We are at my mother in- law’s 89th birthday party. My nephew is barbecuing on the home-made grill that he put together with his expert welding skills. Wood smoke and the aroma of hot links and chicken fill the air. Children play near the steps of the weathered building in the LA neighborhood. Our niece is catering the big meal, scurrying in and out with her grown daughters helping. They set up the large metal trays on frames, with heat candles underneath to keep it all warm. Traditional foods cooked with love- everything from garden grown collard greens, cornbread, beans, mac and cheese, wood-roasted turkey, and later on …peach cobbler, one of Mom’s favorites, is soul food at its finest.
The church parking lot is beginning to fill up with friends and relatives. I feel pretty good right now. I’m so happy to see everyone. My social anxiety is the lowest its been in a long time. Even with the tough economy, everyone is working or in school. The twenty somethings are really doing well for themselves. The kids I remember as little, playful and active, are now themselves parents of roly-poly babies. I’m among friends. I meet new ones. I start to relax.
Then it happens. A strange woman walks up near the barbecue pit and starts talking. She keeps explaining and asks if she can have a plate of food. People are looking at her quietly. I don’t recognize her and am critical of the way she’s dressed with her short shorts and wild hair. The shorts are decorated around the edges with triangle shapes. She appears desperate. I wonder if she’s drunk. Nobody says anything.
Then I hear myself talking…I explain that this is a private party and suggest she come back later on in the afternoon. My plan is to ask somebody what to do as I send her on her way-at least it will give me time to figure out what to do before she comes back.
“But this is a house of God” the woman pleads. She looks shaken.
“Somebody said we could come back at 1:00 to get a plate. They told us that this morning.” She looks across the street towards a man who appears to be waiting on the sidelines.
Immediately, I feel bad. I’m not sure how to handle this. All the food isn’t ready yet. Right away my nephew’s wife comes to our aid and has me go inside to get some plates. Then she has her husband fill up the plates with anything available for her. My mother- in- law, Peaches, is a generous person, always helping the homeless and the hungry. She would have immediately made the woman feel welcome, I’m sure. But she’s not here yet. She would have started teaching and preaching, while making sure that everyone is cared for. After all, they are new ears for her Bible lessons.
Yet for some reason, on this day, I balk on generosity. Why? Because I assume I know what is going on? I have forgotten all my blog-babble about Oneness in a hot second.
As I return to the church recreation room, I feel a pang of shame and guilt. Why did I say that to the lady? Who put me in charge? I’m NOT in charge! Why was I so off-putting all of a sudden?
My savior has taken the plates out quickly… to the rescue and I’m off to find another project to help with, or so it seems. Balloon-blowing works for a while. I’m with a woman who only speaks Spanish and a couple of kids. They know nothing about what happened.
Later on I learn that Saturday is the usual day for feeding a few of the homeless people who show up to the church.
I berate myself and after the party is over we’re back at a cosy Marriott where I huddle with my husband. He reassures me that nobody knew who the lady was, and that the regular church members were not there to help her anyway. You know how social events are; the mood is still busy as people prepare and talk together. Nobody says anything, and later, or when I pull one of sisters aside they tell me it is no big deal, don’t worry about it. But…she went away crying I said. No, it doesn’t matter-she got some food, they say
But it is a big deal to me and I admit I blew it. It still bothers me.
People used to say ” ah, you’ve been in the mountains too long.” This time, I’ve had my head in the psychology books for too many years while livin’ in the desert. The heat must have done something to my head!
Journal prompt: Write about times when you wish you’d waited before speaking. Do you think women fuss over things like that more than men?
Sometimes we have to admit we are less than helpful when an angel in disguise comes calling.