There was a girl, her name was Nadine. I don’t know her, other than her name. Yet with how things played out, I can’t forget her. Our paths had crossed a couple of times, we happened to be involved in the same event and attending at the same time. This event being a religious retreat for youth.
For me, religion has always been a somewhat uncomfortable part of my life. A piece that just doesn’t seem to quite fit into the puzzle of who I am. But, at the time, I had convinced myself it was what I needed. I thought I could gain something from it, although I wasn’t entirely sure what. Perhaps stability, something constant, or maybe I thought I would find the love I felt was missing. Whatever the reason, I was wrong. Religion didn’t fill any void.
Nadine, however, was the opposite. She lived completely dedicated to this belief. In a way, it made me envious. She came to this retreat full of energy and excitement, while I was hovering in the background surrounded by my own cloud of uncertainty. At the time, I thought it meant that I wasn’t good enough, that these people with a fierce devotion were somehow better than me. But, I eventually realized that wasn’t true.
Now, there is one other thing that I came to learn about Nadine during this time. And that was the fact that she had cancer. It had been a battle she faced since childhood. For a time, it had been in remission. But, as we all were told, it had now come back as vicious as ever. She was forced to leave the retreat, and sent to a hospital instead.
Of course, we all were somewhat shaken. But, to be honest, it didn’t remain in our minds for very long. We carried on with the retreat and gave Nadine only the occasional thought. I don’t believe that any of us took it to be very serious, how could we? There was no one else among us who had personally experienced such an event. I think that we all expected her to be back, spilling over with positivity just as she had been.
On the last night of the retreat, we were informed that her condition had worsened. They told us that we should all pray for her and for her family, because they needed it now more than ever. And, so, a group of at least five hundred teenagers prayed for Nadine. It was a well-intentioned thought, to unite with one purpose, one person, in mind. But, even still, we expected to see her again.
That didn’t happen, though. Nadine didn’t come back. In the morning, they told us that she hadn’t made it through the night. It was shocking, naturally, as reality finally made it past our own selfish views. There was crying. But for the people like me, who didn’t have the opportunity or take the time to know her, it felt selfish. So, I returned to my quiet hovering as I’m sure many others did.
After what was deemed an adequate amount of time, we were back on schedule and continuing with the closing of our retreat. It was joyful and happy, with music and laughing, because that was what Nadine would have wanted, they told us.
There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that, mourning cannot last forever. But, all the same, I struggled with that concept. I had never been the best with emotions, and Nadine’s death certainly created emotion. So, I finished that retreat out in a haze. There was a funeral soon after, and various other vigils. But, eventually, I moved on. I forgot it, in a way.
The next year, I didn’t return to youth group. Something snapped, I suppose. Already, I had come to know that religion would not fill or fix me in the ways I wanted. But, I also realized that even if it could, I would not want to stay. In that group, there was no gray area. There was white, and there was black. But, in their eyes, and even in my own, I was gray in every way. And that was certainly not something they welcomed.
Naturally, I still continued to attend mass every Sunday with my parents as that was not an option. And, on one occasion, a girl who was still in the group saw me. She asked me why I hadn’t been back to youth group this year, and when I explained my decision she smiled and told me I should reconsider.
It left me feeling sick, and I couldn’t understand why. Then I began to think about Nadine again, and I couldn’t understand that either. I figured it out though, and it didn’t make me feel any less sick.
Religion was for the broken, those completely shattered and facing immense challenges. Those who, perhaps, lost a daughter before she was even 15. And religion was for the happy, who found what they were looking for or overcame the challenges they had been given.
But, religion was not for those who were gray, who were only broken enough to be considered human.