These carefully built connections with people I loved meant no holiday was spent alone if I didn't want it to be. Easter, for years, meant a long wine-soaked Brooklyn brunch with whatever friends were in town and then a walk in the newly warm springtime sun.
Marking holidays such as Easter with particular traditions is a funny thing to care about if you are, like many of my millennial cohorts, not particularly attached to any religious belief.
And yet many of us do care, observing traditionally religious holidays in sometimes untraditional ways, using them as both anchors and trampolines -- ways to keep us moored in our cultures and family histories as well as jumping-off points to discard what does not serve us or feels ill-fitting to our values and beliefs.
We are, many of us nonreligious millennials, still on the hunt for something fundamentally human: community, connection, devotion. Something like church, without the church part.
We may not be going to church or temple or mosque as much as our parents or grandparents, and we may not even believe in the gods worshipped within those spaces, but that doesn't mean we don't seek sanctuary, kinship -- including around a holiday table -- and even divine grace.
I was raised a steadfast twice-a-year Christian (and twice-yearly church attendance has slowly slid into zero yearly), but as an adult I'm a member of the largest religious group in the United States: "nones." That is, I have no religious affiliation at all, and as with other "nones" (we are now a quarter of the United States) that's not because I haven't chosen a particular religious tradition, but because I simply don't believe.
Landing in a new city, I knew it would take months, even years, to cultivate the web of relationships I had after a decade and a half in a city I loved. If I were a believer, that might have meant a straight shot to a house of worship.
Without that, here in Nairobi, I emailed local journalists, chatted up neighbors, even found myself approaching women I liked and flat-out asking, like a kindergartner, "Do you want to be friends?" I trolled every yoga studio in the city for a place that felt like home, where I could, I hoped, find a little society of people like me, dedicated to a physical and spiritual practice that feels grounding and meaningful.
The upcoming Easter holiday is, for Christians, a celebration of beginnings, resurrection, the promise of rebirth and new life. Even if you've sinned, Christianity holds the potential of forgiveness, even mercy -- atone and you can always start over. This particularly Christian assurance of wrongdoing, penance and forgiveness is not necessarily what I believe, but the skin-shedding potential of spring? That I can feel.
And indeed, across many religious and cultural traditions, holidays that track with springtime hold a similar promise of newness, freedom and revival -- whether it's the story of Jesus Christ's resurrection that we celebrate on Easter, or the Persian marking of the new year, or the exodus and freedom from slavery observed during Passover. There's an appeal there, to that idea of starting fresh just as the crocuses blossom and the spring lambs are born -- and to joining with others to mark this annual transition with common ritual.
And so here I am, writing this as I prepare my part of a communal Easter meal. Some new friends have invited me to their table to mark this holiday. I am making eggs, that symbol of beginnings -- but deviled because, well, I suppose that's appropriate. At their backyard potluck, I expect to find myself surrounded by people from so many corners of the world, using this holiday as a reason to roast a lamb and share food, to meet new neighbors and have long lingering discussions with old ones.
We won't necessarily share a common religion, culture, nationality, history or even explicit celebration of the Easter holiday, but there will be a shared devotion to just this: building our own little clan here, in a place some of us are from, that is for others far from home.
Even the "nones" among us need this ritual and community; we just don't need it to happen inside a temple. We can find it even if we don't believe the divine is a single omnipotent being in the sky, but that it lives in the smell of a wet forest, the daily dedication to a solitary run or a quiet meditation, and, this weekend, in the ringing laughter of friends and family gathered around a shared table.