The law firm where I first worked after law school was housed in an elegantly refurbished train depot.
Since I was the baby lawyer of the firm, my office was small, but it had a floor to ceiling paned window that covered a whole wall. I loved drawing the drapes every morning, exposing a lush courtyard garden full of plants that only grow in the humidity of a sub-tropic climate.
And in the fall, the brilliant red leaves of the Japanese maple on the other side of those drapes were unbelievable.
The editor of one of the newspapers in town frequently stopped by the office, as my boss owned the paper, and one morning he commented on the leaves as he walked past my office.
He told me it was a Japanese red maple and after that, we became friends.
Peter saw my diplomas hanging on the wall in my office, and noticed that I had graduated from a private Christian university. He laughed and got this impish twinkle in his eye.
“I’ll bet you go to church, don’t you?” he asked me.
“Yeah, I do,” I said.
From then on he stopped by my office every week, greeting me with a very southern kiss on the cheek, followed by some kind of religious question. Sometimes it was something pertaining to scripture, sometimes situational ethics, sometimes a social issue.
He always teased me. Always tried to get me riled up.
But I loved those conversations.
Because Peter always made me think.
He’d get this mischievous grin on his face and say, “well, you know, Sally, there is no God.”
And I’d grin and tell him he was one of the most Christ-like men I knew.
Even if he was an atheist.
Peter told me stories about growing up in Catholic schools, about being punished for rewriting his own version of the gospels when he was in the seventh grade. Instead of seeing the creativity in a little boy, the nuns saw it as sacrilege and expelled him.
Earlier in his life Peter had worked as an associated press correspondent overseas, spending several years in Paris, where he met and married his wife. I loved long dinners at their house, full of conversation and food that could only be prepared by someone who had grown up in France.
After dinner the three of us would go outside while Peter and his wife smoked, and we sat in their backyard that looked like a botanical garden.
When Peter was diagnosed with lung cancer, it was so advanced the doctor told him it wouldn’t make a difference for him to stop smoking.
So he didn’t. And he didn’t stop wondering. Questioning. Searching.
The last conversation I had with Peter was after supper one night in his backyard, admiring all the beauty of nature around us.
“You know, Sally,” he told me, “I can’t keep from thinking that something bigger did all this. It didn’t just happen on its own.”