Ah Church, I'm here again. For some reason I feel happier entering the family ward than I did the Singles'. Probably some B.F. Skinner effect though I can't think of any particularly happy event that's happened here, not beyond the everyday, Church experience. No matter, even if it's irrational at least it's positively irrational. I thread my way through the crowded hallways towards the chapel. I'm early, but with this being the second service here today I have to be careful not to step on or run into the numerous children from the last meeting who are scampering about. I finally make it to the chapel doors and peer in.
On my mission I had figured out the rules that govern seating in a family ward. Perhaps rules is too strong a word; patterns then. Unfortunately, I've forgotten a lot of them in the intervening years. I know if you chose wrong it's easy to get displaced by a family who thinks you've taken their (obviously reserved) seat. One of the advantages of being a missionary was the excuse it gave you to stand at the door until services began and then nab whatever seat was open in the back.
Really my biggest goal here is to not sit directly in front of rowdy children. Besides the added noise I always end up getting pummeled from behind and find myself unable to deal appropriately with it. Typically I sit their quietly pretending I don't notice the saliva encrusted hands slugging me in the back. "What's that?" my body language seems to be saying, " I had no idea I was being pounded in the back and will now have to have my suit dry-cleaned." My body language is quite well spoken.
I slide into a seat on the side, far enough over so others can join me, close enough to the aisle so as to avoid the appearance of having sequestered myself alone, against the wall. A few moments later a young family seats themselves directly behind me. The children began the traditional ritual of back pounding and I sigh. Oh well, he tries, he fails, he'll have a go again next week.
As I studiously ignore the fist of fury that have entrenched themselves behind me, an elderly lady comes over and sits beside me. I know her! Despite about one third of this ward inexplicably knowing who I am, I know 3 of them, 4 tops, but she's one of them!
"You probably don't remember me," she begins.
Ha! I try desperately to keep an incredibly smug look off of my face. This is my big chance to pretend to know someone without having to actually pretend! "No, I remember" I interrupt in what I fervently hope isn't an incredibly condescending voice.
"Well" she goes on to explain, apparently unaware of my mighty triumph, "we have a grand-niece in town..."
Uh-oh. My recent victory quickly drains away, most likely along with just about all the blood in my face. My mind races, but being unemployed, good excuses to avoid this stuff are hard to come by. She's about to try to pair me off, I just know it. And here it come...
"..I don't want to play matchmaker" uh-huh, "but I think she'd really like to spend time with someone her own age. She's just here for a few months staying with us, all these old people and..."
This woman really is a very sweet old lady, there's no question about that. Sadly all that is forgotten as I listen closely, ready to pounce at the first mistake she makes. I don't do blind dates, certainly not with someone's grand niece. "Someone her age", what age is that? She's probably 17 and her grand-aunt just has no clue how old anyone under 60 is anymore. But she's still talking.
"..and anyways I really think she'd enjoy spending time with someone her own age" there it is again "so we'd love to have you over after Church for dinner"
Ha! I found her mistake: she said dinner! After Church would really be 'lunch' in my lexicon but she said dinner. Advantage me!
Appearing both crestfallen and yet strangely eager, I respond "I'm terribly sorry, I have dinner" (ha!) "plans with my sister and brother-in-law". (Pull it back, your voice sounds like you just received news that your whole family went down in a terrible helicopter crash after having attacked Chicago in what's already being described as "the next 9/11"). I'm realizing here, in a moment of personal clarity, that all in all I probably wouldn't make it as an actor in Hollywood, better end this soon. "So I would like to, and that's very sweet but I guess I just can't today. Thank-you though."
I do kind of have a dinner date with my sister and brother-in-law. Close enough anyways, and I don't feel the need to explain to my parents that I wont be home for supper due to having a date with someone while being chaperoned by a couple somewhere in their 200th year of marriage who apparently set me up while I'm at Church. I'm pretty sure their view of Church is dark enough without that image to go with it. Some more pleasantries and she heads back to her seat with Church about to start. Whew!
During the sacrament hymn, another family joins me on my pew. Young children again but the parents seem to be in better control. The father sits next to me and subconsciously (apparently) keeps his little ones bound in between himself and his wife, using his leg as the corral boundary. Suddenly I realize the hitting has stopped. Kids behind me and to my side and I'm being left alone! Well excellent, I guess when it rains it pours.
Sacrament begins. It's surprisingly quiet. Almost all the children there are talking, but it's amazingly in whispers, or quiet talking I suppose. No shouting or screaming: I'm impressed! This is quite pleasant, at least for a family ward. Oh, maybe I should be focusing on the sacrament at this point. Good thing my attention span lasts for at least three second. I look up to the stand where a member of the stake presidency is sitting. I know him, he seems to appear at whatever ward I attend. I can never remember his name but it's easy to recognize his face. He always looks like he's staring out at a sea of people in the process of eating their own children. Honestly, how can he look so disgusted with the world all the time? Even when he's smiling he looks disgusted, I don't know how that's possible. Maybe this is the result of forcing the WWII generation men to watch their wives give birth. They just weren't ready for that sh**.
