Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Catholics Never Let Me Try the Port

Once upon a time I was a Mystery Worshiper. 

Did you ever run across one of those?  I auditioned and got approved for the gig through the Ship of Fools website.  It was a lot of fun, but I quit because I was just using it as an excuse for snarking.  I'm not saying snarking is bad.  After all, sarcasm is my spiritual gift.  But when that's all you're doing, you're not really being fair.

God knows I don't need that kind of karma.  So, I quit.

Today I was sort of back at it again, just for grins.  There was no mystery to it this time, but I attended another church in another town and it made a great excuse to have lunch with the kid. 

For those of you keeping score at home, the kid is doing well in nursing school, working at a hospital part-time and making a mint teaching pitching lessons and clinics on the side.  She is so busy, just listening to her makes me tired.  Things are not perfect, but she's tapped into an extraordinary level of self-sufficiency which leaves me a bit breathless.  And proud.  Mostly proud.

Before all that though, there was church.  It was enjoyable to see a different group doing the same things differently.  This was only the forth Episcopal church I've ever visited.  (When I was Mystery Worshiping, I confined my choices to places I knew I'd hate.  Didn't ever go to an Episcopal service.)

Y'all know about my addiction to Gothic arches and such.  Unfortunately, this building was more New Mexico than New England, but it had it's charms.  The audio speakers attached to the ceiling reminded me of every West Texas Baptist church I've ever been in.  There readings were faintly dramatic and there was that one completely unexpected soprano in the choir. 

Lord, they had a lot of people in white robes.  Wonder if they get a discount for buying in bulk?

There were lots of robe-wearers to help serve communion.  One of my oddly favorite things about the Episcopal Eucharist has been the communion wafer.  It's weird, I know, but I find them cool. This church used bread instead of wafers. 

Damn, it was good bread.  Brown and sweet and super moist.

The progressive Baptist churches I've attended in the past have used similar bread, probably as a reaction to the Jeezus Chiclets we grew up on.  You know what I mean - those tiny, half-inch squares of crunchy dough that you get along with the thimble of Welch's Grape Juice.  It was like we believed that there was only so much Jesus to go around, and you only got a tiny piece of him so we wouldn't run out.  Because we knew that story about the loaves and the fishes and the five thousand but none of us really believed it.  We believed the basic story, but not that part about how no one went away hungry.  Everyone got a little bit, sure, but a little bit would have to do ya.  Right?

Anyway, the bread was good, but I like the wafers best.  Besides, we've already discussed (Haven't we?  Maybe we haven't.) that I am a huge fan of port and I'd really like to be last in line to finish that stuff off, or at least go back around and go through the line a second time.  With bread that good, it would be that much more of a temptation.

Gimme wafers. 

And of course, you can't get through a service without Passing the Peace. 

Earlier in the week, Lois posted a link to an article about this and asked my opinion, as someone who has long lamented the practice.

My opinion?  I still don't like it.  I'm an introvert and anything touchy-feely makes me itch.  I'd just as soon not do it, thankyouverymuch.  However, I do admit that I like official peace-passing much better than the less structured meet-n-greet.  In the Episcopal church I only have to touch your hand and say one word.  I can do that.  I don't love it, but I can do it.

This church is larger than the tiny one I attend.  All that peace passing takes a while, even when everyone is only saying one word, three at most.  I did my bit with the folks around me then just sort of stood back and watched the people travel back and forth through the aisle, greeting their fellows.

The priest made her way through the crowd pretty quickly, offering peace to each person in turn.  I'd said my one word to all but the nice woman sitting next to me.  She'd introduced herself and asked what I did for a living. 

I told her I was an adult probation officer, forgetting my pact with Mindy that this question is always best answered with "I'm a florist."  The woman seemed surprised and interested and was questioning me further about law enforcement when the priest reached her side.  The priest offered her one word of peace, then stepped towards me, grasping my hand warmly.  She leaned in just a bit and said,

"You left your pot in my car."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

So What Do I Want to Do With the Rest of My Life?

Recently I have been thinking about the future, which is a depressingly conventional response to my slightly unconventional circumstances.  I'm eligible for retirement in three years.  There is a run-off election being held next month that will have a lot to do with whether or not I retire at my first eligibility.

If I did quit, what would I want to do?  Hell, I'll only be 48.  I could start a whole new career.  But honestly, I have no idea what I want to do.  And days like today make the decision even harder.  Because I have the best damn job.

I met with Jose this afternoon.  Jose is chronically depressed but not chronically sober.  For the moment he's stable.  He works graveyard shift at a convenience store and is attending Junior College.  He wanted to go into nursing, but his felony conviction makes that pretty much impossible, so he's decided to study psychology.

