The Best Sacrament Meeting Ever
As of Wednesday, I am "temporarily laid off" from my job for the foreseeable future. As of Friday, the governor of Utah has initiated a "Stay Safe, Stay Home" policy. So when I'm not going to the grocery store or taking yet another aimless walk by myself, I'm supposed to be at home alone, all day, every day, until at least the middle of April. I live alone. I love living alone and I haven't changed my mind about that and I will always prefer too much solitude over too little. However, I need balance like anyone else, and I needed the precious little social interaction I was getting. This really, really blows. If the damned virus kills me it will be an act of mercy.
With normal church meetings discontinued, members of my ward were doing the sacrament (communion) in groups of fewer than ten. Thanks to the governor's directive that's also over until at least the middle of April. Still, I'm grateful for the unparalleled experience I had with it last week. It concerns my neighbors Calise and Talease, the ones I swear I fully intended to write about just the one time and never again, but who have had a lingering impact despite avoiding me completely. So this is what, the fifth time? Sorry about that.
In the immediate wake of what they did to me, I was too broken, deflated and tired to even think of being angry at them. That changed over the following days as I slowly regained some will to live. As time went on and I availed myself of gossip from various mutual acquaintances, insights from other friends who read my initial post or listened to me spill my guts, and my own hindsight and introspection, I came to understand that one of them is quite literally insane as a result of brain damage incurred in a car accident that wasn't her fault, and that the other, her best friend, is naive and gullible and swallows everything she says without question. The insanity bit probably comes as no surprise to anyone who read the post. The surprise, rather, is how I could have been so stupid as to not realize it sooner. All I can say is that as long as people aren't harming anyone, I believe in their right to do their own thing without explanation or apology, and I don't believe in stigmatizing mental illness by jumping to blame it for everything bad somebody does. Obviously my open-mindedness bit me in the butt this time.
In this light, though, I was finally able to reconcile what I thought I knew before about my neighbors' character with their childish, ridiculous and deeply hurtful actions. One was simply not accountable, while the other was carried away by personal weakness that I can relate to, empathize with and even find kind of adorable. They were both victims as much as I. My heart softened toward them and I forgave them. Except when I didn't. Because every time I thought for more than a few seconds about that hemorrhoid in a police uniform coming into my apartment and bitching at me, the trauma resurfaced as fresh and raw as ever and my anger rose with it. So I went back and forth and experienced cognitive dissonance over this several times a day.
The whole thing, the mere fact that this thing happened that should have been a nightmare but was in fact real and irreversible, weighed on me almost constantly whether I was thinking about it or not, an ever-present burden subtly but unmistakably squeezing the joy out of my life. I broke through it for one day when I learned that I'd been accepted to graduate school and that my sister is pregnant. I can announce that now. My sister is pregnant. I don't know the baby's gender or whether it's still legal to force a certain gender on a baby, so I don't know yet if I'll be an uncle or an aunt, but it's thrilling nonetheless. The burden returned the next day though. Friends started telling me I should see a therapist which, yeah, they were right. But what does this have to do with the sacrament?
Any priesthood holder in my ward was authorized to administer the sacrament, but a handful in particular coordinated to do it in their homes and let fewer than ten people show up for it. I knew which group I wanted to join because I literally have two friends in this ward. I realize that's my own fault and the price I have to pay for not wanting to put myself out there more and answer the question "Where are you from?" eight hundred more times, but it is what it is and I wanted to go where I knew Katie would go because she was friends with the guys doing it. The trouble is, I knew Calise and Talease would be there too for the same reason. And they wouldn't want me to be there and maybe they would complain to the one guy in particular, David, whom they previously fled to when they were afraid of me for no reason - and I've heard that he agrees with everyone else that they were being childish and ridiculous, but nonetheless he supported them in their own time of trauma and I'm grateful for that. But I figured if they said they weren't comfortable with me there, he would side with them and not let me come even though he knows I did little wrong.
So yeah, I got pretty angry just thinking about that possibility before anything even happened, which just made me feel more defiant and determined to give him a piece of my mind if/when this scenario did happen. Eventually I realized that this was a bad attitude not conducive to what was supposed to be a sacred spiritual experience. I decided, out of respect for my neighbors' completely misguided but nonetheless real feelings, to not go and to just do the sacrament privately with my other neighbor and friend Steve instead. So when David asked if I was still planning on coming, I told him that.
Oh, but his roommate was out of town and he needed someone else to help with the blessing...
A few moments earlier I had felt compassion and legitimate concern for how my presence would affect Calise and Talease; now, however, I couldn't help laughing to myself for several minutes as I thought, They're really not going to like this. I wasn't sure why I was laughing. Not to be intentionally derisive, but all the stress I'd been through just made this development inexplicably hilarious.
