This diary is both a reflection of a spiritual change I went through forty years ago, and a tribute to a young man I knew at the time, one whose life was cut short by a drunk driver. In early June of 1974 I returned home from a study abroad year in Bolivia. it was sponsored by Rotary, and I was a senior in high school.
As background, I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My family was Roman Catholic, but it was a very rote Roman Catholicism. Church on Sundays, always the early service as that was the quickest and fastest, and some Catechism when we were younger. Even as an adolescent, I yearned for more.
As a junior in high school, I began dating a young man, a senior at the time, whose family lived in the town next door. His father ran the local Youth for Christ program. Much to the consternation of my mother, I began attending their services and programs. It wasn't long before I accepted Jesus Christ "as my Lord and Savior". Perhaps I had a true spiritual conversion (I doubt it now). Perhaps, as an outsider, I found a group that accepted me. It's also possible I found the only spiritual avenue available to me in the rural area I grew up in.
Either way, my boyfriend and I grew closer over the next few months. However, I was also anxious to leave home and see the world, and was accepted as a foreign exchange student for my senior year in high school. I was to be sent to Bolivia, to spend a year in the town of a girl the local Rotary group in my town had hosted - Oruro. Having graduated high school, my boyfriend chose to continue his Christian education at Liberty University in Virginia (yes, that one). We said our good-byes, and agreed to stay in touch via letters and cassette tapes.
For a while, that worked. What I wasn't prepared for, however, was the culture shock of the environment I was placed in. I don't mean the different culture - ie, language, traditions, etc. I mean that I never had witnessed a society where the have-nots had so little, and the haves had so much. Where the discrimination was open and verbal. Where the opportunities for the poor were so limited. Where there was such clear hatred of one class (the ruling, Spanish-descended (so they thought)) towards the native peoples. Where 2-year children were forced to live begging in the streets, their feet cracked, their spirits still high.
Seeing such treatment of one group of humans towards another threw me into a spiritual crisis. How could God be so loving and merciful and allow this to happen? How could one group of people so clearly hate another, in what was considered a Christian/Catholic country?
So, over the course of that year, I not only grew apart from my "Christian" spiritual conversion, I also grew apart from my boyfriend. I just couldn't and didn't have the words to communicate the struggle I was going through. So, I kept up pretenses, figuring it would be best if we spoke in person upon my return about where I was at.
I was scheduled to leave early June. His last set of finals was also early June. Unbeknownst to me, however, he finished his finals as early as he could, and drove straight through from Virginia in order to meet me when I returned. He was two hours away from our neck of the woods, at two in the morning, when a drunk driver crossed the median, and ended his life immediately.
I arrived within 48 hours of the accident. I landed in an airport two hours from my town; my mother told me the news on our way home. I was, and still am, devastated by his loss. He didn't deserve to die (and this was before harsh sentences for DUIs - his killer was only sentenced to two years). I also subconsciously blamed myself. What if I had been honest about the changes in my feelings? Would he have still been on that road at 2 in the morning? It's taken me a long time to not feel guilt about that.
My friend was a caring, sweet young man. and, to be honest, whenever I hear the name Liberty University, I don't think of bombastic Jerry Falwell. I think of my friend whose life was cut short.
I continued my spiritual search into adulthood, and eventually found a spiritual home in the Unitarian Universalist world. I believe it's not what we believe, or say that matters. It's how we live our life, and whether that life is lived with love, that matters.
Thank you for letting me share my story with you.