Jose is fairly typical of my caseload.  He's a young(ish), poor, Hispanic male who lives with his long-term girlfriend.  He became a father at a young age.  He's under-employed and works for minimum wage.  And he's in trouble for drinking.  I'd drink if I was him.

Jose's drinking led to someone losing their life.  Now he doesn't drink.  (Crossing my fingers that this holds true.)

Unlike most of the people I deal with, Jose has a high school diploma and has decided he needs to further his education.  For the last year he's been taking classes and we've talked about the benefits of this choice as well as how this may effect his already tenuous family relationships.  It's tough to keep a marriage together when one of you arbitrarily adds full-time student status to an already stressful situation. That's certainly proving true in Jose's case.  In the midst of all this tension, they had another baby.

[Condoms, people!  C'mon, it is not that hard!  (heh.)  Condoms, every stinkin' time, dammit.  Why, why, why must you procreate?!  Never, never, never fail to use birth control!]

All of which brings me to Winston Churchill.

Jose is reading a book on the British Prime Minister for a history class.  He's actually reading it - the whole thing.  And liking it. It's taken him two months to get it done, but he has become a fan of Churchill and seems to be thrilled with his ability to read, comprehend and enjoy an actual book.

Although I've not read the book, I at least know enough minutia about the man to carry on a decent conversation.  It did occur to me that perhaps the hard drinking Churchill was not the best role model for Jose, but he beats the shit out of Hulk Hogan or Donald Trump.  We spent most of our meeting discussing the book and what Jose has learned from it.  Jose agreed with me that Churchill must have been an absolute bear to live with.  His drinking habits and irascibility would have been a potent combination.

As our discussion wound down and Jose started to leave, I mentioned the famous Churchill anecdote about the stuffy society maven who berated Churchill for being drunk at her dinner party.  Jose had read the story and knew what I was referencing.  (Churchill told her he might indeed be drunk, but he'd be sober by morning and she'd still be ugly.)  We shared a polite laugh and Jose seemed to realize that he was engaging in actual college-student-type conversation. 

Admittedly I was somewhat dismayed over the fact that I'd remembered the drunk story rather than the "never give up" bit or something else which would have been much more appropriate for our situation.  Oh, well.

Jose left considerably less morose than he'd arrived and even appeared to be proud of himself.  And rightfully so.  I was proud of him, too.

After Jose, I had an appointment with Isabella.  She came rushing in, apologizing in her two-pack-a-day-phone-sex-voice for wearing shorts, but she'd been busy unloading a trailer full of bulls and she'd barely been able to make it to the appointment on time.

Isabella is a new case and so we started in on the state's newest prescribed bit of paperwork, a somewhat over-valued interview questionnaire.  We didn't even get through the first page.  The conversation took an unexpected turn when we discussed the motivation behind her methamphetamine use.

She's an introvert.

Isabella had never heard that term before.  All she knew was that her five seriously extroverted sisters and parents have always told her there was something really wrong with her.  One way she tried to fix herself was getting amped up on meth.

I explained the terms - the difference between extroverts and introverts.  We discussed how the extrovert draws energy from those around them, and the introvert replenishes energy by spending time alone.

She likes to read.  Check.
She likes living in the country all by herself.  Check.
She talks to the bulls when she needs to talk to someone.  Check.
She doesn't like having kids around.  Check.
She'd rather do the work herself, rather than having to supervise someone else.  Check.
She enjoys her family, but dreads the thought of all of them being in her house at once.  Check.
She's recently divorced.  Her husband left unexpectedly, when she didn't even realize there was anything wrong with the marriage.  Check.

Do you ever just sit in amazement contemplating how the universe throws the exact right person at you, who, at the exact right time, would benefit from your own exact experience?

I don't normally talk about myself with my people.  Not about my personal life or living arrangements.  It's not that it's a secret, it's just a professional choice.  We all live in the same small town.  They all know where I live, what I drive and what I like on my breakfast burritos.  They see me at ball games and in the convenience store.  But I try not to give them information about myself during our conversations.

Today was a little different.  I had the best time extolling the virtues of introversion for Isabella  Using my own experiences, I went through a laundry list of things she probably likes and dislikes, guessing correctly most of the time.  I told her how to enjoy dining out alone.  I talked about my awareness that as much as I love being alone, I need to make an effort at more human interaction and ways I am working on that.  Most of all, I told her she's not broken.  She's just different.

She ate it up.  And then volunteered to come to the drug/alcohol group therapy meeting.  That's like volunteering for foreign missions at the end of the revival service.  Which makes me the traveling evangelist.  Only without the traveling.  Or evangelicalism.  (Or the friggin' love offering!)

It made for a great afternoon and I'm really glad I've got at least three years before I have to decide what I should do with the rest of my life.  I want to leave while I still love this work.  I want to go somewhere else and be something else before I burn out, or age out, or get too complacent.  But this is the best damn job and I can't imagine what else could even come close.