A couple of weeks ago I almost killed a guy.
The town where I was working that day is in one of the out-lying counties. The town boasts the courthouse, a post office, a jail, two churches and two liquor stores. That's it. As of last January there is not even a place to buy gas in this town. That means I drive ten miles to the town of Boots for a burger at lunch time.
Actually, this is the only one of my four counties with it's own jail. The other three have to pay adjacent jurisdictions to house our criminals since we can't afford to staff jails ourselves. (This county gets around that by occasionally having the criminals staff the jail.) I wish this story was about the jail, because that would be a damn good story.
But, it's not.
The sun kept the truck toasty warm on the drive to Boots, but didn't broil me alive like it does in the summer. An audio book droned from the stereo speakers. The pastures on the sides of the highway were looking good. I was watching for wildlife and not paying the least bit of attention to the road. It's not like there was anyone else on it but me anyway. The cruise control carried me along at 75 mph and I sort of fell asleep with my eyes open.
Just as you hit the Boots city limits the speed limit drops from 75 to 35. It's a speed trap, but also a sharp curve on a hill, thus somewhat defensible.
When I hit the curve, my cruise control, both mental and mechanical, did not click off. I almost ran right up into the bed of the truck in front of me. I came to with a jolt and slammed on the brakes, averting the crash. But honestly, who actually follows the speed limit here?! Especially at noon when everyone knows the cop is having a burger at the cafe and not out working traffic?
The thought of the cafe gave me pause. I was still driving right on the other truck's bumper. Chances were, it was also headed for a burger at the cafe. Just like me.
When I parked and got out of the truck, I had to cross the gravel parking lot to where the other driver stood by the restaurant door.
"I"m really sorry about almost hitting you!" I called out from several cars away. "And I'm not really stalking you either, I just had to, you know, eat."
He stared at me, obviously confused. I was a bit confused myself.
"I thought you were going to run right over me," he finally said. We walked to the door.
"I kind of thought so too," I admitted.
The cafe was pretty full. Since the Dairy Queen burned down a couple of years back, there are not many lunch choices in Boots, either. It's sometimes hard to find a place to sit if you don't have a table full of acquaintances you can join. The guy staked out a spot in the last available booth and offered me the seat on the other side. I accepted.
He was a really nice guy.
The next Tuesday he was waiting on me in the parking lot. This time I was on my motorcycle and he asked me why I had the World Wrestling Entertainment logo on my bike and my truck. I explained that it was not the WWE logo, but the Wonder Woman symbol. Sigh.
"Did you bring your book?" he asked. "Or can you talk?"
I agreed to talk and we shared a booth again.
And again he was very nice. We have several things in common, not the least of which is that he draws. He was a draftsman before he had to quit work due to a back injury. Now he spends a lot of time drawing and painting for fun. He moved to Boots because it was a great little town with a very low cost of living. He bought a house with three huge windows across the front and spends his days trying to mix paint to match the exact shade of the sky outside his windows.
Isn't that great?
It was when he asked me to go out that weekend that I discovered you clergy types have been lying to me. You've always talked about how a clergy job was death on dating. No one wants to date a woman minister, you said. You'll have to be less than forthcoming about your job if you want a guy to ask you out, you said.
When he asked me to go to the college football game that weekend, the feeling I'd had the whole time we were together - the feeling of wanting to crack open my book instead of having to converse over lunch - reared it's ugly head. A misguided inspiration seized me and I blurted out that I was really busy all weekend. Extremely busy because I was working on becoming a priest. I made it sound like the 3 years of formation and preparation involved an intensive 24 hour a day program of exhaustive study that engulfed any and all waking moments away from my day job.
I'd hoped he would try to hide his horror at this revelation as he pressed his invitation once more, just to be polite. (It's the South y'all. That's a thing.) The we wouldn't have to do this ever again. And I could finish my book.
Instead, he asked for my phone number.
You people are damn liars.
I gave him the number. He was so nice I didn't have the heart to make some excuse. Or to be honest and tell him I just wasn't interested. I handed over the damn number.
And he has been nothing but polite and made only sparing use of it. He will send an innocuous text message 2 or 3 times a week, asking how my day is going. No pressure. I respond equally politely and fairly impersonally.
The fact that I'm not interested in this person bugs me. He could teach me a lot about art. He likes to hike and explore. He hangs out at art galleries and sporting events. But I can't get past the fact that he bores the crap out of me. While we do have a lot of similar interests, he's not someone who's conversation interests me. At the same time that I'm feeling insufferably self-righteous about how I'm more interested in intellect than physical features or financial security, I feel oddly guilty about not wanting to date this person. That's messed up, I'm pretty sure.
Let's face it, I am not good at dating. For years I've joked about how the only single guys I meet are in trouble with the law. Only I'm not joking. Opportunities for social activity, without being a third wheel, are rare, so when offered the chance you'd think I'd jump at it.
Don't get me wrong, my friends are great and they never make me feel out of place. They don't seem to mind having me along - making activities work for three or five or however many, rather than doing things in pairs. But it would be easier for all of us if I paired up with someone. (That makes me think of a friend's church that called the 'young adults' group the Pairs and Spares. Crimony!)
So, dammit, why not go out with this very nice man who has been so flatteringly interested? Because I'd rather hang out on my own than with someone nice but boring. That's the bottom line. And besides, as I sat down tonight to work on the the Discernment and Evaluation for Readiness for Holy Orders Studies questionnaire - no small task, as you might infer from that slightly ridiculous title - the first essay question I tackled was "How does your spouse and/or children feel about your desire to pursue ordained ministry?"
Not applicable, people, NOT applicable. Next question!