A couple of weeks ago, I made a young woman cry. Not just cry-first she teared up, then sobbed, then wailed, THEN threw herself down in dramatic fashion in loud, convulsive gasps.
And I'm surely going to Hell because I did it in church.
It all started when the music director at my church made a plea for musicians to join the bell choir. She said bells were easy-all you need to know is how to count to four. Sometimes only three. No problem-just like when I told Wingman I could play tennis. Sure, I had a tennis racket in the back of the closet that I won at a work picnic. Sure, I had a couple of tennis balls that we use to throw to the dog. What could be so hard about a hitting the ball over the net? Two hours later, a frustrated Wingman told me I needed to find a new sport. I apologized for my teeny little fib, and he took me for a drink.
Admittedly, I don't have a musical bone in my body, and had no business joining this bell choir. I never learned to play an instrument as a kid; can't carry a tune. As a teenager, I joined the folk group at church-eager to be part of anything musical. In the middle of "I Am A Rock" at mass, the leader took away my tambourine and made me stand empty handed while everyone else shook, stroked and shimmied, because not only can I not sing or play an instrument, I also have no rhythm. I explained this to the music director, and she said "No problem! Come join us!" She obviously never heard me play the tambourine.
So back to the best crying scene since Forrest Gump cried over the grave of Jenny. Everyone helps with setting-up except for one young woman. Everyone helps with breaking-down except the same young woman, who runs out claiming that she has to make her father dinner. Now, her dad is one of the highest ranking civilian leaders of one of the largest military installations in NJ. They use microwave technology every day in warfare. Can't he nuke his own TV dinner?
The rest of the women and I have been grousing about this for weeks. Months even. So as she sat there with us lugging tables, I called for her to help. She just sat. I asked again and she just stared blankly at me. I walked over to her, got down eye level like I use to do when my sons were small so she couldn't avoid me, and said "IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU THAT YOU CAN'T HELP US?"
The blank look was replaced by the deer-in-the-headlights look. Which was replaced by the tears. Then all Hell broke loose.
There was a lot of praying going on right then, all by me, to be anywhere but in that church. I took a deep breath, and tried to explain. "I'm sorry, but I raised my three sons to help with everything around our house. I can't believe you weren't raised to do the same. You're younger than all of us. You should be the helping with all this heavy stuff."
From her bawling, you would have thought that I clocked her with a bell.
Practice that night was difficult, what with all the wailing making it hard for me to count to three, much less four. We broke down as usual, with her running out as usual. No one else addressed the elephant in the chapel. That Sunday, I apologized to the director, for overstepping my authority. Turns out, she felt she needed to apologize to me for seeing the problem and not addressing it. That week, I skipped practice fearing a repeat of the same scene.
Yesterday, I got a letter in the mail. It was from the young woman, who said she was sorry I missed practice and wanted to apologize. TO ME. She wrote that she is awkward and clumsy and sometimes people get frustrated with her. So if I could try to be patient with her, she would try to help. Wow-talk about feeling like a real heel.
How many times have I been a bitch because of my mouth? More than I care to think about. I remember on our 30th anniversary, the month before Wingman died. I was getting ready for work when he offered "Happy Anniversary," I shot back a pithy little retort "What's so good about it?" It’s the one stinking sentence still haunts me, and that I'm sorry I said to him instead of just saying “Thanks. You too.”
The bell choir is on summer hiatus which gives me a couple of weeks to practice my patience since I'm not practicing ringing. Besides counting to three and four, I'm practicing counting to ten before I speak. If I don’t learn anything from this, you have permission to clock me with a bell. And don't feel the need to say you’re sorry if you do.