Yesterday, I ran into an old acquaintance at a church picnic. It was woman I got to know both in depth and yet not at all over the course of a few years in the grossly under-appreciated sacred space known as the Church Parking Lot. I was a year or so out of a divorce that I had initiated. She was at the beginning of one she never wanted. How something so intensely personal came up in the normally polite, reserved ‘hi’s and ‘bye’s over the holy water, I don’t know but somehow it did. I lost count of all the times we stayed talking as the parking lot emptied out around us. I know plenty about her divorce but at the same time, I know almost nothing about her. It was kind of sad in a way, as if that whole experience had defined her entirely.
As for me it’s odd to look back now and recognize that there actually was a time when I went to Mass every day. That was abruptly cut in half when my boys transitioned into public school and I could no longer make 8:00 Mass. Every day became Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. It did not go unnoticed. After Mom’s fall, surgery and months of physical therapy, daily Mass became almost impossible. My less-frequent attendance quickly became a favorite conversation starter, as in, “Where have you been?” or “Why haven’t you been here?” More and more I felt pulled to spend time alone at the beach, away from the observations, opinions, and commentary of the daily Mass crew. That was a few years ago and so much has changed, none of which comes up for casual conversation.
So when I ran into this lady at the church picnic after not talking to her for a few years, I expected the usual, ‘Nice to see you, how have you been, boys are getting so big…’ sort of conversation. Instead, she instantly began to divulge her life’s difficulties as if we’d just parted ways a few days ago. The whole time she was talking, she was staring at my face like she wasn’t quite sure what to make of me. Rather abruptly, she stopped talking, looked me head-to-toe, backed off a half-step and then asked, “What did you do?”
I have to say I was a bit taken aback. “Do?”
“Yeah, you just… look… so… different. You look like ten years younger… you’re just… just… absolutely radiant.” As she sort of stammered, she looked like she couldn’t decide if she wanted to reach out to touch me to make sure I was real or if she wanted to back away slowly.
The last few years, I’d felt like everything was constantly changing. What had I done? Where to even start? Especially with someone whom I barely know at a picnic in the parking lot of a church I’m barely connected to anymore?
She must’ve sensed my hesitation. Before I could formulate a reasonable answer, she gushed, “You’ve lost ten pounds. You look so young and vibrant. You look like a woman in love.”
Ah, yes. Weight. Always a safe topic amongst women. “Actually I’ve gained about ten pounds but I do feel really good. My RA has been in remission and I picked up weight almost instantly when I stopped my meds…”
“No. No” she cut me off, “It’s not that…” she insisted. She looked me up and down again. I was starting to feel like an alien species by this point. Not at all pleased with my reticence, she turned to my mom. “What has she been up to? Look at her. Her whole face is different… her eyes…”
It should be noted at this point that Mom goes to the church picnic for one reason and one reason only: undying loyalty to the pastor. If he says come to the picnic, she comes to picnic. Socializing in-depth with people she barely knows is about as much fun for her as hugging a pissed off porcupine. She shot me one of her Don’t-you-dare-make-me-share looks.
“Well I did go to back to school and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself…”
Even that didn’t seem to satisfy her but it did get Mom off the hook. Soon enough I found a good excuse to exit stage right.
I spent most of last night and a good chunk of this morning trying to wrap my head around that conversation. In my own mind, I’m just the same old me I’ve always been. Life unfolds a minute at a time and I guess sometimes I don’t realize how much my life has changed until I’m in a situation where I’m faced with someone who still holds on to an outdated image of me. But radiant? Ten years younger? How can that be? Did she miss the new white streaks in my hair?
Well, I suppose if I’m honest, everything around me right now feels fresh and new in a way I’ve never known. Life is good. I’m happier now than I’ve been in an incredibly long time. God and I are on better terms than we’ve ever been. So yeah, I guess she wasn’t all that far off. I am a woman who knows she is loved. Apparently that shows. Who knew?