this post. As the title suggests, The Last of Us is the title of a widely-acclaimed video game. It also happens to be one of the favorite games of my best friend. If she loves it, then it must be gold. What encompasses us? Would Timothy and I be the “us,” as in the outside Christians? Would we later leave our faith? Would the entire Christian group celebrating the marriage of my roommate and his bride be the “us,” given that we are Christians celebrating an important life passage? Would my friends who are twins but not Christians be who I consider “us,” including myself? What does that mean for people? What does that mean for me? Will I lose my exclusivity to that group if my faith is tested? There is such fluidity in the application of a word, and its placement says a lot of trust, relationship between two people and the circumstances that link one person to another.
We both realized that we are the sons of immigrants, but we don’t have any identity of our own. We have to be men, students, Americans, and Christians. Timothy has to be a Korean and carry all the baggage it brings, and me a Haitian and all of those obligations. Tim doesn’t want to end up marrying a Christian who would be so inconsiderate of a world outside of their comfort zone. The people inside religious groups exist in a “positive” feedback loop, giving each other reassurance and comfort while not asking tough questions about our own existence and how we reconcile religion to the world we live in. Nobody wants to face outside ideas that don’t already nurture their established and secure ideals.
I had a joke with my best friend about marrying her. I make that joke about my friends, men and women. If that were ever possible, I would alienate likely almost everyone I had just spent at that blessed wedding. She comes from a Muslim family, so that would be only slightly better than marrying a non-believer. Honestly, I don’t even care anymore. I could marry a man, or marry any of the friends I have made over the years that would never submit themselves to that insular bubble. I could alienate all of those people, but I could at least be happy in not lying to one person instead of lying to a group of people. Is keeping my faith in God worth it if I am lying to myself? I don’t know how to balance being honest with myself, and being a Christian. It is as if both priorities are on completely different wavelengths.
Christians and other followers of faith (Muslims, Jews, etc) place their faith and foundation on religious texts and God. All of their answers are derived from that. I can’t pretend to have all the answers to the many questions that exist in life. As men of science, Tim and I don’t have the answers to all questions. We are willing to have a sense of humility and be open to that. Too many people of faith can’t, and would never do that. What does that say about people who are supposed to be “Christ-like”? If my roommate becomes a pastor, he faces a big problem. Churches either engage in songs, dancing and “touchy-feely” sentimentality that is superficial and shallow. Or churches are conservative, and follow Scripture to the letter while never acknowledging the struggles we face outside the Bible. I’m a Christian now. I don’t know however, what to think now with all of these questions and doubts I have in myself and what I believe in. I guess that is the nature of faith.