Say hi to three people you don’t know before you leave today, the pastor said. The words were familiar. So was my reaction.
No. I won’t do it – I feel so fake. It’s not my style to talk up strangers, even after church when everyone is in a good mood, when people have had their spirits and souls filled and are uplifted and ready to take on their week no matter how hard it might be.
I smile vaguely at a few people as my husband disappears, off to mingle and to put the pastor’s words in action. I am grateful for my son, who shares my unease in a crowd; he stays at my elbow. He’s in that middle stage of growing up where he can almost look me in the eye, yet he feels no need to break off from me. We held our hands palm to palm during the service to compare their sizes. His hands, while still round and soft like a child’s, are almost as big as mine. He is 28 years younger than me.
A young father walks by, balancing a baby on his shoulder. She is dressed all in pink: pink dress, pink socks, pink headband with a large pink flower off to one side. The shock of dark long hair on the top of her head belies her age. Dad is holding her upright with his hand; she is not old enough to support herself. Her tiny face swivels around at the throng. Mom trails behind, infant seat slung over the crook of her elbow, bulging diaper bag over her other shoulder. She looks tired. I am familiar with the feeling that she wears on her face.
She’s got a pretty good seat up there, I say to the mother as she passes us. I nod in the direction of her daughter, leading the little parade that is her family.
I’ve taken this mom by surprise. She was not going to be stopping three strangers to say hello today. There was a feeding, a diaper change, and a nap for the baby (and maybe even her) in her near future. Her day, like all before it and all after it for a time, is going to look just like this one.
She smiles and agrees. Yeah, she says generously. She sure does. Have a good day, I said. I watch them escape.
One down, two to go, says my son. He enjoyed watching this interchange between this mother and me. He interrupts my internal assessment of my own awkward attempt at normal interaction. If there’s one thing that my children are good at, it is to untangle me from my thoughts.
Two more. I’m going to look for the family that was sitting behind us during service, I said. They always do; I don’t even know them. I listened to their baby gurgle and babble directly behind me throughout the quiet parts of the service. I wanted to tell them that I enjoyed her contented song, even when she squealed out once or twice. My babies don’t make those noises anymore. I miss those noises more and more as they grow older.
There they are, I said. My son followed my eyes in the direction of the family I was talking about, engaged in a conversation with some others. Feeling conspicuous, I agreed to go outside with my son and wait for my husband there. On our way out, I said hello and smiled at an elderly woman standing alone, probably waiting for her own social butterfly to wrap things up. She smiled and greeted me back. Two down. One to go.
As we went outside, we picked our way through the mulch in the front of our church, where there is a small goldfish pond hiding just behind the landscaping. It’s a magnet for kids, who flock to this little pool to see the dozen or so goldfish swim around and around. My kids have been watching these fish swim here every Sunday morning of their lives.
A young family I knew was there, the boy and girl stooping down to point at the fish, the mom and dad trying to stay close enough so they could grab an arm if one of the kids got too close to the water. Do you see any frogs? I said. There used to be a frog that lived here.
I remember, said my son. The pastor reached in to touch it and it jumped. We all jumped! We laughed at this story.
As we parted ways, we saw the family who sat behind us during service walking our way. There they are, mom, said my son. Are you going to say hi?
Yeah, I replied. As they passed, we smiled and greeted each other. We introduced ourselves and I said to them, Your baby is adorable. I love listening to her during church. My babies don’t make those noises anymore, and I miss them. As I said this, the baby smiled at me, just like mine used to.
|Not my baby. But I can almost hear her giggle.|