As the time approached, though, I just felt nervous. I nervously showed up a few minutes early and nervously made some small talk with David. It was like my second time talking to him but he remembered things and asked me about graduate school and that was nice. Then the sources of my nervousness arrived. DUN DUN DUN!
T was super awkward. The entire time, she kept her eyes pointed in literally every direction except mine. Calise was her usual awkward self. They greeted David, and then she looked at me. I looked at her. It was very important to me to just act chill and not like I had something to be embarrassed or ashamed or scared about. It was the first time I made eye contact with her since before the disaster, and she spoke to me for the first time since before the disaster. Her face typically blank, her voice typically monotone, she said, "Hello."
I almost said "Hi" before I remembered that the hemorrhoid in a police uniform warned me in no uncertain terms not to talk to her. So I just mouthed it. To an unfamiliar observer I must have looked like I felt too embarrassed or ashamed or scared in her presence to speak.
My neighbors took a seat on the giant beanbag across from me and perpendicular to David. As Talease found a dozen fascinating things to look at besides me, Calise chatted with David, but occasionally shifted her gaze to me as if to include me in the conversation. I felt fully included, for example, in her recommendation not to buy peanut butter in Germany. (Apparently it's bitter.) I also caught her looking at me a couple times when I wasn't looking at her until I looked at her because she was looking at me. That gave me a sense of satisfaction, a sense of Ha, you can't be upset at me for looking at you because I wasn't looking at you until you looked at me first so that's on you, not me.
Looking into her eyes was quite an introspective experience. There are times when she has this smile that lights up her face like a Christmas tree and leaves little doubt as to her mood, but the rest of the time it's anyone's guess. Her blank expression gave virtually no indication of sapience, no hint of any gears turning behind those eyes whatsoever. And yet I knew that wasn't the case. I knew she was thinking something, that a process was ongoing on her mind to which I had no access. And the best part? I knew my expression was the same way. I've learned from experience that I can be impossible to read, even for women who are supposed to be experts at that sort of thing but aren't. I knew she couldn't read me any more than I could her. Two blank stares, two inscrutable minds locked together. I can't explain why that's such a profound concept to me but it just is.
As I sat across from this beautiful awkward woman who probably still hated me, though, my nervousness was displaced by inexplicable joy. What I wish I could have said with my eyes is this: "Calise, I am not upset with you. I forgive you. I love you. I am not a threat. You have nothing to fear. I'm so sorry for causing you to feel otherwise." And because the words were in my eyes, she would know they were true.
Katie arrived, and for better or worse she was the last of us, so we got started with a hymn. I requested "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty". That seemed agreeable to everyone, but Katie needed to know what page number was it on? "Um," I said, wracking my memory, "sevvventyyy... twooo?" For a moment of silence, everyone else looked it up. I didn't bother because I know all the words. When the silence became unbearable I asked, "Is it actually seventy-two?"
"Yes," Katie said, "good job."
"Wow," I said. Then I hastened to add, "I mean, of course I knew that."
It wasn't hilarious or anything, but Calise laughed. I don't mean laughed the way a normal person laughs. She made this little "Heh" noise that most people wouldn't bother to make unless they were being sarcastic. I've made her laugh like that before, and I've also made her actually giggle a few times, and I don't know the determining factor between those options but this unexpected bit of levity was nice regardless.
After that I had the privilege of helping administer the sacrament to my de facto enemies. It could have gone either way for them - it could have been a really uncomfortable experience to accept this sacred ordinance from someone they believe to be an evil stalker, or it could have been a cathartic experience to mutually humble ourselves and put aside the considerable tension between us for a few moments. I know it was the latter for me. I'm so grateful that I was able to do this one nice thing for them after they forbade me from doing almost anything nice for them. Calise used to like it when I did nice things for her. When I left her a bag of Tootsie rolls, she announced to the world that she "couldn't be happier". And then the hemorrhoid in a police uniform cited those Tootsie rolls as a reason why I'm an evil stalker. But I'm getting off-topic.
The point is, the joy I felt that evening lifted my burden entirely. Maybe I'm jinxing myself, but it's been gone for a week. I don't feel weighed down and I can think about what happened without experiencing PTSD. Of course, I would still very much like for them to both grow up and wise up and rectify this unfortunate situation. Especially now, when I'm stuck next door to them almost 24/7. Being able to at least text them again would make the soul-crushing boredom and isolation of the foreseeable future a bit more tolerable. But whatever. I really do feel better, I swear.
A "Come Follow Me" lesson followed the sacrament, but as soon as the latter was over, Talease said she wasn't feeling well and practically ran away. Calise stayed a few more minutes for the cookies Katie brought, and then before she left she thanked David and me for administering the sacrament, looking from him to me to include us both in the statement.
I almost said "You're welcome" before I remembered that the hemorrhoid in a police uniform had warned me in no uncertain terms not to talk to her. So I just nodded.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.