Tuesday, December 22, 2009
That Missing Piece
Every now and then we run into a situation where one key piece of information can radically alter the meaning.
Many years ago, not long after my father had died and I was sixteen-years-old I was out for a walk. I've never been a religious person, but my father was and I've always liked old churches. In the course of my walk on a pretty Spring, Saturday morning I came to a church called St. Nick's. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful day and the doors of the church were open. A divine invitation of sorts, I thought. Boy was I wrong.
I decided to go in, sit down and contemplate. I knew people who attended St. Nick's. It is, to this day, a Catholic parish, but I'd been to services there in the past since I knew people who attended church there.
It's a beautiful church, intricate stained glass windows, beautiful architecture done up rather lavishly. I walked in and took a seat in the middle of the church, prepared to think deep thoughts. I noticed a small group of three people in the front pew, but paid no attention to them.
When the organ struck up a chord, I thought it must be choir rehearsal. When I heard a rustling sound behind me and turned to see altar boys in full regalia standing at the head of the center aisle, I assumed that similarly, they were having rehearsal.
At this point I was being dense on the level that only a sixteen-year-old can achieve but it was entirely innocent. The organ launched into some piece at full volume, and again I heard sounds behind me, but I didn't turn to look until the priest strode to the center of the altar and began speaking.
Wow, they really rehearsed seriously, I thought seeing as the priest was in his full robes.
So when the coffin was wheeled up the center aisle, it came as quite the shock and there was a moment of panic for me, but I did the only thing I could think of that made sense. I grabbed a prayer book from the pew and sat tight. That's how I ended up crashing the funeral of some very elderly woman named Mary. If the mourners wondered who the heck I was, I never gave them a chance to ask. I did my turn of answering the psalms, and then I beat a hasty retreat.
On the way out I actually bothered to read the sign out front where the service time for the departed was listed. Oops. Hopefully Mary had a good sense of humor. Unfortunately there is one key difference between Episcopal services, and Catholic services: The words to the Lord's Prayer. The Catholic version ends sooner, the Episcopal version contains the "Forever, and ever, Amen." which I dutifully boomed out all by myself when the time came. Only if I'd been waving a sign that said "Interloper!" could I have stuck out more. Let me tell you, the acoustics in that church are quite impressive. My "forever and ever, Amen" may still be echoing around the rafters to this day.
Similarly, many years later when I had my first date with my now-husband I had a curious thing happen.
"Do you have any pets?" I asked, in the manner that we all do when trying to get to know someone.
"Yes, a cat. Do you want her?" He sounded thoroughly disgusted, and I was taken aback. What kind of jerk didn't like his own pet? Luckily for me, I decided to back burner the question rather than flee his animal-hating presence. He seemed a nice guy, despite the cat hatred.
As it turned out, Murphy, perhaps the vilest feline to ever live, was not his cat, not technically at least. Murphy was a rotund, ill-tempered Calico who liked to bite people, was so fat as to make grooming herself impossible (let us not even discuss her hygiene) and she remains the only cat I've ever met who had acne. Wherever Murphy lay, a Yeti-like patch of fur remained behind her.
The day I met her I found out the rest of the story. Murphy belonged to one of my husband's friends, a couple who had several pets, including several cats. Murphy became the main suspect in a repeated rug pooping incident, and Robin, my husband's friend announced that he planned to have her put to sleep because of this. Rob, my husband, was thoroughly appalled.
"Well, if it has come to that, I'll take her." He told Robin grimly, and that was how he became the main custodian of the world's most charmless cat. We had Murphy until the day she died, and although we both felt like ghouls, it was something of a relief when she passed on to the great beyond. She was filthy, and mean, but we took great care of her, and tried to love her, even though she had hate in her heart for all the creatures of the world.
But it wasn't her lack of winning characteristics that had Rob offering to give her to me during that lunch date. On the same day that she came waddling out and hissed at me, Rob began to sneeze. His eyes were watering, and he was clearly uncomfortable. He'd been fine before we got to his apartment.
"Hold on, let me take an allergy pill," he said as his eyes streamed.
"What are you allergic to?" I asked incredulously because a sneaking suspicion had entered my mind.
"I'm allergic to cats," Rob said, fairly miserably. That little missing piece of information that took him from being the jerk who didn't like his own pet, to being a man who couldn't bear the thought of Murphy being put to sleep, so he took her despite the fact that she was the most allergenic cat on the face of the Earth. He didn't hate animals at all, he was, and is one of the biggest animal lovers I've ever known.
It was this past weekend that my husband and I nearly scarred my son for life. Turn back now if you are exceptionally prim, by the way. My husband had just been upstairs taking a shower, and came down fully dressed. I was in my office, where the plantation shutters were all closed.
"Honey, I think I might have a hernia," he said, and I did what wives and mothers everywhere do, I swung into diagnostic mode.
"Does it hurt? Any redness?" I asked with concern.
"No, I'm assuming it was very recent, although I don't know what I did," my husband is no fan of doctors, but I knew he'd have to see one and said as much. Then I did what I consider to be perfectly natural:
"You'd better let me see," I prompted, and with a glance towards the well secured shutters, my husband proceeded to drop his trousers and boxers so that I could get a better look at his groin. Unsurprisingly, I've met the area in question before.
We aren't a casually nude family. No one here ever runs around in a state of undress but by the same token, we aren't prudes. We are, however, always dressed when wandering about the house, oddly enough.
So I was still seated in my office chair, my husband's bare butt was facing the door and I was leaning forward, peering intently at a slight swelling that would, indeed, need the attention of a doctor. It was at this moment that my son came bursting out of the basement, in full view of my office, and saw the examination.
Only he was missing that key piece of information, so he uttered a strangled scream, and disappeared back into the basement. For a moment I was completely baffled, what in the world had gotten into him? My husband looked equally befuddled and we exchanged a glance that clearly said, "What's up with him?" between us before realization struck as to what he thought he had just seen.
"Oh! Uh oh!" I yelped, and immediately went to the basement door. "Hello?"
"Nobody's here." My son yelled, in a strange voice. "Go away! UGH!"
"That wasn't..." I began, and then dissolved into laughter.
A couple of minutes later I did manage to collect myself enough to inform my son that he hadn't just interrupted some terrible reality program called Parents Gone Wild or something of that nature, but instead, a purely innocent moment wherein I was being Dr. Wife.
My son was quite relieved, to put it as mildly as I know how. Presumably he'll now have one less reason to be in therapy when he gets older.
But it got me thinking about all the times in my life that one missing piece of information radically changed my perception.
It also made me wonder what situations I currently have fixed in my brain, that are missing that one, completely altering bit of information.
Here is another example, I can tell you, with a completely straight face and without the whisper of lie, that I am godmother to the Baby Jesus. No kidding. Do you think I'm leaving something out? You'd be right.
On the day my godson, who is also my nephew, William was christened I stood and did my part in my brother's High Episcopal church back in Long Island. It was also the day the church in question had their annual Christmas pageant, and tradition has it that the newest infant plays the part of the Baby Jesus.
I hadn't been informed of this beforehand, but somehow restrained myself from falling over laughing when the baby I had been made godmother to moments before, was trotted out in swaddling clothes.
Sometimes the details are rather key.