Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Of chocolate mousse cake and community

It's eight-thirty in the morning, and I am unashamedly eating chocolate mousse pie. If I tell you it's left over from my birthday luncheon yesterday, it might seem less decadent. A forty-something woman should at some point choose to stop eating like a teenager. Oh well, that's a worry for another day. I revel in the rich dessert and recognize the memories from yesterday are just as delicious. Unlike the cake, however, they are excellent for my heart. I'm filled: the humor of a spoon the size of a ladle for our tiny bowl of soup, a mini-burger dwarfed by the platter upon which it is served; the warmth of my friend's smile across the table; the tingle of excitement as we discuss movies and books and other passions. Eyes sparkle, and laughter comes freely, along with heartfelt sharing of dreams and plans. Recountings of trips are shared without fear of jealousy or hurt feelings. Supportive friends applaud joy for each other as much as joy for oneself Inside my head I repeat in wonder, "I belong here. These amazing women like me, want to be my friend, are interested in what I have to say." I think I feel myself grow a little taller with that thought (not a bad thing for someone who's 5'2" and probably facing osteoporosis). I have never outgrown my childhood desire to be included. Belonging. This is what it means to be in community. Our book group discussion from yesterday focused on nineteenth-century women seeking the same thing and finding it, as we have, in each other ("One Thousand White Women" by Jim Fergus). Some things never change. Now the question I must pose: if community is so good, why do I fight it so hard? Why do I drag myself kicking and screaming to every activity which involves other people? I already know the answer. Relationships are hard work. They involve people who require my time and energy. It's like exercise. I know that I feel better when I drag my sorry behind to the gym and force my body to exercise--I think more clearly, have more energy, will be on this earth longer and with better quality of life. The same is true with matters of the soul. Spending time with people involves giving of myself, but the pay-out is almost always more than the pay-in. Yet I continue to resist. Introvertedness feels like an encroaching disease, but it is not incurable. Not if I seek the remedy. I must run toward and not from opportunities for community. Yes, my books and my writing tablet are dear friends. But they do not and cannot and must not take the place of the vibrant, surprising, and very real friends which God has seen fit to shower into my life. I must see relationships for what they are: priceless gifts to one who feels very undeserving of them. If I were to look in the bag in which they were given to me, there would be no gift tag to return or exchange them. I know that God does not necessarily give us what we want; He lovingly gives us what He knows is best for us. I may wish for solitude, but God gives me people. When I embrace His gift, I realize it is what my heart truly yearned for but was afraid to admit. It's as though I had anorexia--dying bit by bit--all the while thinking "This is what it means to feel good". Then being rescued and nursed back to health and knowing that the starving was a search for the very thing I had denied myself--community, wholeness, life. As I raise the fork to my lips and savor the cake, I acknowledge that I have miles to go before I sleep. By the grace of God, however, I shall not tread that path alone. The singers from Green Day who lament, "I walk alone," are selling a lie. Walking alone is not a destiny, it's a choice, and for today I choose community (and the chocolate mousse cake that goes with it). (To Jill, Kathy, Susan and Barbara who have turned celebrating birthdays into something of an art form. You are the best!)

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