I continue my 20 second cycle of paying attention and getting distracted through the remainder of the service. The first talk is actually quite good, a little humor, a good message well portrayed by someone who clearly isn't overly comfortable with public speaking. Oh, are we standing up to sing the intermediate hymn? All right, I could use the stretch, I stand up to watch the rest of the congregation slowly get to their feet, apparently under the impression that this is the worst thing humanity has forced upon itself since that fateful decision to air Jersey Shore. My pathetic attempt to sing the bass line to a hymn I don't know finished, we sit and listen to that Stake Presidency member deliver his recitation.
The thesis of his talk is apparently that we don't have a good enough appreciation for how horrendous Christ's suffering was. This is going to be good, I can tell. He begins a delineation of the horrors of the Crucification, along with a bunch of medical jargon about just how painful it would be. Ugh. This is like listening to someone read the script to a Saw movie. I imagine, I don't go to those things because I don't like them. I don't think having a disgusted looking octogenarian read the script would be much of a step up though. Why am I not getting distracted now? Isn't there some perfectly innocent movement in the crowd that I can over analyze and then demean in my own mind? Apparently not. I'll just have to concentrate on not vomiting until he finally steps down. They should bring those airline-baggies with them if they're going to go into this kind of detail. Also, don't tell me to think about this next time Christ comes up in my mind. I want to be able to pray again at some point in my future life and I wont be able to if this is the image that pops into my head when I try.
Few, it's over. Closing hymn and we're off to Sunday School. I settle down into the back and studiously don't say anything as the class filters in. With no one to talk to I'm always to these classes early and it can make for some awkward moments. I find it's a lot less awkward if I appear to be doing something really important, rather than sitting there pretending not notice anyone. Which of course is exactly what I'm doing.
The class opens up and it's time for introductions. Luckily I got mine out of the way last week, so I'm in the clear now. Oh, there's the elderly lady from before with her husband. Wait, who is she sitting by? Oh my gosh, this isn't who I think, is it? "This is our niece, visiting us for a few months before she goes back home." She says, shattering my idealistic hopes. That was who she was trying to set me up with? I'm mean she looks fine I suppose but she's at least 45 years old! I guess I was right when I figured she didn't have a good grasp of age, but in a very wrong direction. Oh goodness, do I look 45? I always thought I looked young for my age, at least when I shaved. Do I appear to be in her age group? Am I really "someone her age"? This is highly unsettling.
I make it through the rest of class without blurting out anything inappropriate. I'm asked to read but I made it through college and grad school, I can read aloud without thinking, which is perfect for this moment right now. Because I'm certainly not thinking about John 6, I'm just trying to reassure myself that at 25 I don't appear to be twice as old as I actually am. Honestly, I never thought I'd have to the problem of worrying about looking old, I thought I was above that type of shallow self-absorption. Turns out I have a breaking point too. And that point is being set-up with a freaking 45 year old.
Class ends and I slink innocuously off to my Elder's Quorum meeting. There's only 5 other guys there, including the one running the meeting. He seems to be very conscious of that fact and tries cracking jokes about it for upwards of ten minutes. I think I might have heard someone laugh but that could've been the pew creaking. This is fun. Finally he turns it over to the instructor for the day. His lesson is on honesty and he begins with a series of very odd hypotheticals ("imagine you're a sixteen year-old girl whose Mother is a drug addict" umm, OK). No one wants to respond to any of them. Finally someone raises his hand to bring up someone everyone's more comfortable talking about: women. Of course it's the classic: "if your wife asks you if she looks fat, what do you respond". Ah-hah! I know how to answer this one, and if I'm going to be here for an extended period of time I should probably at least try to make some inroads.
I start to blather on and on, even I stop paying attention. This is not good, only two people are looking at me and they're both looking bored. Shoot, better wrap it up. Wait a second, did I just call all their wives fat? Uh-oh, I think I did. I'm not that dumb though, right? I'm mean surely they realize that's not what I meant, right? Probably not, I start to back-pedal. I don't think it's working, though I have to admit more of the guys are looking at me now. Finally the instructor cuts me off and moves the lesson on. That went well. I certainly made some inroads.
The class ends in a series of contradictory statements from all involved along with an admission of torrenting mp3s from the instructor. Always a nice touch. We're out a little late. I better hurry to my car, gotta get ready for that dinner appointment with my family tonight! That went really well I thought.