Once I knew a woman who was unlike anyone else I ever met and I doubt I will ever see the likes of again.
We once attended the same church in Virginia. While talking with the associate pastor, she walks into the room. When I think of that moment, it reminds me of a rare bird coming in for a smooth landing. She was full of boundless energy as she spoke of her recent visit to Paris which was her birthplace. I was mesmerized by her. Not because of our sameness; but our differences. I wanted to be around her more and so I took her up on her invitation to join her Sunday School class.
The class was a rare bird too. It took a different pair of lens approach to Bible study. The unique discussions filled up my thinking cap. I remember we spent weeks on the subject of evil. I was so relieved when one member suggested we change subjects. It was turning our Sunday mornings into dark clouds.
I had the reputation in class of not taking the floor. This was long before I knew I had autism. I recall a class member brought it to everybody’s attention that if I ever spoke up, it would be a monumental event. I just smiled but underneath, I was even more determined to maintain my silent reputation. On the other hand, I suspect the lady from Paris got the floor more than the other class members would have liked. We were the class’s extremes, but on opposite ends. She talked too much and I didn’t talk at all.
She was late one morning and made her grand entrance with an excuse of being deep in thought about what Buddhists and Christians have in common. As I stated earlier, she was a “rare bird”! One of the older ladies said, “No wonder you were late.” That comment drew laughter around the table, including the lady from Paris.
The lady went on to tell her unusual story of going to a local monastery and having a sit-down discussion with the monks about what they had in common with Christianity. I gathered from her report that it wasn’t a short conversation. I know I couldn’t have done what she did unless a gun were at my back. I understood, though, she didn’t go there to convert any of the monks or to be converted by them. It was just a warm, friendly cup of conversation of what they shared instead of hashing out their differences. Maybe if there was more of that in this world, more sitting down of two sides who have their differences, then there’d be less fighting. I don’t hold my breath for sit-downs though.
I sensed from body language around the class table that I may have been the only one hanging on her every word. Most pairs of eyes were not on her. The teacher tried to hurry the lady along, but she wasn’t yielding the floor until she finished her story. I sensed she was struggling to being taken seriously and it wasn’t working. I, the silent one, perhaps the one who was most different from her, was her biggest fan around that table.
When class was over, she came by and I spoke up for a change. I just sensed she may have felt bad. I wanted her to know I was glad to see her since she had been absent. Her response was she wouldn’t be back. She said she didn’t belong in the class. That she wouldn’t be missed. I didn’t feel compelled to put forth a vigorous argument. It wouldn’t have done any good. It was just as obvious to me as it was to her. I told her instead that I would miss her and she appreciated that. I’m still sad to say I never saw the lady from Paris again.
The class members are not villians. They didn’t mean to hurt the lady. I found her charming, but I can see how someone might see her as eccentric. I admit she’s the only Christian church member I ever knew who went calling on monks.
It wasn’t long until it was my turn to leave too. I don’t think anybody missed me, but I hope I’m wrong about that. That somebody did wonder where the silent lady went off to.