The particular community in which we've chosen to reside in Canada reminds me of 1982.
As if I've been away to college for the past few decades, and have just returned to my childhood. Particularly at Church. And since I'm retired, I have time to go to Coffee Break. This is a CRC (my childhood denomination, one that we're considering re-entering) staple. It is a weekly meeting for women that meets throughout the school year. In it, women socialize, study the Bible, sing, and drink coffee (duh). One of my new friends invited me to her Church's Coffee Break (well, okay, actually it was my Realtor who invited me, and I suspect that her motive was an effort to introduce me to other women so I would stop bugging her twice a day for recommendations for everything from dentists to hairdressers). I read the "invitation text" to my husband and his drink got stuck in his throat. It was like telling him I got invited to a Tupperware Party, or a Sewing Club. And then he said, "You're going to go, aren't you, for fodder for your blog."
So. I did. I went. Even though I texted my Denver girlfriends and asked, "should I shoot myself or go to Coffee Break?" And they recommended the former.
And my Realtor/only friend in Canada was thrilled to see me. It was sweet really. It was like she had just won the Bring-A-New-Person-To-Church Award. I had to write my name on a sticky Name Tag which an old lady stuck on my boob. And then we played Bingo Name Games. Sure did. I didn't win, but we all clapped for the person who did win. Clapped so loud like she had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. I think the woman next to me may have been crying. And then we drank coffee out of real China--cups AND saucers. And then the Lady In Charge told us that we should bring our own cups next time and that we should also help with dishes after the meeting. And then an older lady handed me a Bible Study book and said, "Here you go. You can pay us for it next time. Read it and be prepared for the study next week." And I said, "Bite me." No, really, I just smiled and kept my hands in my lap, waiting to see if she'd actually drop it on the table. She didn't. I simply said, "I'm going to need to think about this."
The only person with a penis, The Pastor, made an appearance. He congratulated us all for being "women who care about and study the word." To me it felt like he was saying, "Thank you for understanding your diminished place in the world. You are best at dishes and fill-in-the-blank Bible studies. You are best at holding babies and mopping floors and giving blow jobs. Leave the real study and teaching to us men."
I am not making any of this up.
The singing: A woman in stripes went to the podium to lead us in singing (she had complimented my dress during the Bingo game, so I was a bit partial to her). She stood behind the podium and her little blond head barely bopped up and down to an old hymn. I'm not sure how she "led" us other than she was something we could look at while we sang. Because when you sing in a room with 80 other women and you're sitting at circular tables, that deeply awkward feeling creeps into your gut. You have nowhere to look except the words. And you desperately want to look up. But when you do, you catch someone else's eye and you both look down quickly. Because you're supposed to be worshipping. It's like trying not to notice when someone is naked. This happened to me once when I was enjoying a long walk along the beach with a dear friend, deep in conversation. Suddenly we realized that we had entered a Nude Beach because we saw a man with visible jangles approaching. And I tried so hard to act as if the ocean soaked up all my attention, but when I faltered, I happened to look right at the wrinkled jewels. And I said hi.
The second song that Stripes led us in she called, "Number 91 in your Coffee Break Song Book."
And it went like this:
Sister let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.
We are pilgrims on a journey, fellow travellers on the road; we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night time of your fear; I will hold my hand out to you speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh I'll laugh with you. I will share your joy and sorrow till we've seen this journey through.
When we sing to God in heaven, we shall find such harmony, born of all we've know together of Christ's love and agony.
And even though I was disgusted at the awkwardness and cheesiness of the whole business, I was crying. Real tears. The words of this debacle reminded me of all my girlfriends who are far away. The bring-me-a-bottle-of-vodka, call-me-at-2 a.m. friends that I don't have in Canada. The ones who held my hand when I was scared of a diagnosis, and laughed with me after I claimed to know how to parent, and held me to a high standard when my marriage began to show signs of crumbling... And maybe I was also crying because I am just not ready to be in public yet. Or maybe I got smacked in the face, once again, for my own arrogance. As if I'm any better than this collection of women simply because I may be used to more progressive worship or teaching. As if I can condescend to them because they still have feathers in their hair and I can't tell if they're trying to be stylish by wearing high-wasted pants or they have been wearing them for the past 20 years.
In truth, they are on a journey, like I am. And in truth, I think some of them could hold my hand. If I can find the grace to let them.