As I walked up the cross towards the heavy double doors at the entrance, a man in a white robe starting yelling at me. He was seated, man-spread, on a bench just to the side of the entrance. Once he caught my attention, I could make out his words.
“I’m innocent officer! I didn’t do it! Don’t take me away!”
I glanced around, expecting to see a police officer in uniform or something similar behind me. No one was near.
“Don’t arrest me, officer! I’m innocent! I was at Flipz! Nowhere near the scene of the crime!”
Needless to say I was curious. To my knowledge, I’d never seen this man who wore his glasses pushed up on his forehead and whose scraggly grey ponytail rivaled my own in it’s ineffectual attempt to hide his age. How did he know what I do for a living? Do I walk like a cop? And, let’s be honest, if he does know my chosen career, he’s a bit misinformed about the nature of my job as a probation officer.
Naturally I stopped to talk to him. He stood up and held out his hand. His left hand.
“I have to shake with my left,” he said, ginning ruefully. “I’m smoking with my right.” He briefly held out a hand with blackened nails and smoke emanating from between his fingers. Evidently whatever he was smoking had burned down to almost nothing. Or he was actually on fire.
I took the proffered hand and he said, “Do you play pinball?”
“Not since college,” I replied, slightly surprised by the segue. “I used to love pinball.”
“Me too. Flipz is a place here in town that is just pinball games. Fireball is my favorite. Have you ever played that? What’s your favorite?”
“Whatever they had in the lobby of the movie theater,” I answered. “Wednesday was dollar movie night, so I’d play pinball, catch the movie, and have a great time.”
“Where did you go to college?”
I named the small Baptist university located an hour north.
“Baptist? How did you end of up at the Presbyterian Church?”
I was a bit confused by this, since this was not the Presbyterian Church, and considered that perhaps he was actually planning to attend the Unitarian church located on a corner of the parking lot, and maybe he was just borrowing a bench, unsure of the denomination of this church. However, I’ve not normally thought of the Universalists as a high-church, robe-wearing crowd.
Before I could process this and answer his question, he spoke again. “My name’s Randy. What’s yours?”
“Rachel,” I replied, mentally rolling my eyes at the Universe.
“Rachel. Huh. And I’m Randy. R and R. Sometimes my friends call me R.” He smiled.
Having been married to and divorced from a Randy, I’ve heard all the ‘R and R’ preciousness before. I was not impressed. But it was not this Randy’s fault. So I smiled at him. “Nice to meet you, Randy.”
I began to turn towards the doors and move away.
“Nice to meet you. And thanks!” he said.
Thanks for what, I wasn’t sure, but as I reached for the wrought iron door handles, I was pretty sure that I’d completely missed some important subtext in the whole interaction.
I stepped through the doorway and ran smack into realization. This is what it’s like to talk to me for the first time. I’m more than happy to let you in on my existence in the moment, weaving our interaction into my own personal, private zeitgeist. But I tend not to ever explain my thought process or subtext.
And now I know exactly what that feels like from the other side. Thanks, Randy.
But that’s not the story I was going to tell you.
No doubt many of you have figured out what it is that I've decided to do with my retirement. It's not exactly public yet, but it's not exactly private, either. I’m entering the discernment and ministry formation process in my Episcopal diocese. We’re going to find out if I have any business being a priest.
The vestry at my church has just voted to sponsor me. That was great. Then those bastards printed the news right there in the church newsletter. That was a bit disconcerting. And maybe just a little frightening.
My mentor warned me once that I would get very, very tired of talking about myself during this process. As much as you might doubt it from reading this completely self-indulgent blog, I am not good at, nor do I like, talking about what I really think and feel. Making this decision public flies in the face of my naturally secretive personality.
To be honest, it’s still not actually public. There are really very few people in my world who read this blog or the monthly newsletter at the Episcopal church. And I haven't told many of my real-life acquaintances.
This Sunday one of my very favorite people was ushering.
I’d left Randy to finish whatever he was burning on that bench and entered the dark wooden doors. Jack was waiting in the aisle with a stack of worship paraphernalia.
“Give me a bulletin, you jerk!” I snarled.
He grinned, making his eyes crinkle. “Here! Take it!” The “bitch” was implied, but unspoken.
Jack and I consider profanity to be a spiritual gift, but we do try to practice it outside of the building. He is a master of that game and I’m no slouch at it either.
Jack is probably old enough to be my father. He and his ethereal husband are absolutely delightful. I first met him at Jay’s house one Friday afternoon when she wanted help hanging paintings on the walls of her new home. I was just there for comic relief. Jack was the expert. He and I had an epic cuss fight once we’d discovered our mutual natural propensity for it.
Jack is also a member of the vestry.
Today, during the passing of the peace, he hugged me. As I pulled away, he took both of my hands in his. He’s got the most marvelously snarky, gravely voice. He looked up at me, putting his mouth near my ear.
“I’m praying for you,” he murmured. “I’m praying for you,” he repeated, pulling back to glare at me, “while you travel this ridiculous journey you've decided on. Traveling in those motorcycle boots and that leather jacket!” he growled.
I laughed out loud. He looked at me. “Are you crazy?!” He gripped my hands tightly.
“Well, yeah, probably,” I admitted. “But I've got the perfect jewelry for the job!” I raised my left wrist. Jack burst out laughing. Loudly.
I was wearing THE SLIGHTLY FAMOUS BRACELET.
I am having so much fun with these messed up people. It's getting to the point that I don't even mind the peace passing all that much. And that right there, friends and neighbors, is one more proof of the existence of God.
(When I told my home church - the congregation of seven - that I am considering ordained ministry, they told me that if I don’t get motorcycle Helmet Hawks to match the colors of the liturgical season, then I’m just not doing it right.)
When I sat down to type this story into blogger and saw the news of what happened at another Texas church this Sunday, bloody Sunday, I was both horrified and hopeful. Hopeful that we will continue to be the quirky, imperfect people that we are. Hopeful that we won't cower in fear. Hopeful that we will live in the light and the laughter.
My friend Di, noting the prevalence of resignation and despair these days, posted this quote from "St. Molly of Austin", one of my personal heroes:
"The thing is this: You got to have fun while you're fightin' for freedom, 'cause you don't always win." - Molly Ivins
Let's keep having fun. It's important.