I arrive at the ward picnic feeling a bit like an outsider. This is a self-imposed feeling, not really justified, a bit of paranoia. But I’ve been gone all summer, and lots of people have moved in and everyone seems to know each other, and I don’t know my place. And I am not who everyone thinks I am, which causes me turmoil. But I arrive and am surrounded by friends, I am meeting new people, and I am remembering these people are my people. It’s a love fest.
I go to church, dragging my feet, muttering under my breath, bitter, upset that I put myself through the torture of church every week. I skip out on the last hour of meetings and find myself talking out in the hall. My spirits are lifted, I love it, I talk with friends, I get caught up on their lives, and they on mine. The important work of connection takes place. I believe in connection. It is what lifts me. I leave church on a high, not because of any lessons, but because of love of these people who I care about.
It’s the people that keep me here. It’s not the doctrines. I don’t care about eternal families in the context of Mormonism. I don’t care about Mormon temples, or prophets, or seer stones, or gold plates, or plans of salvation. Those beliefs have fallen away and I feel no need to revisit them. The pastures I have moved onto are greener. But the people that keep me here believe with all their hearts in the things I have let fall away. My unbelief is a threat to them. My contempt for some of the things they believe—that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and that families need to look like a 1950s sitcom family—keeps me on my toes, afraid these people I love will say something that will offend me.
I don’t need the institution. At all. I need the people. I know there are people everywhere, good people, kind people, people who won’t worry about me if I don’t believe what I used to believe. And yet Mormons still feel like my people. So I walk this path of half-hearted staying. And it feels impossible.