Wednesday, December 27, 2006

punishment, coffee hour variety

Being single isn’t exactly a “vocation”—although some people may feel called to it, may even claim it as their “vocation.” But it’s not particularly nice to claim it for others, especially strangers you meet at coffee hour after church.

This Sunday, on Christmas Eve, I accompanied Fr John to a little parish in Minneapolis. The people and the service were nice enough—as one would expect in Minnesota—I even met a kid who claimed a career as both Batman and Spiderman. After the service I wandered to the church hall with curiosity and low expectations. A friendly man offered me a mug of coffee and various people approached me, mostly under the impression that Fr John was my husband.

A middle-aged woman in a corduroy jumper with braided blonde hair, beamed once she realized I wasn’t attached to the priest. “You’re a single person?” she gushed. “So you’ve chosen the vocation of a single person too!” I was at a lack for words. I had no interest in mentioning divorce or a recently broken-off engagement, much less to argue with the idea that being single wasn’t my idea of a “vocation.” I mumbled something about New York being a great place to be single.

I was rescued by an elderly lady and her son who wanted to know how long I was in town. I explained I was staying with Fr John’s wife’s family, that he and his wife were long-time friends, and that I was in Minneapolis for another few days. The son, who must have been in his fifties, asked after my family. I explained that my Mom was in Mexico, my brother in Denver, and my Dad and sister in Oregon. “We seem to scatter for Christmas,” I said smiling.

“But you get together for Thanksgiving,” he asserted.

I smiled politely, “No, not really,” hoping to leave it at that.

But he wasn’t giving up, “Well, then Easter? Or do you just all get together every few years?” He looked at me hopefully.

Sheesh! What is this? How much personal information was I required to fork over? “No, we don’t really get together,” I said. “My parents are divorced. My brother and I do see each other from time to time. I live in New York and I can’t really have them all there.”

He seemed stumped, “That’s sad,” he said after a second.

I looked over at John imploring. People should be trained on how to interact with each other, not to mention strangers, at coffee hour. Church bulletin boards and bland religious pamphlets are preferable to this kind of communication.

I called my Dad later that day. He was building a fire in the woodstove in the kitchen and his back was hurting. “Your brother never answers the phone,” he said. “Does he answer when you call?”

“Sometimes, Dad. How are you?”

“Well, besides my back, I can’t complain. God is good. And I’m talking to my eldest daughter.”

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