I have a little story to tell you! Today I was on the phone with my mother, Rev. Rose, and she told me about her trip to the doctor's office. My mother is the kind of person who likes to strike up conversations with strangers at public places like the grocery store, the post office, and yes, even the doctor's office waiting room. I admit that I made fun of her a bit for this when I was younger, but now I do it, too, and I find that it more often than not brightens the day! This time however, my mother struck up a conversation with someone who was not so day-brightening. Allow me to dramatize, a bit, the story my mother conveyed. The conversation happened as presented here, as told to me by my mother, and I will attempt to convey by narration the speaking tones which my mother mimicked to me on the phone. But I admit the theatrical details are fleshed out by yours truly. Enjoy!
Rev. Rose was waiting in the lobby to be called back to see the doctor when she turned and said hello to a woman seated nearby. The woman, incredulous, eyed her with some disbelief.
"Are you talking to me?" croaked the woman, the strain in her throat audible even from so few words.
"Yes," Rose replied, "I said hello."
The woman shook her head, as if to begin again and clarify her meaning. "Are YOU actually TALKING, to ME?" she emphasized, as best she could between wheezes, the absurdity she found in this situation.
Rev. Rose blinked, confused. "Yes, I am." Then, unable to ignore the woman's discomfort, she asked, "Are you okay?"
CAGH. The woman made a sound that probably was meant to be a short, derisive laugh, but with the constricted feeling in her throat, came out more as a cough. "Do I SOUND, O-KAY?! I have ASTHMA."
"Oh, I'm sorry." Rev. Rose felt she could relate a bit, here, so she went on, "I have emphysema. It used to be really awful. It's gotten a lot better since I quit smoking three years ago."
Unimpressed by this, the woman countered, "I quit smoking FIVE years ago. But no one gives a shit about ME, though, do they?!" The snap in her voice made this general statement sound almost personal, as though everyone in the waiting room were individually responsible for the state of her health.
Seeing that her attempt at polite conversation had not been as welcome as usual, Rev. Rose sought to end the conversation, though she did genuinely feel for the woman and hoped her lot would improve. "Well, I'll pray for you," she offered.
"Don't BOTHER!" The sound scratched its way through the woman's vocal chords like so many small, taloned beasts. And then, by way of explanation, added, "I'm PAGAN!"
"Well, my daughter is Pagan," said the Rev., missing not a beat. "I pray for her and she doesn't mind. She thinks of it as any other kind of positive energy or blessing and finds it welcome so long as it is positive. Just because you're Pagan doesn't mean I can't pray for you."
"Why would you WANT to?" inquired the woman, not so much speaking from the doubt that perhaps she could be worth a prayer, but with the dismissal she had for any talk of prayer at any time.
To this, the Rev. Rose merely responded, "Because I'm Christian."
With a softer voice, perhaps, than before... The woman lost a bit of her hostility, just for the moment, as her curiosity got the better of her. "You're Christian, and your daughter's Pagan?" She paused. "Really?"
It was not a challenge. It was an inquiry.
"Yeah," said Rev. Rose. "There's nothing wrong with that."
"Rose?" called the nurse.
Great timing, thought Rose, as she arose and gathered her things. She looked back toward the sore-throated woman, who seemed just a little less sore than before. "Have a blessed day."
And with that, she walked away.
"You should have said 'Blessed Be'!"
"I SHOULD have! Oh well, I still said 'have a blessed day'."
"Wow, Mom, that lady must have been in a bad mood!" mused Cara after all was told.
"I don't know," said her mother. "I got the feeling that was just how this lady lives her life, always kind of down on her own luck, thinking no one cares, and why should anyone?"
"Well, I'm sorry she felt the need to bring in her being Pagan as a reason not to pray for her. That's not a very positive way to introduce the concept to someone. I'm glad it was you and not someone else!"
"Yeah, she probably never expected me to really know what it was, let alone have a Pagan daughter! I could see why some people wouldn't like Pagans, though, if that's how they all acted all the time."
"Right!" said Cara, hitching her purse further over her shoulder to reach for the door handle, shifting the phone by her ear. She was arriving home from her workday, and this was just another mother-daughter conversation. "At least you know about Paganism. If it had been someone else who didn't, it may not have gone well! I wonder if she was just saying that in order to be antagonistic, because I know a lot of people don't like the stereotypical 'I'll pray for you' line."
"She probably should have said she was an Atheist. Pagans pray. They believe in positive energy and blessings."
"Well, I don't know. Most do, anyway, if not all," said Cara. "If Sheldon had been there instead of you, he would have talked about prayer. That would have been funny! He'd say 'I'll pray for you'--he does say that, because he does pray and that's important to his path--and she'd say 'Don't bother, I'm Pagan' and he'd say 'SO AM I! I didn't say I was going to pray to the Christian God for you!'"
"That would be funny," Rose agreed. "I would pray to the Christian God, though."
"Yeah, I know, but he wouldn't," Cara said, "And you never said you were Christian at first, she just assumed it because you said 'pray,' but lots of religions pray."
"That's true," said Rev. Rose.
Cara went on, as she is wont to do, "And it's good that you also know that not all Pagans are alike, because then you know that not all Pagans are nasty or evil like some people think, and not all Pagans are happy-go-lucky tree-huggers, either. We all have bad days, and there are good and bad in every group."
The conversation went on for a few more minutes, with Cara giving examples of differences within the Pagan community, and certainly her mother started to drift in and out of full attention to the subject. But then, after the more mundane details of their days were covered, they said their goodbyes.
"Have a blessed day!" The smirk in her mother's voice was audible.
"Blessed Be!" came the sugary-sweet reply.
Laughter, sent over wires and waves, swept along and away like the convergence of so many small, bubbling streams.
(The second story, above, is admittedly even more theatrical than the initial story as far as my embellishment is concerned. I cannot vouch for the complete accuracy of the dialogue in that second conversation between my mother and myself, because there was so much said, and we speak in so many circles, that I must have rewritten it three times as I kept remembering things that we said! I hit the main points in the order they occurred and just filled in a few things in order for it to make sense as a linear story.)
I must also say that this reminded me of something the Deacon said when I took my grandmother to Christmas Mass at her church this past winter. He was telling news, current events at the time concerning Muslims in Australia, and commenting on the way that some people didn't think Christians should be helping the Muslims who were fearing for their lives. In contest to this, he said some words that I greatly appreciated, even (or especially) as a non-Christian, non-Catholic: "We care, not because they are Christian, but because we are Christian."
The religion of the asthmatic woman mattered not one bit to my mother in her decision to wish her well. Why would she want to? Because she wants to. She prays, not because everyone else is Christian (because they are not), but because she is Christian.
May we all have as clear a picture of what our religion means to us, and live it positively.
And may that woman learn that she is, in fact, worth a number of prayers.