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Three Old Ladies

Filed under: — jen d @ 1:38 pm

Well, I just took a lunch break at the Border’s bookstore cafe. Got my little sandwich, chips, coffee, and a handful of Lindt truffles and sat down with a pile of books in a nearly empty cafe, ready to enjoy an hour away from the phone, the computer, and anything resembling a television set. But peace and quiet evaded me, as they usually do when I try to eat out alone. No dice. There were three old (and I do mean old) ladies sitting in the cafe area, and talking–loudly. Very loudly. I’m not sure they realized how loudly. Like I said, they were old. I don’t mean to be disresepctful at all. Just stating the facts.

But it wasn’t their manner of conversation that prevented my peace and quiet. I’d take old lady gossip any day over screaming toddlers (especially screaming toddlers with indulgent parents saying, “Ooooh! My aren’t you cute when you’re a grumpy gus!” every time the kid throws a tantrum; I’ve met these in the Border’s cafe, as well…) No, if they’d just been loud old ladies, I probably could have blocked them out, or found their manners quaint and eavesdropped with pleasure. My discomfort, on the other hand, arose from their subject of conversation: the Pope; religion; Methodists and Goerge W. Bush; religion; heaven; absolution; religion…

“I have such fond memories of being a Catholic; I’m going to try very hard to get up at 4am and watch the funeral on TV.”

“That’s right, you grew up a Catholic, didn’t you?”

“I saw a girl open up a Bible the other day and read it; nothing wrong with it, you know, but it was pretty unusual.”

“I’ve been to visit every church–the home takes us out and we go all over. But they never take me to a good Quaker meeting; they’re always at the wrong times.”

“That would get you back to your Methodist roots.”

“George Bush is a Methodist.”

“He’s a hated man.”

“He’s not.”

“He is!”

“Not by everyone; he won the election.”

“Got over 50% of the vote.”

“Well, lots of people hated Clinton, too.”

“Goes with the job.”

“Clinton had a way of reaching people.”

“This Pope did; had a way of reaching out. He’d touch people, you know…”

“Clinton had that.”

“So did Reagan.”

“Carter didn’t.”

“Kennedy did.”

“Yes..” (chuckle churckle)

“…But what do you pray when you’re praying for the Pope? You don’t want to pray that he’ll live…He had Parkinson’s and all. That’s never going to go away; but you don’t want to pray that he’ll die. What do you pray?”

“That he’ll make it safely to Heaven.”

“What, the pope’s not going to go to Heaven?”

“I’d think if anyone would get to Heaven, it’d be him.”

“He had that insider’s…”

“…Inside track?”

“Yup, I’ll say.”

“Hmmm. Well, I think it’s interesting the way more and more people get religion when they reach this age bracket.”

“As we get closer and closer to the final day.”

“There is a comfort in being a true believer. A support; you don’t feel so excluded.”

“It’s like this priest kept saying, all the time, ‘Be not afraid.’ ”

“Yes, he emphasized that didn’t he?”

“My mother was always afraid.”


“Anyway, people seem to rediscover religion at our age.”

“I guess.”

Part of me wanted to enter their conversation. Somehow. I had a Bible in my bag; I easily could have opened it up and showed them that one doesn’t have to pray that someone will “make it” safely to Heaven; that one can know before he dies whether or not he’ll be accepted, and on what terms, by the Lord in the “final day.” Part of me got angry that the Pope, whatever good he had done in his life, had left these people little more than a confused coffee-shop conversation about his supposed personal pipeline to God, and what that merits. Part of me wanted to turn around and say, “Ladies! What are you true believers of? And are you really comforted? Why not be afraid? It’s not belief that saves you, it’s what you’re believing in. And yes, a girl can open her Bible and read it and find an Object worthy of faith. Look!”

But the rest of me wanted to hide under a rock. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t even look in their direction. Not really. So my discomfort came from shame. But even as I write this, I sense my shame is not deep enough. The Apostle Paul stood up in city plazas and preached Christ boldly, earnesty and with love, to those who would have liked to kill him; I was afraid of the indignation of three old ladies in a coffee shop! Three ladies who are indeed approaching their “final days.” I was afraid to butt in, I was afraid to seem callous by telling them that the Pope, if indeed he was trusting in his works or his title to get him into the presence of the Almighty, hadn’t gotten to Heaven safely, and that for all of his good intentions and ability to reach out and touch people, the man was more or less a false prophet. Iwas afraid to tell them that they could find all the religion in the world and never see God, that they were sinners, like me, but that, like me, they are not out of God’s reach; that the Word was near them, and they could possess it in their hearts that very moment.

So I ate my sandwich, wiped my mouth, and left without a word. Three old ladies approach their final days with no more hope than they started out with, because one young lady was afraid; didn’t love them enough; didn’t want to take the trouble. Funny how much I can find to say in print, on the blogosphere, away from immediate responses and the agony of looking people in the eye, but how I can’t put two words together when a real-life opportunity to share life falls into my lap. Now you know what a coward I am. No, we’re not all gifted as evangelists, but we are, or ought to be, unashamed ambassadors of truth.

This is the second time within a week that I’ve sat down for a quiet coffee hour and found myself practically next to a group of people discussing God, the Bible, or religion. And it’s the second time within a week that I ignored every prompting of conscience that said, “Just lean over and say, ‘Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear you talking about the Lord…‘ and see what the Holy Spirit takes the conversation.”

I think my Savior is trying to show me something about myself. I don’t think I like what I’m seeing.

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