Friday, May 06, 2005

Lessons on a sunny day

It's a nice day, and I've gone outside to wait for my friend Lynda, who is still inside the Listen Center blissfully looking over every half-price item in the store. She's already got a large bag full of items, and is hoping to score a few more before calling it a day.

The sun is warm, even though the temperature hasn't quite hit 60, and I have in mind to sit in a used lawn chair that's been placed outside to tempt passersby to stop. Out of the corner of my eye I see a lady coming up the front sidewalk toward the store front.

The Listen Center sells used clothing and uses the profit to help the community in hundreds of ways. It's housed in an large, dignified, older home in a residential neighborhood, near downtown.

Lots of my friends make regular visits to the Listen Center. That's the only way you can hope to routinely find good-quality clothing there. I'm not much of a clothing shopper at all, so I'm not a regular. But you might be surprised to find out who has Listen Center used clothing hanging in their closets.

I'm starting to make a beeline for that comfy beach chair, when I hear someone calling out from a car in the side road. The lady coming up the front sidewalk meets my eyes, shrugs, and goes inside.

The lady in the car is calling loudly, "Is there a laundrymat around here?" I stop to think, then call out, "Yes, there is!" I make my way down the sidewalk toward her, ending up standing in the street next to her driver-side door. It's not a busy street. No car interrupts us for the duration of our conversation.

I start to tell her about the nearest laundromat, to the best of my knowledge. Occasionally I need to use a large dryer to dry a comforter, so I've gotten to know the few that are around.

But she interrupts me as soon as I get half-way through, "No, not that one, across from the mall, it's too busy!" Now, this is a pretty good-sized laundromat, so I wonder if she's thinking of the same one I am.

"Are you thinking of the one on the Miracle Mile?" I ask.

"Mile ... yeah, whatever ... I was just there, it's too busy." she replies vaguely. She's a middle-aged or a bit older woman. One of those women whose age is hard to tell. She could be my age and have had a hard life, or she could be older. Her car is filled up with stuff, and she has a discontented face.

"Ok, well ... ," I'm uncertain how to help her, "... there aren't any right around here in the downtown area."

"What do you know about this church here?" she demands. Sacred Heart Catholic Church is directly opposite us.

I'm a bit disconcerted by the change of subject. "Not too much. I think it's a pretty good church," somewhat lamely. I do know some families who go there, and have even been there once to attend the baptism of a co-worker's child.

"Is it? Isn't there a church around here that had to close down? Is that somewhere around here?" she asks without looking at me. In fact, I'm not sure she's looked at me the whole time. She peers out of her car, mostly straight ahead, firing these questions that are starting to feel like an odd sort of inquisition.

"Yes, let me think ... " Even after 14 years in the area, I still have to work to get my mind to orient itself around the crazy streets whose layouts resemble cow paths more than anything an urban planner would have designed. "Yes, it's in West Lebanon, over behind Dunkin Donuts. Do you know where the Dunkin Donuts is?"

Silence for a moment. I assume she's thinking. Then, abruptly: "Do you go to mass?" I'm starting to get whiplash from the changes of subject.

"I've been a few times," I respond, wondering what I've gotten myself into. I try to get the conversation back on track. "Do you know where the Dunkin Donuts is?"

"Yeah," she says. "What kind of church do you go to?"

"Oh, a bible church," I say.


"No ..."

"Baptist? Or what?"

"Just a basic bible church."

"So what are you?" she says, and I understand her to be asking about my religious identification.

"I guess you would call me an evangelical."

"They haven't changed, you know. Masses. You should go!" I can't believe it. I of all people am getting hit over the head for not going to church. Or not to the right one.

"Well, I have a few issues with the Catholic church," I say, having to raise my voice to override her at this point because she's still insisting that I need to go to mass without much pause, and I'm getting tired of this. (Later I think of the best response, "Well, I've seen one, and they haven't changed, so I guess I don't need to go see another." On second thought, maybe it was best I didn't think of that at the time. Smart-aleck me.)

"What, you used to be Catholic?"

"No, I never was."

"Well, you should go!" And she continues talking, her voice rising as she warms to her topic. I decide I've had enough. I'm backing away and trying to say goodbye or wish her a nice day or something. I can't get a word in edgewise. So I'm forced to turn my back and walk away while she continues to shout at my back.

I go in the Listen Center and find Lynda. "You will not believe what just happened."

"What?" she asks, continuing to contentedly root through the women's business clothing rack.

"Oh, I'll tell you later," I say, because I can see through the window that the car is gone. I tell Lynda I'll wait for her outside, to take her time, I'm just going to enjoy the nice day. And I finally go take a seat in the sun.

I learned a few things in those short minutes with the Catholic proselytizer:
  1. Rudeness does not win souls for your cause.
  2. If you don't show an interest in the other person, they're going to have no interest in hearing your perspective on anything.
  3. First impressions can be wrong. In this case, she seems to have made lots of assumptions about me, and I assumed ... wrongly ... that I was dealing with a reasonable person.
  4. It's still worth it to try to help someone.

No comments: